The Three Media That Matter

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musketeer_smallADOTAS – In the South, we use the word “tizzy” to mean: simultaneously frantic, worried and confused. As in: “Mama’s in a tizzy because the cake’s burnt, and MeeMaw’s coming for dinner.”

Since the widespread adoption of cable TV, Tivo and like technologies; and increasing exponentially since the emergence of the web and social media, advertising has been in a consistent, full-on Tizzy (capital T) about how to reach consumers, because of something called “Media Fragmentation.”

Apparently, those wacky consumers have risen up and refuse to follow the predictable patterns that once made us advertising folks comfortable. There are so many choices, so many different types, forms, and styles of media that it’s getting downright difficult, if not impossible, to paint a media strategy or creative platform with an industrial spray gun, then hit happy hour, like we used to.

Media and creative are now a maze of micro-strategies and mini-tactics that each work differently for different types of people, depending, of course, on time of day and whether the sun is shining. The fact is, there are just too many different types of media out there to focus a crystal ball on what will work for a given brand, and how. Media is fragmented almost beyond comprehension. At least that’s what I hear.

Funny, though: I see media consolidating.

Months and months ago I scanned an article that had R/GA’s Bob Greenburg talking about Bought, Earned, and Owned Media. Although I didn’t read far enough to get his perspective, the categories stuck with me. The more I thought about them, the more I realized that those are the media categories now. The only ones that matter.

We used to talk about broadcast, print, and out-of-home. More recently, we’ve added social, mobile, viral video, pre-roll, banner, experiential, and a gazillion other micro categorizations.

But tactical categories — classifying a medium by the way it’s made or delivered — aren’t the end-all be-all anymore. Because people, who have always been far more perceptive than advertisers think, are now even more perceptive about who is behind a message, and how it got to them. And that affects their acceptance of the message in ways we’re just now coming to grips with.

People perceive Bought Media, Owned Media and Earned Media differently. Each is a critical part of a brand’s media mix. Each is far broader, in terms of included tactics, than it ever has been before. And collectively, these three categories represent every type of communication a brand could possibly want.

Getting the right mix between the three will depend on the brand’s position in the minds of the people it wants to reach and persuade, as well as the usage habits of those specific people. So, yeah, the right mix of media on a tactical level is still a complex thing to determine. But the categories you have to choose from are, in my mind at least, pretty simple.

Bought Media. It used to be the king of all marketing. And while it still wears the crown for some brands, for more and more, Bought Media is a support mechanism. For some smaller and/or niche brands, it’s actually out of the mix altogether.

Including all the things you think it should include — TV Spots, banners, print ads, billboards, radio, and the like — it’s any instance in which you’ve paid for your message to appear in a place you don’t own. Which means the spot you run on the broadcast of a game is Bought Media, as is the name of the stadium, for which you paid millions; as are the street teams and giant inflatable you put (for a fee) in the parking lot.

Bought Media has reach, provides a sense of “bigness” and can be extremely engaging and entertaining. But it’s also expensive. What’s more, people know you’ve paid to play — so they know the message they’re hearing is one-sided. Not only that, by its very nature, it’s designed to interrupt people and sidetrack them from something they’d rather be doing. If you want to get the most of it, make the most of its potential for entertainment, so it enhances that thing they’d rather be doing, rather than detracting from it.

Bought Media used to lead the way for just about all marketing efforts. Now, especially for smaller brands, it can sometimes be used more effectively to bolster credibility and help the fans you’ve cultivated through other methods spread the word about you.

Owned Media. Technology made everybody a broadcaster and publisher. Which means brands can, and do, create the message and distribute it, too.

A brand site is owned media. But so is a web video, a YouTube channel, a blog, or even a tweet. And so is, when you’re stuck in traffic, that new Beetle in the next lane, covered in digitally-printed graphics promoting the local karate school.

Before digital technology, about the only owned media that existed were the sign on your storefront and the fliers you passed out on the street. Now brands, or individuals, for that matter, can have an instant global audience for messages they create and distribute themselves. Execution, again thanks to technology, can be as sophisticated as anything placed in bought media.

It can be. Unfortunately, it rarely is.

Owned media has as much potential entertainment and engagement value as anything out there. The quality of the content is all that determines that, and users are the ones who get to make the determination. The key word is quality.

A huge statement. Because the cost of distributing Owned Media is next to zero, anyone can do it. That doesn’t mean anyone can do it well. Done poorly, owned media is a misspelled marquee trailer on the side of the highway: Not many people look, and if they do, it’s not that good for your brand.

Done well, however, owned media can be as powerful, or even more powerful, than anything you could buy. Of course, people know you’ve created what they’re watching, reading or interacting with. But you can use that to your advantage, by delivering entertainment or utility beyond their expectations. The only real restrictions on Owned Media are those you place on yourself.

Earned Media. Not that long ago, only PR firms talked about Earned Media. And Earned Media had a distinct definition. It meant that a newspaper or magazine was writing about you. To make that happen, you needed a decent story, but just as important, you needed that PR firm who had a cozy relationship with the editors of those publications.

But now, since everyone is a publisher (see Owned Media) there are a lot more people writing, talking and conversing about you. Their work is public, and it many times has as much reach (sometimes more) than those editors the PR firms are chasing.

What’s more, it frequently has more credibility. The video you posted to your YouTube channel? Owned Media. The 300,000 plays a day, all the comments, and all the “Send to a Friend” clicks? Earned Media. When the editor of the traditional pub writes about those 300,000 plays a day? Again, Earned Media.

Word of Mouth has become Word of Web; it has reach and it has power. When you get people talking about your brand online, whether good or bad, you’ve earned it.

Content Makes the Mix. Those are the categories. The only ones I can think of, and I’ve thought about this a lot.

So what’s the mix? As I said before, it depends on the message, the brand and the users you want to reach. Increasingly, though, for most brands, Bought Media no longer takes the chronological lead. There’s almost always a site (Owned Media) before there’s a spot or an ad.

Although the rules change with the audience and the brand, more and more, the timeline goes something like this:

(1) Make some owned media like a site, a video, or a blog, and publish it.

(2) Using other owned media like blog comments, tweets, and news feeds, generate Earned Media about your Owned Media. Get people viewing it and talking about it.

(2A) Cultivate more earned media in the form of Word of Web by engaging those who respond to your Owned Media. Join the conversation they’re having about you.

(3) Use Bought Media as air cover to extend the reach of your message and provide some credibility for your fans who are now telling their later-adopting friends about you. At least, that’s one way to do it.

There may not yet be a formula for whether the chicken, the egg, or the 8-piece basket comes first. There may never be. But there is a formula for success in any and all of these categories: Quality content.

I’ll concede that it is possible to succeed in Bought Media with less than stellar content. It has to do with the interruptive nature of the category. Head-On, anyone? But as the veteran of many an old-school traditional discussion about good advertising having more impact than bad advertising, I now say quality matters, and the other two categories prove it.

While Earned and Owned Media each include some offline tactics, by and large they are products of the web. And on the web, people choose what they consume, and where they click. If they’re watching what you’ve made, reading what you’ve written, or joining in on a conversation about your brand, or your message, it’s because made an active decision to do so. And nobody actively chooses bad.

Unless it’s bad in a good way. But that’s another discussion altogether.

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