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Don't be Fazed by Owned, Earned and Paid

By Mario Van Gastel
August 4, 2017

I was recently asked to share one — and only one — digital marketing tip with a group of young entrepreneurs. While I always try to simplify things — rather than complicate them — simplification is often more difficult if you still want to express truth. So, my on-the-spot answer fell short. Here’s what I should have said:

Not accounting for the industry, size, and maturity of your brand, if I could only give you one digital marketing tip, it would be to start thinking and working in terms of owned, earned and paid media online, and use the latter to amplify the first two to increase your marketing reach in a cost-efficient way.

Before I unwrap that statement, please keep in mind that owned, earned and paid media exist both online and offline. In fact, owned, earned and paid, online as well as offline, have been converging at breakneck speed, creating an ever more complex communications ecosystem with consumers—not brands—at their center. But for simplicity’s sake, allow me to illustrate the distinction between owned, earned and paid with digital examples. I promise it still holds true.

Defining Owned, Earned and Paid

For those unaware of this distinction in media, owned media refers to all (online) properties that your business directly controls, such as your website, emails and social media. Earned media refers to what others say or share about your brand online, such as a customer review, a news item about your business or an article that you wrote that’s published by a third party. Finally, paid media refers to the online impressions you buy, such as paid search ads, display ads and social media ads. Simply put, paid media equals advertising.

Building Your Owned Foundation

So what type of media should you start with? Whether you’re rebooting your digital marketing or running an online campaign, your first investment should go toward building a solid foundation of owned media: an effective website or microsite, supporting social media profiles, and content. Make sure your brand identity (both visual and verbal) is consistent across your owned and paid media.

Building Paid Reach

With a solid foundation of owned media in place, the next step is to invest in your online reach through paid media. Using your owned media, paid media can tell your brand story (think about a video ad on Facebook) and encourage specific actions, such as a product purchase or a contact form completion on your website. You’re now amplifying your owned media with paid media.

Driving Conversions

Now that you’re building an audience through paid media, it’s time to build upon the foundation of your owned media. This typically involves increasing and improving the content on your site and social media, with the goal of driving your new audience toward conversion. Keep in mind that conversion doesn’t have to mean a purchase of your product or service. It could be, say, writing a product review, downloading a white paper or filling out a lead generation form. The contact information you obtain this way can go into your customer database, from which you can launch another form of owned media: email marketing.

Earning and Amplifying Word of Mouth

While you can’t control what consumers say or share about your business, you can put the most favorable content—from testimonials to product reviews—to work as paid media. Whereas initially you were using paid media to amplify your owned media, you now have the opportunity to amplify the positive things others say or share about your business online by incorporating them in your advertising. Such third-party endorsements are perceived by consumers as being more objective, and are therefore more persuasive and effective than your own(ed) words. This, of course, is a basic tenet of PR. But you’ll have to contact our PR director for any tips on that.

About Archer Malmo

Archer Malmo, with offices in Memphis, Tennessee, and Austin, Texas, combines brand thinking, data and technology to help growing brands adapt to the digital and creative complexities of today. Since 1952, we’ve continually evolved to changes in the industry, helping level the competitive playing field for midsize companies. The agency’s combination of discipline specialists, strategic orientation, creativity and culture yields strong client relationships and business results. With more than 150 people,  Archer Malmo is one of the oldest independent agencies in the U.S. and has been recognized by Advertising Age and others as a “Best Place to Work” and has been named to the “Inc. 5000” list of fastest-growing private companies in America for five consecutive years.