Understanding the media mix (paid, owned and earned)

Posted by Rebecca Appleton on 28 Feb, 2017
View comments Marketing
Every digital media strategy rests on three pillars: owned, earned and paid media.

Understanding these three concepts, the role of each and where they intersect is crucial for lead generation and lead nurturing success.

Paid media

Paid media is the easiest of the three concepts to get to grips with as it simply means any exposure that you’ve paid for. Most commonly, paid media is used to refer to advertising (both online and offline) so activities like PPC campaigns, banner advertising, remarketing and even newspaper, TV or radio adverts would sit under this umbrella. Paid media doesn’t need to represent a huge spend or an ongoing effort – it could just as easily refer to a sponsored post on Facebook, a single promoted tweet on Twitter or an ad on YouTube.

Paid media sits at the top of your lead generation funnel because it’s a way of raising your company profile and driving awareness.

Earned media

Earned media refers to any mention, piece of coverage, content or snippet of conversation about your brand that comes from a third party and appears on someone else’s channel, without you having paid for it.

Before digital marketing really hit its stride, earned media would really have been limited to any mention in a newspaper or magazine or on TV or radio.

Today, the spectrum is much broader and while it still includes all of the media mentions generated as a result of your PR efforts and things like being quoted in a newspaper or magazine article, it also covers formats such as online reviews, mentions in blog posts (that haven’t been paid for as part of an influencer outreach campaign) as well as tweets, retweets and shares on social media. This sliver of the triangle could also include a customer mentioning your website in a forum post or comment on a blog post.

In short, it’s any positive mention that you haven’t paid for. Because the content comes from a third party, earned media is very powerful. It can be seen as more credible than paid media and will perhaps have a broader reach than owned media.

The other important thing to note is that you have no control over earned media. It lies squarely in the hands of third parties, be they fans, customers or members of the press.

Owned media

Owned media encompasses all of the brand assets that you physically create and control. This list will include your website and social media channels. It also refers to any ebooks you may create, videos you film, blog posts you write, apps you build, brochures you print and even emails you send.

While your owned media shouldn’t be relied upon to generate leads all on its own, it can be used to nurture leads acquired through other sources and encourage them further through the sales cycle.

Deploying owned, earned and paid media strategically

While owned, earned and paid media are distinct entities in their own right, there are lots of blurred lines and intersections between the three pillars. The most successful digital marketing strategies will interweave some elements of each of the three different channels.

  • A video you create and share on your social media channels (owned media) may be shared thousands of times by your Facebook or Twitter followers (earned media). Seeing how your video has been so well received, you may then decide to promote it further using a boosted post or sponsored tweet (paid media).
  • Likewise, you can use your owned media channels to actively solicit earned media by using your Twitter post to reach out to influential journalists or bloggers in your field in the hope of securing an interview or mention in a high profile magazine or newspaper.
  • A strong content marketing strategy may see you create thought-provoking opinion posts and conduct research for a groundbreaking ebook (owned media). A blogger or journalist may stumble upon this content, see you as a leader in the field and solicit a column from you for their publication (earned media).

How you split your owned, earned and paid media activity and assign budget across the three pillars will depend on your overall digital marketing strategy, resources and goals. 

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