Merging Traffic Ahead: Paid, Owned and Earned Media


The differences between types of content and content delivery methods were once clearly defined (and handily so), but with social media outlets and an increasing number of mobile devices in play, these distinctions are rapidly blurring together. Today’s empowered consumer decides when, where and how they consume content.

As a result, marketers need to implement strategies that involve offline and online tactics, as well as a range of devices and channels. It is only by leveraging a combination of media types that they will be able to meet the needs of today’s  evolving and powerful consumer.

In a recent report by Altimeter, “The Converged Media Imperative: How Brands Must Combine Paid, Owned and Earned Media,” the pressing need to combine media types comes to the forefront. To understand how to best reach and market to consumers, it is first necessary to understand the different types of media channels:

Paid media: Often thought of as the most “traditional” approach, this channel requires a media buy, and is comprised of both offline and online tactics, including print, television, billboard ads, online display ads, pay per click search ads and sponsorships. The benefit of this approach lies in its ability to reach a massive audience.

Owned media: This channel is largely content-driven, involves no media buy, and includes assets that are owned or wholly controlled by the brand, such as websites, social media channels, branded blogs and newsletters. The owned media approach allows brands to engage audiences in a way that may not be as scalable as paid ads, but can foster relationships throughout the customer lifecycle as well as provide long-term growth.

Earned media: Much like owned media, earned media is based on content – but it is content that has specifically been created or shared by consumers. Earned media includes social-media posts like Facebook statuses or Tweets, reviews, videos, photos and mentions. While earned media cannot be controlled by the brand, it can be influenced, and is therefore perceived as the most genuine channel of the three. In fact, the combination of the rise of consumer sharing online and the number of social platforms to share such content has caused earned media or organic word of mouth (WOM) to become the most powerful media type.

As the social-marketing landscape continues to shift, so do the ways in which marketers leverage these media types. Once thought of as stand-alone entities, these channels are now more effective when combined. But while the ins and outs of combining paid/owned media are more familiar to marketers, earned media remains difficult to harness. The key is a different focus: Brands should be thinking about influence and how they can foster Consumer to Consumer (C2C) dialogues. Long gone are the days of only pushing out brand marketing messages; consumers are now the mechanisms in which marketing messages are carried.

The Converged Media Era

As noted by Altimeter’s report, Converged Media includes two r more media types: “All channels work in concert, enabling brands to reach cstomers exactly where, how, and when they want, regardless of channel,medium, or device, online or offline. With the customer journey between devices, channels, and media becoming increasingly complex, and new forms of technology only making it mvore so, this strategy of paid/owned/earned confluence makes marketers impervious to the disruption caused by emerging technologies.”

While converging media types is still in its infancy, consumers and the fast-paced nature of digital sharing will ensure that the boundaries between these different approaches continue to rapidly decline, and we’ll see a heightened demand for flexible and fluid methods of marketing.

“Preparing for paid, owned and earned integration is not just a demand of present reality, but an inevitable necessity of the future of marketing, advertising, and communications,” reads the report in closing.


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