So you want to get your message out there.
You’ve definitely got options. You could send out a tweet. You could post a blog. You could put out a press release. You could make a commercial with a catchy radio jingle – ♫ Every day, in every way, it’s Jin & Stone Finan-cial! ♫ – and put it on the airwaves. Heck, you could call up your local paper and get them to do a write-up about your latest expansion or business deal. I mean, it’s relevant to somebody.
But the right thing to do isn’t always super clear. Those different strategies represent different basic kinds of media: earned, owned, and paid. Each one means something different, and has a different place in a marketing strategy.
So what are they, and how do you properly leverage them for maximum effectiveness?
Earned media is one of the most powerful assets you can have. It’s blogs by real people, tweets by strangers about your product, an e-zine about how amazing your financial planning services are, coverage on the 11 o’clock news; in short, it’s word of mouth. Sometimes we call it “going viral,” but in any case, independent third-party media that you had nothing to do with procuring is more valuable to you than a Super Bowl ad, because it is perceived as honest and entirely unbiased.
From a content marketing perspective, earned media is what you get when a content piece you’ve developed is awesome enough to re-share. When that happens, these things can tend to explode, turning a piece of your owned media (we’re getting there) into the target of an entirely organic earned media blitz. These tweets, retweets, blogs, reblogs, reposts, and recommendations serve much the same role as good old-fashioned word of mouth; they provide valuable social proof and legitimize your offerings.
Owned media, on the other hand, is the stuff directly under your control. It’s your blog. It’s your website. It’s your social media accounts. These channels are all unique to your brand, and serve as extensions of your corporate voice. They carry exactly as much credibility and trusthworthiness as your brand does overall, and can be a valuable way to get your voice into new areas. However, because these are branded channels, they are always presumed to be biased in your favor. You can turn owned media into a real asset by keeping the content fresh and varied, promoting other relevant channels and non-competitor brands, and developing strong original content that reinforces your audience’s perception of you as an expert in your field.
Paid media consists essentially of paid advertising and the like. It’s valuable because it incentivizes other brands and channels to push your content to the front of the line, and can be a vital tool to help promote your brand and content while driving traffic to your owned media. This can include everything from Facebook and Twitter promoted content to the aforementioned jingle-laden radio spot. These are frequently able to reach a much larger audience than you’d be able to on your own, increasing your brand exposure and visibility while bringing in real leads. The only problem is that, if you’re overly reliant on paid media, you’re not developing a stable source of new business; paid media tends to only generate new customers when you’re actively paying into it. So while it has value as a money-in money-out model, it’s primary value in a content marketing context is as a short-term boost for longer-term plans that can drive real sustainable growth. Think of it as a shot in the arm or a swift kick to the butt; it’ll get you moving, but it’s not going to keep you moving.
So What Does All This Mean for Me?
You need all three; any single media type in isolation is going to die a slow, lonely death. Each media type supports and reinforces the other.
Think of it like a three-legged stool; removing any single leg makes the entire structure fall over. Paid media drives to owned media which turns into earned media; the audience gets smaller at each juncture, but becomes more and more highly qualified. Paid media drives to (and is driven by) owned media, and owned media leads to (and gets traffic from) earned media.
The flowchart is something like this:
These mutually-supportive structures provide a self-reinforcing feedback loop that keeps people in the system while expanding its overall reach over time, building itself up again with each cycle and getting stronger over time.
Ultimately, properly leveraging all three media types as an interacting set of channels can help you dramatically expand your audience and drive more conversions.