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Owned and earned versus paid media

Social & Digital

Owned and earned versus paid media


Marketers today face a dazzling array of mediums through which to promote their brand to the masses.

More often or not it seems many brands, when faced with such choice, take the easy option and fall back on lazy habits – spending lots of money buying airtime and print media space to promote their wares and if that doesn’t work, buy more airtime and print media space!

Okay, in some circumstances this might be the right strategy. But more often than not in today’s hyper-connected world, marketers need to be a little more thoughtful in their approach.

Rather than simply select a mix from all the various channels available and then retrofitting into an ‘integrated campaign’ (it happens more than you’d think!), how about standing back for a minute and thinking a bit more strategically about how ‘media’ can set the tone at a deeper level?

There are three types of media you need to be concerned about and understand intuitively – ‘paid media’, ‘owned media’ and ‘earned media’.

Paid Media:

This has obviously served marketers well for so long – buying advertising space in newspapers, magazines, catalogues and on the internet, plus airtime on radio and television to push your brand message.

PROS – You know what you’re getting (kind of), it gives you broad reach if that’s what you’re after and you can control the creative and the message.

CONS – It’s generally costly, intrusive and potentially very hit-and-miss (“spray and pray” I recently heard someone describe the practice of mass media advertising).

Owned media: 

Organizations today can operate their own TV network, radio station or online magazine. They literally can ‘own’ the media platforms from which to communicate with customers, influencers and stakeholders e.g. blogs, podcasts, online video, customized events, and – although you can never actually own them – the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Ning etc.

PROS – You can communicate directly with the people who matter to your business (‘nuff said, how cool is that?)…you can control your content, measure your progress, draw people to your ‘media outlets’ and establish an ongoing presence that builds over time (‘digital asset’).

CONS – It takes considerable effort and is longer-term in nature and therefore is not as suited to quick-hit campaign activity; also, you will be ‘opening up’ your brand online which might not be palatable for management of some companies.

Earned media:

Essentially third party endorsement – editorial coverage in traditional media plus social media ‘mentions’ i.e. people talking about you on Twitter, Facebook, in online forums, podcast interviews, blog posts etc.

PROS – It’s absolute gold if you can get people (customers and influencers) talking positively about your brand – it can give your brand both reach and depth. This truly is the Holy Grail of marketing!

CONS – It’s bloody hard! This is classic PR territory – a lot of effort goes into earning the attention, trust and respect of journalists, producers, bloggers, power Tweeters, industry influencers and opinion leaders…and the consumer marketplace generally.

Smart marketing today is less about interruption and more about inclusion; less about hype and more about substance; less about mass media TARPS (‘Target Audience Rating Points’) and more to do with building trust with consumers and cultivating advocates for your brand.

That being the case, then maybe you should be focusing more effort and attention on the ‘owned’ and ‘earned’ media categories?

Sure, it takes a little more time and effort to be collaborative and inclusive, it can be challenging to suddenly start replacing shallow hype with substance; building trust with consumers and cultivating fans of your brand is a longer term proposition that potentially may require a dramatic shift in thinking…but hey, the world is changing and marketers need to make a choice as to whether their brand is going to go along for the ride or run the risk of being ignored by the masses.


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