Owned, Earned and Paid Media Should Integrate, Not Seperate

The owned, earned, paid media approach to content marketing has gained momentum, in part, because the number of channels and amount of content are increasing. As consumers, our attention splinters as volume rises. As marketers, we look for new ways to shout louder or shine brighter.

But in our attempts to elbow-out the competition, we may have made a critical error. Owned, earned and paid, while each comprised of very different channels, are often treated as merely that: different channels for distribution. When in fact, inherent in each of these overlapping spheres are realities that impact the when, where, how and by whom your content will be received.

More specifically, owned, earned and paid media have unique strengths and abilities to target buyers at stages throughout the purchasing process. By better leveraging these strengths, marketers stand to increase internal efficiencies, and improve campaign performance and ROI.

Below are activities, roles and key stages of the buying process for owned, earned and paid.

Owned Media

  • Examples: Website, blog, social media channels, newsletters, subscribers, email lists
  • Roles: Establish subject matter expertise, develop content themes, build audience, build foundation for thought leadership
  • Key stages of the buying process: Consideration, comparison, trust, loyalty

The most obvious benefit of owned media is that it is your own. It cannot be altered or taken down without your consent, and it is forever ubiquitously available to potential buyers for the upfront price of its creation. Total control also gives you the ability to optimize for readability and conversions. Your content can be best positioned to achieve its intended outcome and serve your goals—no one else’s.

Also, owned media consumers have found you. They’re looking to solve a problem, consider solutions, compare vendors or validate their decision, and have turned to you for answers. As a result, you are in a unique position to grab—and hold—their attention.

To best leverage the freedom and flexibility of owned content, make it your most meaty. Long-form content (website pages, blog posts, etc.) is smiled upon by Google and lends well to building your brand’s credibility on a particular subject.

Balance legitimacy with brand messaging. First and foremost, your content must be high quality. Provide strong support for content with third-party sources and subject matter experts. But also use this editorial freedom to weave in brand tie-ins so readers associate subject matter expertise with your company.

Lastly, owned content must be optimized for a conversion—and for the right one. Readers in the consideration stage are likely ready to take the leap into a free trial, download a premium content asset, request a demo or subscribe to your blog. Those in the comparison and trust stages are on the verge of a purchase; and in the loyalty stage, becoming a passionate brand advocate.

With complete control, the sky’s the limit. Content should be written with a specific buyer persona and stage in mind. And calls to action should also be tailored (and tested) to guide visitors to their next step.

Earned Media

  • Examples: Influencer marketing, PR and media relations, guest blogging, online reviews, word of mouth
  • Roles: Build thought leadership, establish credibility
  • Key stages of the buying process: Awareness, trust

Earned media’s primary benefits are borrowed reach and third-party validation. Because of this, building awareness is well suited for earned media. This is your chance in front of a fresh audience; make it count. Your content should be strongly aligned with both the audience’s needs and your brand’s value proposition. Guest blogging is a strong tactic here. Demonstrate thought leadership to make an impression, and if possible, include links or CTAs to draw readers back to owned channels.

Trust is another key stage for earned. Buyers often turn to outside sources for third-party validation before making a purchase. This is where influencer marketing and public relations are critical. Nurture influencer and media relationships, and don’t forget the power of a passionate customer base. The right placement, endorsement or positive review could be the social proof your prospect needs.


  • Examples: Native advertising, sponsored content, banner ads, affiliate networks, native newsletters, native social, social advertising
  • Roles: Accelerate awareness, drive conversions
  • Key stages of the buying process: Awareness, consideration, purchase

Paid media is owned and earned’s outbound cousin. It gives you the greatest control over when and where buyers will come into contact with your content, and ideally it’s highly targeted. (Its easy-to-calculate spend also makes ROI clearer than the others, though attribution modeling isn’t quite as straightforward as we’d like to imagine.)

Broad reach paired with precise targeting makes paid media ideal for awareness, consideration, and purchase. It allows you to introduce your brand to a greater segment of your buyer personas. And retargeting can be highly effective in nudging leads toward conversion. As mentioned above, paid is most successful when it’s highly targeted. Precise segmenting and action-oriented copy will help the right messages reach the right buyers at the right time.

Mapping Owned, Earned, and Paid Along the Buyer Journey

Buyers have specific needs, goals and questions at each stage of the purchasing journey, and are likely to be consuming owned, earned and paid content along the way. This path is far from linear, and the convergence of owned, earned and paid further complicates matters. (While social content might be “owned,” the platform is not.)

Nonetheless, mapping owned, earned and paid to the buyer journey avoids taking a shotgun approach to your marketing strategy. Instead, content is directly tied to the buyer’s mindset and a desired action or outcome.

There are endless theories, models, strategies and diagrams on content marketing, but they all boil down to a few simple questions:

  • What is your business goal?
  • What is the user trying to achieve at that moment?
  • What unique, compelling and useful thing can you offer?

Keep these in mind, and the picture suddenly becomes a whole lot clearer.

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