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Who doesn’t want their brand to be in the media spotlight? Fortunately, there are several types of media, and the most effective marketers know how to mix and maximize each one. 

You may have heard about paid media, owned media, and earned media channels. The three are major marketing buzzwords, especially in the content and digital space, and vital to every successful strategy. 

Despite their popularity, however, not everyone fully understands the differences between paid, owned, and earned media. For example, is social media considered owned or earned? Which media type will provide the most mileage for your company? 

When it comes to paid media, owned media, and earned media, each type serves a specific function and requires a specific approach. Taking the time to learn about each one, and how it fits into your overall marketing strategy, ensures your message gets delivered to its target audience in the best way possible.

What are paid, owned, and earned media channels?

Paid, owned, and earned media are often described as channels or streams of marketing. From billboards to social media ads, most of the marketing we see falls into one of the three types of media. 

While paid, owned, and earned media are all different, their end goal is the same – to build brand awareness and generate more business. In fact, most marketers have found that it’s not enough to rely solely on one media channel. Instead, they draw from all three to create a comprehensive media strategy. 

To do this, it’s important to understand the difference between paid media, owned media, and earned media. Below is a break-down of each type, and its role in a company’s overall marketing mix.

chart explaining paid media owned media and earned media

Paid media involves any marketing channel you pay for. Most of us are already familiar with this type of media, as it includes traditional ads, commercials, and PPC (pay per click).

Typically, paid media involves third-party platforms and targets specific consumer segments, such as sales prospects or past customers.

Paid media and ads work really well for businesses just getting started and interested in building a customer base. It’s also good for retargeting or remarketing to those who have already shown interest in your business (i.e., past customers, individuals who have visited your site). When leveraged together with other media types, paid media can be effective in reaching people with high interest.

ProsCons
  • Instant results
  • Easy to track
  • Control over message and copy
  • Easy to target high intent customers
  • Initially expensive
  • Getting more expensive as competition increases
  • Easy to become dependent on paid channels that do not scale with spend

How much it costs

The cost of paid media greatly depends on the channel type and duration of the ad. For example, social media ads could be relatively affordable, while a full-page print placement could cost a pretty penny. The duration or frequency of the ad will also factor into the cost – will the ad run for a special holiday weekend or an entire month? While a longer run time may increase the number of people who see your ad, it will also raise the overall price.

Another cost to consider is the setup, which can actually exceed the cost of the paid media placement. If you don’t have someone to create your assets in house, you will have to factor in an additional contractor fee. Some other costs when considering paid media include: content creation, design, production, website configuration, etc.

How much time it takes

Time to set up: The setup process for paid media can take time if you’re creating an ad out of new material. On the other hand, if you’re promoting an existing piece of content, this can save a lot of time up front.

To get the most out of your ads, you may also need to develop landing pages (also called a destination page or lead capture page) where people are directed after clicking on the ad. Landing pages are used to drive leads through your conversion funnel, and can take some time to develop.

Time to results: Paid media can generate traffic almost immediately. As soon as they are up, people can see them. This makes paid media especially great for business looking to gain visibility and initial customers.

Return on investment (ROI)

With the cost of paid media channels, ROI can vary wildly depending on the type of channel, cost of goods sold, lifetime value of a customer, etc. The good thing is that most paid media channels include the ability to monitor and track certain metrics, allowing you to measure how much ROI you’re getting in relation to direct spend. It’s good to know your numbers beforehand, so you can determine if the paid media channel is worth the cost.

Examples of paid media

There are several subcategories under paid media, including both online and offline channels. Here are the main types, along with a great example of how they work within an overall media strategy.

1. Display ads

paid media of display ads

Display ads are one of the founding fathers of online paid media. They initially became popular as the static banner ads that appeared on website sidebars. However, display ads have come a long way since then – here are a few current display ad options:

  • Pop-ups: a small ad that pops up as visitors browse a website (these can be triggered depending on time, clicks, exit intent, etc.)
  • Wallpaper ads: the background of a website might change to display an ad that fills the entire page (WeTransfer is a popular one!)
  • Video ads: a small video that automatically plays whenever a visitor lands on the page

Display ads are usually very affordable, as far as paid ads go. However, the pricing generally depends on the site you want, the exact paid media placement, and the average traffic it generates.

These ads are a great for remarketing or retargeting, and can easily be used to remind potential customers of your brand or site.

2. Social media advertising

paid media example of social media ad

On social media platforms, most ads are designed to blend into the surroundings and user experience. Instagram, for example, uses native ads that appear in your feed. If you’re scrolling through, you may not even notice that some of the social media posts are actually sponsored ads.

Common types of native ads include: in-feed, promoted posts or listings, and search result ads.

Social media ads have become increasingly popular in recent years, with all companies – both online and offline – seeing benefits from this type of paid media. A key value of social media ads is they can be set up as pay per click, which means you only pay for actual leads.

The most popular social media platforms today include: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest. TikTok, and others platforms, like Reddit, Youtube, Medium.

Many small businesses opt to run ad campaigns on social media channels by themselves. However, some find that contracting a marketing agency tends to be more beneficial. As always, it’s best to source a few quotes and make sure the added fee fits into your marketing budget.

3. Search engine marketing (SEM)

paid media example of search engine results

Search engine ads are listings that appear at the top of search results. They are a quick way to put your name on top of the competition (literally), making this type of paid media one of the top forms of online advertisements.

SEM ads are typically pay per click (PPC) or cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM).

4. Offline ads

paid media example of offline ad

Print ads are one of the most traditional forms of paid media. Although it’s hard to measure the effectiveness of a print ad, they are still widely used. Think of how many ads you see on the way to your favorite coffee shop – not only do you usually see billboards or posters during your commute, you’ll probably see some flyers at the shop, too.

In fact, you may see print ads so often you’ve already developed a sort of filter against them. A few examples to jog your memory are: newspapers, magazines, billboards, flyers, postcards, etc.

Offline ads can get rather expensive, as they require fees for design, print, and any product – all before the actual payment for the ad space. However, with the right placement at the right time, offline paid ads can be a very effective part of your marketing.

5. Radio ads

Though not quite as popular as other types of ads, radio ads can still be effective. They are short, succinct, and played to a captive audience.

The trick is to get all your information in the tight time slot given. Radio ads can be as short as 15 or 30 seconds, so running the same ad multiple times a day can help increase its effectivity.

Of course, some will to do better with a radio ad as compared to others. Local or small establishments, such as a car salesman or local service, stand to see the most gains for a radio ad. On the other hand, if none of your competitors use this type of media, you may want to reconsider its value to your business.

6. Video ads

paid media example of video ad

Has video ever gone out of style? Between Youtube channels and other streaming platforms, you may have already seen your share of video ads.

Although short, paid video ads do get seen. The most popular spots for video ads are right within streaming videos (not while browsing the site, but once you click play on an individual video). Some high-traffic websites will also rent out video ad space, which is set to automatically play once a visitor lands on the page. For an idea of how much video ads can cost, here is an article that uses Youtube as an example.

7. Podcast ads

Podcasts are increasingly popular, yet very niche. It really depends on the podcast and streaming platform. Make the right choice, and you might be able to find the perfect new audience for your business with a few podcast ads.

Most podcast listeners are deeply engaged in the show’s narrative. And depending on the podcast, you can reach a vast demographic, reaching everyone from teens to adults.

Depending on the podcast, you may get a pre-roll ad (played before the show starts) or the host may read the ad live. If you have a preference, be sure to do your research.

8. Word-of-mouth marketing

paid media example of word of mouth marketing

You may not think of word-of-mouth marketing as paid media. But in many cases, it actually is.

Any word of mouth that happens through a referral program, influencer program, or affiliate program comes with a price. That price goes toward whatever referral incentive is being  offered for the actual referral or word of mouth to happen.

In the example above, customers are encouraged to share “the magical world of Lime Crime” through their Facebook profile. In exchange, Lime Crime will have to spend $5 for every successful referral.

Owned media

Owned media is everything that goes through channels under your control. It includes any website or newsletter, as well as any social media accounts. Even if you don’t own the actual platform, you do own your account and content.

In most cases, owned media is the final destination – paid and earned media are the channels used to push traffic there. Thanks to the popularity of content marketing and social media, it’s become a lot easier to pull in traffic to owned media channels. Now, the question is: What do you do once a visitor lands on your site?

Owned media works best when it offers value for the visitor. It should draw or pull customers toward its offerings (through benefits and engagement), rather than pushing products and services on to them.

ProsCons
  • Complete control
  • Costs less
  • Published directly on your site
  • Limited audience
  • Needs internal maintenance

How much it costs

If you’re looking for a simple site to start as soon as possible, there are website platforms, like WordPress.com or Wix.com, and social media accounts available for free.

However, in time, you will need to look into getting your own paid owned channel. The cost will depend on what domain and host you choose, however is still fairly affordable.

Costs can run as low as $10 a year, or as high as hundreds or thousands of dollars – and that’s just for the domain and host. Take account of the features you absolutely need and start checking for prices. You’ll find there are multiple things that can add up, especially once design and development are involved. Some of these prices include: domain name, web hosting, designer/developer fee, website themes, plugins, etc.

How much time it takes

Time to set up: Owned media takes time. Since every element is under your control, you will want to give some thought and effort into your owed media channels. Of course, you may be able to set something up fairly quickly using a plug-and-play platform. But even then, you’re still looking at a few days of planning and preparation.

Plus, owned media doesn’t just run on its own. It requires constant care, in the form of fresh content and updates. Depending on your staff, you may be able to post a few original pieces per week, inclusive of writing and coming up with images.

Time to results: It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before the pages of your website can be crawled and ranked accurately. So if you’re keeping track of SEO metrics, you may want to give it a few weeks before checking any analytics.

Social media platforms, on the other hand, can attract likes in seconds. Building a strong following, however, can take some time, depending on your target market and content strategy.

Return on investment (ROI)

Measuring the ROI for an ecommerce website is pretty straightforward – how many products have sold and how much profit are you making?

For other types of websites, it can be a little tricky. However, with the right software tools, you can measure just about anything. Google Analytics is a great source to see how much traffic your website is generating. Additionally, you can look at your blog stats to see how your content marketing is adding to your total ROI.

Examples of owned media

The most common examples of owned media are websites. However, blogs, social media, and other platform channels are also types of owned media channels. Let’s go over a few popular owned media examples.

1. Your website

owned media example of website

A company’s website is its introduction to the digital word. As compared to other owned media, a website is a long-term, versatile property that you have total control over.

Though it usually takes the most time to scale, a website is great for carving out your own space in the industry and building customer relationships.

2. Content marketing

Content marketing is one of the best ways to give direct value to your audience, as well as establish your brand position in the market. Blogs, for example, are a key extension of your brand. They allow you to share more about your company in a more conversational tone. Plus, if you continue to add content regularly and share your posts through other paid media channels, you can make the most your content marketing efforts.

3. Social media

owned media example of social media

Though you don’t own the actual platforms (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, TikTok), your social media pages are considered owned media. You create and control all content that goes into each account.

A major benefit of social media channels is the opportunity to reach a large, targeted audience. So once you set up your account (which is free), you’re ready to share your content in just a few clicks.

4. Email marketing

Similar to social media, email marketing is considered an owned media channel. Even if your company pays for an email marketing provider or service, it still owns the email list and email content.

Email marketing is one of the most versatile forms of owned media. It can be used in combination with other types of media, such as to send blog posts or website updates, and is a way to deliver tailored content straight to engaged readers.

5. Word-of-mouth marketing

Word of mouth is one of the key benefits of using owned media channels. For example, you may have a new  blog post, online campaign, or referral program. By posting updates on your social media profiles, you’re sharing your owned media (the referral campaign or other content) on another owned media (the social platform), in order to double your efforts toward word-of-mouth marketing.

Earned media

ProsCons
  • Increases your credibility
  • Heightens brand awareness
  • Expands reach
  • Can bring up negative publicity
  • Takes time and effort
  • Can be difficult to collect

Earned media is any mention or conversation about your brand that comes voluntarily from others. This type of media is something you can’t pay for or own. Rather, earned media is something you get organically (although it may be the result of paid or owned media).

The most common types of earned media include any press releases, news features, positive reviews, or social media mentions.

How much it costs

While earned media is generally free, some of it may come at a cost. For example, many third-party review sites and platforms allow you to set up a free basic account. But they also offer extra features for a paid premium account.

However, while you may opt to pay for certain accounts, the actual recognition or acknowledgement you receive on these platforms is what’s considered as earned media. Some costs to consider when it comes to earned media include: time, any platforms or software that allows you to get earned media, other costs for content creation.

How much time it takes

Time to set up: Earned media is typically the result of other marketing efforts. For example, when someone shares your recent blog post or reposts your new campaign poster. This requires you to design, create, and publish the content first. All this takes time and planning, as well as regular updates to make sure your content stays relevant.

Time to results: Measuring the effects of earned media takes time, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Of course, you’ll be able to see social metrics, such as likes and shares, almost instantly. But, tracking impressions, clicks, and other SEO driven data takes more time. It’s best to also promote your content constantly to build up engagement and encourage others to reference your site.

Return on investment (ROI)

The biggest challenge of calculating ROI for earned media is measuring with 100% accuracy. First of all, it’s difficult to estimate how much effort needed to actually generate word of mouth or earned media, whether that means reaching out to influencers or promoting marketing campaigns. In addition, it’s nearly impossible to determine if an increase in traffic or sales comes solely from earned media.

But while the effects of earned media are general estimations, most companies feel it’s well worth it, as it builds authentic trust and loyalty for the brand.

Examples of earned media

Earned media is essentially word of mouth marketing, which includes any mentions, shares, or reviews outside of paid or owned channels. The following are some noted earned media examples:

1. Media publicity

Many small or starting businesses don’t have a big marketing budget. Even with a social media presence, it’s not easy to reach the screens of your target market. Instead, some businesses focus on getting publicity from existing media outlets.

If you have a product that stands out or offers something new, you may be able to get some free media coverage. After all, the media also loves a good story or new find. To get yourself some media coverage, consider sending out a memorable press release. Share some of your back story or even include a sample or trial of your product – including something unique helps you stand out from the pile of other press releases.

If you have a bit more budget, you can also sponsor an event. Not only will your name will be in headlines, and you will also be able to showcase your product or service to a select group of people.

2. SEO

earned media example of seoSearch engine optimization (SEO) is another form of earned media. Instead of spending money on a paid ad space, you’re providing content and aiming for organic results. For example, if you create content for specific keywords or search queries, you may start to see a rise in visitors, higher search rankings, or even score a featured snippet.

As expected, SEO efforts may take time before you see results. Unlike paid media, SEO takes a more long-term, strategic focus. But when used in combination with paid or owned media, SEO is a great part of modern marketing strategies.

3. Review sites

Earned media example of customer review

Most companies see reviews and testimonials as a great way to build credibility. They highlight any feedback or user-generated content from existing customers, and provide an opportunity for positive word-of-mouth to occur.

4. Social media

example of advertising on social media channels

Between brand mentions and re-posts, it’s pretty obvious why social media is a great earned media channel. In fact, this is where you’ll see most people discussing brands and sharing content.

Social media works well when used in tandem with paid and owned media. For example, say you share a piece of owned media, such as a blog post, on one of your social media accounts. Then, you decide to engage in paid media by boosting this post across the platform. This leads to an increase in earned media and social shares.

The result? Using just one piece of content, you see the benefits of paid, owned, and earned media at work on social media.

5. Word-of-mouth marketing

Yes, word-of-mouth marketing is also a type of earned media – which makes it a paid, owned, and earned media powerhouse! Considering its many benefits, it’s a good idea to include this type of marketing into your company’s strategy.

Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the few channels that can be utilized in so many ways. Perhaps the biggest advantage is that word-of-mouth marketing can be commissioned, like a paid channel, created and controlled like an owned channel, and have viral growth like an earned channel.

Key takeaway

Whether you’re working on paid, owned, or earned media channels, each type has its own place in an effective marketing strategy. A single piece of content can run through one or a combination channels. And with all the software tools available to monitor each type, your company can engage in paid, owned, or earned media and decide which one brings the most benefits.

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Posted by Megan Mosley

Megan Mosley is a writer for Referral Rock. You can find her poking around online or tweeting about marketing, small businesses, SEO, or even sharing funny memes. She is addicted to coffee and uses it as a fuel to keep her going through the day.