Paid or earned? Marketers in Australia and New Zealand are failing the balancing act

New research shows marketers in Australia and New Zealand are behind worldwide trends when it comes to the balance between paid and earned marketing. Greg Taylor suggests it’s time for marketers to educate their bosses and bring them up to speed before looking for answers.

Paid or earned? It’s a question on the lips of many marketers in Australia and New Zealand.

How much focus should you place on creating content that will draw attention on its own merits, versus the stuff you pay for? It’s the modern day version of the balance between public relations – getting journalists to say good things about you – and advertising.

Today, the earned side of the equation takes a lot more work than the long boozy lunches of yesteryear. Earned media now relies on good stories, insightful data and the technology to manage it all. It’s hard work. The long lunch has been replaced by a sandwich at your desk.

A report out this month from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), on behalf of Marketo, shows that more than half of senior ANZ marketers see finding the right mix of paid and earned media as the biggest challenge they face.

We’re unique in that.

The rest of the world placed it fifth out of seven marketing challenges. They seem to be grappling more with how they implement their digital marketing programs – coordinating with other departments, dealing with fragmented customer data and managing content development.

The rest of the world, I suspect, has already figured it out. Lots of Aussie and Kiwi marketers have too. You need both earned and paid media. The balance between the two is a question of return on investment. You go with whatever works best.

Instinctively, you’d assume earned media holds the most sway. We know from numerous studies over the decades that word of mouth is the most effective form of promotion. These days, if you write compelling content that gets shared widely it becomes an endorsement.

The more influential the sharer, the more ringing the endorsement. Similarly, even if it’s for a select audience, a piece of content that really gels can do wonders for building affinity with your brand. But coming up with those content gems can be hard work and it’ll often be easier, and cheaper, to just buy some ad space to promote your message. Or, to kick start the sharing process for content you think will have traction.

I suspect, though, that in this part of the world the scales are tipped heavily in favour of paid media. Why? For a start, we place a far greater emphasis on customer acquisition as our main marketing objective. A third of us say it is the primary measure of marketing impact, compared to 19% in the rest of the world. Almost 18% of us rank lead generation as the key measure, compared to 12% elsewhere.

Conversely, only 9% of us see customer engagement as a primary measure, versus 18% in the rest of the world. In a nutshell, we’re focused on grabbing new business whereas overseas there’s a lot of marketers wanting to build the brand and drive closer relationships with customers.

Perhaps, here in Australia and New Zealand, we’d like to use more earned media but we are struggling with how to use it to achieve customer acquisitions.

Thankfully, that’s about to change. By 2020 the number of ANZ marketers seeing customer acquisition as the key measure of marketing impact will have halved. We’ll be roughly in line with the rest of the world.

Our focus on customer engagement will also match other countries and we’ll be ahead of the pack when it comes to seeing brand awareness as a key marketing measure.

So why the change? I suspect, that marketers are having a tough time educating their masters on this brave new world. In this part of the world the marketing process has been relatively straightforward.

There has been a limited choice of media and it didn’t take a lot of planning to reach a large proportion of our relatively small population in a matter of days.

Today we know that fragmented media, social and online – together with a public that expects personalised communication – have all driven a significant change in how marketing is achieved. We know that. But do our business masters? I think the answer is no. Many of our company heads still see marketing as little more than booking an ad and making sure the price looms large.

But the EIU data suggests we will have shown them the way by 2020. Let’s hope so. Set your watches and start counting.

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Greg Taylor is managing director at Marketo.