Making Smart Digital Strategy Decisions: Owned, Paid and Earned Media

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Online marketing is full of opportunities. It’s part of what makes it exciting. With so many ways to get the word out, it’s all too easy to launch straight into a digital campaign and see what sticks.

While there’s merit in being open to different ideas, a little planning can give your campaign a much stronger focus. A digital strategy that’s built on informed decisions creates the best possible foundation for promoting your brand or business.

The Media You Own

Owned media can be thought of as online real estate. Every business needs some kind of virtual business premises. This will typically be a website but also extends to blogs and social network business pages. It provides customers and clients with a place to stop by and find out more about who you are and what you can offer them. This is an essential part of building an online reputation that’s founded on trust and authenticity.

This kind of self-generated media puts you firmly in control as you develop your brand. Make the most of it by creating a strong visual identity and reinforcing your core values. Follow the lead of respected brands like Amazon and Apple. While they embrace innovations that create more engaging online experiences, these are integrated in ways that strengthen and extend the company image.

Owned media also needs to anticipate the needs of customers. This could be by offering real-time information, such as the FedEx tracking system, or providing instant access to technical support the way Hewlett Packard does. Match the content to the channel, for example Southwest Airlines uses Twitter for fun incentives, competitions and sales alerts. The lighthearted tone is in keeping with Twitter’s style, but the branding reinforces Southwest’s image.

The Media You Pay For

Even the most compelling content can benefit from a boost in visibility. Pay-per-click and pay-per-impression offer opportunities for specific advertising to reach a wider audience.

PPC is a budget-friendly option with businesses only paying when an interested web user clicks on an ad. As PPC is linked to keyword web searches and related content, it’s a good way to gain access to new customers within a target market. Actual conversion rates vary according to the campaign, but Marketing Sherpa’s 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report finds that an average of almost one third of inbound web traffic comes via paid search.

With PPC, a brand can gain exposure on high-profile, high-traffic sites and networks. Paying for each view can be more costly, but an enticing banner ad displayed in the right places can create a buzz around a campaign. Ad Age shares examples of how you can create an ad that people can’t resist clicking on. Interactivity rules here, as seen in the GTI ‘hit the gas‘ campaign from Volkswagen. In short, if you want more clicks, go for customizable, playful and entertaining campaigns that involve the potential customer.

The Media You Earn

This category revolves around what others are saying, from review articles and blog posts to passing comments on social networks. Brands have the least control over earned media, but it can be one of the most valuable ways of getting the word out.

There’s no denying that testimonials displayed on a business website can help create a positive image. However, businesses who try to control and filter what others say both via their own site and elsewhere are missing the point.

We live in an imperfect world and experience tells us to expect the occasional disappointment. Even legendary brands can have disgruntled customers. A wall of positive reviews will only arouse suspicion. Just as Amazon publishes the bad with the good, leaving customers to make an informed choice, other online businesses likewise need to encourage balanced viewpoints.

The key to encouraging this is by providing people with spaces in which to air their views. This is another aspect of digital media that Southwest handles well. The airline encourages discussions of customer experiences in the community area of their webpage, as well as providing prominent links to their social network pages via their homepage.

An Integrated and Accessible Media Campaign

None of these strategies in isolation will be as successful as combining them in a single integrated strategy. However, by recognizing the strengths of each, you can do so in the most effective way.

Finally, whatever combination of owned, paid and earned media you opt for, make it accessible to as many web users as possible. Mobile devices have revolutionized the ways in which many people browse the web. With the Ericsson November 2012 Mobility Report predicting 6.5 billion mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide by 2018, this is a trend no business can afford to ignore. Make reaching mobile web users via owned, paid for and earned media a priority in your digital strategy.

Keep the focus on including and involving your customers. Do this well and you’ll have a winning strategy that makes the most of all online media channels.

Christian Arno
Christian Arno is the founder of Lingo24, a global translation company. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 200 employees spanning three continents and clients in over sixty countries. In the past twelve months, they have translated over forty million words for businesses in every industry sector, including the likes of MTV, World Bank and American Express. Follow Lingo24 on Twitter: @Lingo24.
Christian Arno
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  • Stephen Moore

    Great article – some sound advice.

    I do worry, however, about considering social media accounts “owned media.” They can be in the loosest sense, but Facebook can do just about whatever it wants – they can change how pages operate or change how items from pages appear in news feed. You are right, but because of the recent changes that are forcing more and more advertisers to spend more and more money, it almost makes sense to have Facebook classified as a hybrid platform – somewhere between owned and paid.

    You wrote, “Brands have the least control over earned media, but it can be one of the most valuable ways of getting the word out.” I couldn’t agree more. Campaigns I have been involved in have derived some of the best “bang for their buck” from earned media.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Riza

    I agree with the order of marketing strategies presented in the article, with “owned” being the first. I don’t see how one succeeds with online marketing without having a self-generated media.

    And for me, among the media mentioned, the one I have put up on my own would probably be the most important one, as it is a reminder of what I’m capable of creating.

    Nice article, Christian!