Marketers often distinguish between paid, earned, and owned media. While the strategies are different, the goal is the same — to generate awareness and engagement. Paid and earned get most of the attention, but the new battleground is going to be owned media. If you want to get ahead, and stay ahead, you need to rethink your owned media strategy.
At the risk of oversimplifying, paid media is advertising and sponsorships, while earned media is public relations and word-of-mouth. Companies either pay to deliver content to an audience or try to earn coverage and exposure from reporters and influencers. In contrast, owned media is anything under companies’ direct control such as websites, newsletters, catalogs, and blogs.
Social media is usually treated as owned and earned. The rationale is that brands own their own social channels and audiences, then try to earn sharing and word-of-mouth. But don’t be fooled. Social media is not owned media.
If social media were truly owned, brands would have control over the experience, access to their fans, and full use of the data. But the reality is quite different. Public social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter don’t enable brands to access their own data. And Facebook now charges brands to reach their own fans and followers.
Most social media is rented, not owned. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are your landlords and you just lease the space. It’s true that you own your accounts and profiles. That’s like having your name on the mailbox. But as your landlord, they can enter your apartment at will, renovate the building whenever they like — and keep the profits resulting from improvements you make to the property.
There are many advantages to leasing a property. But don’t confuse the rights of a renter with the freedom of an owner. Third-party social media platforms are a combination of paid and earned, not owned. Social media is an owned media strategy for the social networks themselves, but not for you.
So what are the elements of an owned media strategy? Think content, community, and context.
- Content: The foundations of an owned media strategy are your content channels — the vehicles through which you deliver content to audiences directly, unmediated by a third party. The most common channels are your website, catalogs, and newsletters. You should also consider your stores and mobile apps. The key to a successful content channel is that you have engaging content that is relevant and valuable, and that you are using all available data to personalize the experience for the user.
- Community: While content channels focus on the connection between you and your customer, community emphasizes the connections your customers have with each other. These can be online, such as virtual communities or private social networks, or offline, such as in-person gatherings or events. They can be direct, as in discussion forums, or indirect, through peer benchmarking. It’s more work to create your own community than to rent someone else’s, but the rewards can ultimately be much greater.
- Context: The biggest limitation of paid and earned media is having a purely transactional relationship with your fans, followers and customers. You need some mechanism for turning isolated interactions into a connected experience. This requires an ability to capture data and turn that data into value for the customer by combining big andlittle data. Loyalty and reward programs provide this type of context for B2C companies, while strategic account and relationship management programs do the same for B2B companies.
We can see how content, community, and context come together in the owned media strategies of today’s most innovative marketers. These brands create engagement platforms that do more than push out messages. They create a gravitational field that pulls prospects and customers into orbit around their brands.
Sephora has created its own channels for delivering content, its own communities for building connections, and created a context for capturing data and creating value. The building blocks are Sephora’s Loyalty program, mobile app, BeautyTalk community, and ColorIQ service. Customers can use the ColorIQ service to find the best shade of makeup for their skin, access preferences in their profile, see recommended products in the mobile app, and discuss tips and techniques with experts and peers through the online community.
Vail Resorts has created an owned media platform called EpicMix to engage skiers for its resorts. EpicMix is a cross between a social network and an adventure game. RFID technology in the lift tickets track the locations of skiers and their friends on the mountain, and their times on the various runs. They earn badges, post photos, send messages, and compare times through the EpicMix mobile app. In large part due to EpicMix, Vail Resorts grew revenue, profitability and market share through the recent recession while others fell behind.
Owned media strategies are particularly compelling for manufacturers who want to create direct relationships with customers. In the sporting goods industry, Nike has created the Nike+ running community while UnderArmour is developing an owned media strategy around its recent acquisition of MapMyFitness. In the food and grocery segment, McCormick has created its FlavorPrint taste profiler while Kraft Foods has created an entire community around recipes as a social currency.
Owned media can be used in B2B as well. Jive Software (one of my clients) recently launched a marketing strategy around the idea of workstyle — the equivalent of lifestyle for the workplace. In addition to the usual paid, earned, and social strategies, Jive’s owned media strategy incorporates content, community, and context to help people work better together.
Each of these owned media strategies share some fundamental characteristics. First, they create value for people beyond the products being sold. Second, they use data not just as a way to target a message, but as a way to create a useful service. Third, they treat people not as a passive consumers but active co-creators. Whereas most media strategies are about push, these owned strategies are about pull.
These owned strategies also leverage paid, earned and social strategies in important ways. Paid media is used to build awareness and generate initial engagement with the platform. Insight from the data and collaboration with the community generates compelling content to garner additional exposure on traditional channels (earned) or for sharing by community members to their networks (social).
There is no doubt that these owned media strategies are complex and require a real commitment of time, energy, and resources. It is much easier to create an ad campaign, make a media buy, refresh your web site, or execute a PR program. But the future of engagement is about regaining control over your data, disintermediating the current channel owners, and creating ongoing relationships with customers beyond individual transactions.
It will take courage and vision, but the alternative is a lack of differentiation and authentic engagement. If sneakers, spices, and skiing are fertile ground to building engagement platforms, then every industry is fair game.
Paid and earned aren’t going away. But if you want to truly be disruptive, it’s time to rethink owned media and make it a more strategic part of your marketing mix.