What Are Earned, Owned, and Paid Media?
The Internet, especially in the past decade, has become a powerful tool for maximizing brand reach, regardless of a business’s size. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same: Though any business, micro-sized to multinational, can now present its brand to potential customers worldwide, there’s so much information pollution online it can seem nearly impossible to catch consumers’ attention.
For this reason, it is crucial for micro-, small and medium businesses to understand and plan their marketing initiatives in the same structured, rational way large corporations do. And the first step in doing this is to recognize every kind of marketing is media—a communication of brand and message to those outside the communicating business—and this media can be broken down into three categories: “earned,” “owned,” and “paid."
These three classifications are more than mere buzz words; they describe how each type of media originates, define each type’s function, and consequently, delineate how all three can work together to increase brand presence. In 2010, Forrester Research defined the three types of marketing media as follows:
Owned Media and Semi-Owned Media
Owned and “semi-owned” media are means of communications a business owns and controls. Two classic, non-Internet examples of owned media are signs and storefronts; two online examples are websites and blogs. Semi-owned media are primarily online only, as it is only since the advent of websites that curate user-generated content, such as Facebook and YouTube, that businesses have enjoyed free access to media channels others own but they control.
Earned media is any messaging a party outside a business creates, controls and disseminates without expecting payment. Two classic examples of earned media are word-of-mouth, which has always existed, and press coverage. In the Internet Age, earned media can also be tweets, blog posts and Facebook updates customers create to express their feelings and opinions on a business. Similarly, review sites and news media websites offer earned exposure that, like the posts, tweets and updates of individual customers, can increase a brand’s visibility far beyond other types of media.
Paid media is any brand dissemination that takes place on another business’s channel in exchange for payment. Offline examples include billboards and newspaper ads, and online examples include Google AdWords ads and Facebook ads. In all cases, paid media offers the control of owned media and the reach of earned media. But today’s consumers often distrust this type of media the most.
Myths About Owned/Semi-Owned, Earned and Paid Media
The three definitions above are generally accepted among marketing professionals today. But what aren’t entirely accepted are specific facets of each type. In fact, in many online discussions of owned, earned and paid media circulate myths about these three types of marketing media, of which the following two are the most widespread, according to Small Business Trends:
You Only Need Owned Media
This one is obviously a myth to any business with a website that gets very little traffic. The fact is it is very easy for a website alone to become buried among the millions of other sites online today, and even with the best search engine optimization, a website by itself still only wins a business a fraction of the exposure possible. Moreover, messages diminish on any owned media, as consumers give less credence to claims businesses make about themselves.
Paid Media is Too Expensive
This might not seem as obvious as the previous myth, but it is a myth nonetheless. In reality all marketing costs money, time or both. Websites, for instance, cost time or money to build – depending on whether a business owner builds her site herself or hires other to do it – and, as it is impossible to garner any exposure for a website without at least SEO, optimizing a site requires further time or money investment. Indeed, in this context, all media is ‘paid,’ and those messaging channels technically classified as paid can sometimes be cheaper to disseminate a message over owned media channels.
The Correct Way To Use Owned/Semi-Owned, Paid and Earned Media
As any big-shop marketing professional will tell you, the three types of media are not mutually exclusive, but each works best when combined with the other two. For example, running a Facebook ad (paid) that links to a website with buzzworthy content (owned) that is then shared by visitors on their own Facebook pages (earned) provides optimal brand exposure, while balancing – and thereby minimizing – the downsides of any one type or media.
In other words, large numbers of prospective customers are made aware of the controlled content, which in turn influences their opinion of the business positively and instigates their sharing – which wins new prospective-customer engagement for the cost of only the initial customers who clicked on the ad. This synergy, as Smart Insights notes, can create a positive, expanding loop effect that continuously helps a brand expand its reach with little additional effort.