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  • Writer's pictureMegan J. Zander

What is Paid Media, Owned Media, and Earned Media?

The terms “owned media”, “earned media”, and “paid media” started popping up in the mid 2000’s as marketers - trying to better understand how to effectively integrate their advertising efforts - began researching the impact these different media types had on campaign ROI.

Once the effectiveness of integrated marketing became more well-known, these terms were employed to help differentiate digital channels and identify areas of opportunity for integration.

How Can You Tell Paid, Earned, and Owned Apart

You can tell earned, owned, and paid media channels apart by examining their mode of access to the target audience.

  • Channels that are owned, and therefore allow free access to an audience, are owned.

  • Channels that require payment to access audiences are typically paid channels.

  • Channels that are owned by non-brand entities that allow - typically for an exchange of value - the brand access to their audiences.

Modern digital marketers use these terms to categorize advertising channels in a way that can enable channel integration within marketing tools and teams. This allows teams to use their knowledge of the customer journey to build trusting relationships with customers across channels by offering the right content and experience every step of the way.

Where marketers, technologists and advertisers once lived in silos, now they work together in an effort to consistently improve overall marketing performance.


What is Owned Media?

Owned media is a category of channels through which audiences can directly interact with a brand. These brand experiences - websites, mobile apps, and online storefronts - create unique opportunities to build lasting relationships between brands and customers.

What is an Owned Media Strategy?

When online sales start to drop or conversion rates see a downward trend, one of the first places marketers start digging for answers is their engagement metrics. Focusing on engagement metrics can lead to an owned-heavy marketing mix. Building a strategy for owned spaces can bolster that investment to benefit not only on-site conversion and return sales, but opt-in rates for earned channels like email.

A good owned media strategy should enable digital marketing teams to build and manage experiences that meet visitors’ exact expectations, allowing engagement to grow naturally as new users become return users thanks to the memorably good experience they’ve had with the brand.

Which Channels are Owned Media Channels?

  • Website

  • Social Media Profile

  • Mobile App

  • Online Storefront

  • Brick and Mortar

How Can You Tell Which Channels are Owned Channels?

A good way to remember which channels are owned channels is to think about whether or not the brand has exclusive access to the audience at the other end of that channel. This is why it’s best to separate social media ads from social media profiles: marketers have exclusive access to the brand’s Facebook profile followers, but in order to reach other Facebook audiences, advertising dollars have to be invested.

What are Owned Channels Good For?

Learning About Customers: Technology, cloud computing, and machine learning have made complicated content and data management execution more accessible to everyday marketing teams. With the right setup, no group of channels works better to help brands understand their customers more than owned channels.

Building Loyalty: Owned tactics like mobile loyalty apps and membership programs can keep customers engaged with a brand outside of point-of-sale and even encourage customers to buy more and more often.

Owned Media Considerations

Be Prepared: Because these channels are very visible brand platforms, solid branding and consistent messaging will go a very long way. Content creation tools like editorial guidelines and

Return on Investment: These channels tend to need a significant chunk of a marketing budget to maintain. Adding tools and systems to enable an owned strategy may create a need for additional resources to help keep the owned strategy running smoothly.


What is Earned Media?

Earned media is a category of channels through which audiences can discover products and learn about brands through their favorite entertainers, thought-leaders, and information resources - the places audiences are already finding community and everyday utility.

Influencers, affiliates, and celebrities choose which brands they work with and their audiences trust that these channels will only share curated, relevant content. This boost’s audience awareness and, hopefully, brand affinity.

SEO is an earned media channel. By optimizing owned spaces and content strategy towards meeting online search trends, marketers can help target audiences learn more about their brands and products by educating audiences as they are actively seeking out information.

What is Earned Media Strategy?

When breaking into new markets or trying to increase consideration for products that solve complicated problems, the most effective way to raise awareness and educate audiences is to reach them in channels that they’re already using to explore the same kind of information in.

A good earned media strategy should give all brand content creators the tools they need to develop, distribute, and report on the performance of content for the brand. Earned tactics are a bit more silo’d than other channel categories, making planning and iterative integrated reporting essential.

Which Channels are Earned Media Channels?

  • Online communities

  • Email and push notifications

  • Organic web traffic - SEO

  • Press, publicity

  • Public/Blogger Relations

  • Affiliate/Influencer

  • Reviews

How Can You Tell Which Channels are Earned Channels?

Earned spaces are going to be owned by a non-brand entity and the audience will have opted in to the experience; ie. the audience has chosen to pay attention to the content here.

What are Earned Channels Good For?

Building Awareness: Earned channels are the most-effective channels for introducing new brands and products, and building awareness with unfamiliar audiences. If the audience trusts the source of the content and has chosen to interact with their content, they’re more likely to remember and share.

Establishing Legitimacy: Sometimes a crowded market or a general lack of understanding among consumers can hamper product launch success. Paid tactics can help but 75% of consumers don’t trust advertising so getting through to consumers about availability and legitimacy of a product will require other measures. Consumer recommendations from friends and influencers are statistically more effective than advertisements at establishing brands and products.

Earned Media Considerations

Be Prepared: Earned audiences can be fickle and particular about what they choose to interact with and picking worthy influencers and thought leaders to work with is no easy task. Research will be required to find the right fit.

Return on Investment: When working outside of owned channels, marketers are at the mercy of the measurement capabilities of the individuals running the channel. This group of channels will require more investment in reporting processes and resources in order to match the reporting capabilities of paid and owned channels.


What is Paid Media?

Paid media is a category of channels through which brands can access audiences by exchanging money for space in front of them. Paid media tactics essentially work to disrupt consumers’ attention so that advertisers can quickly educate or remind audiences about a product or brand.

What is Paid Strategy?

When products start missing organic revenue goals or awareness is low because a product is new, marketers might start looking at paid opportunities to quickly generate sales. Paid media are channels through which brands can access a portion of potential audience attention.

A good paid media strategy should directly connect paid efforts to revenue and allow room for tactics and targeting to change with learning and time. Paid tactics can be quicker to get going as you sometimes only need a goal and a budget, but strategy should still account for thoughtful audience segmentation as targeting is a valuable differentiator for paid media.

Which Channels are Paid Media Channels?

  • Pay-Per-Click - SEM

  • Digital Ads

  • Native Ads

  • OOT Ads

  • OOH

  • Mass Media - TV/Radio

  • Social Media Ads

How Can You Tell Which Channels are Paid Channels?

Paid channels will require brands to pay for access to audience attention. These channels will serve content to audiences that are not actively choosing to engage with a brand at that time - the content in that channel is “happening to” the target audience.

What are Paid Channels Good For?

Cross-Channel Recognition: Ads appearing multiple times for the same shopper can help them remember a brand or product and increase their in-store purchases of that product. OOH advertising can be tied into digital campaigns with slogans, hashtags or even vanity URLs to help make the message - and its ability to “stick” with the audience - effectively memorable.

Driving Conversion: The remarketing and modern targeting capabilities of paid channels makes marketers’ jobs a bit easier. Paid channels allow advertisers to put ads right in front of consumers researching online, increasing the chance that an ad will help a consumer make a final purchase when they’re ready.

Paid Media Considerations

Be Prepared: Paid media takes some time to become fruitful. The expectation from marketers can be that paid tactics will net immediate results, but sometimes the channel needs time to engage with the target audience and learn what they will most-likely want to engage with before it can start really working.

Return on Investment: Paid channels allow for less control as the entities that own these channels are curating a very specific experience for their audiences. While sales and conversion are usually the end goal of any campaign, be prepared to pay more for engagement. Reach and saturation are less expensive but might require additional modeling and reporting efforts to communicate their impact on conversion.

Which Media Type is the Best?

Every strategy should be customized to the set of resources available to make the most of the effort! But understanding each media and channel’s strengths and weaknesses can help marketers and advertisers make better decisions in real time.


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