Despite its power, sophistication, and allure, the digital marketing medium is just the latest iteration of the ways in which brands reach their current and potential customers.
Before the advent of the internet, the buzz was (and to an extent, still is) centered on the “new” craze of television.
Before that, print and out-of-home (billboards, city buses, etc.) dominated the methods by which brands reached their audiences.
A consistent theme you will see throughout the world of digital marketing is that the methods these marketers use are really adaptations of the methods that marketers have always been using—just repackaged to fit the digital environment.
For this reason, the concept of the traditional media mix readily applies to digital marketing channels in the same way that it does to more traditional marketing channels.
The Media Mix
The media mix consists of paid, earned, and owned media.
These three categories apply to a brand’s marketing efforts whether the media that brand is using is strictly digital or a mix of digital and other messaging channels.
Paid media is straightforward—it represents advertisements or other forms of paid placement messaging. We’ll look at some examples of each of the elements of the media mix in a moment, but keep in mind that, as a general rule, paid media’s effect is directly tied to how much money is spent. More money means more effect, and vice versa.
Earned media does not directly cost marketing dollars in the same way that paid media does; however, it is often tied to paid or owned media. It is unpaid, but it is also outside your control as a brand. It may include publicity exposure or organic shares, comments, and engagement online. In the latter case, your customers effectively become the media channel.
While paid and owned media can always be tailored to match your messaging, earned media comes from sources outside your brand and as a result may not reflect your messaging objectives.
Owned media is communication that your brand produces. It directly reflects your brand’s voice and exists entirely within the control of your brand (hence the name—your brand owns this messaging channel).
Here are some examples of the media mix in action within the context of a digital marketing channel.
Paid media consists of ads, paid placement, and influencer collaboration arrangements. Earned media comes from word of mouth or buzz-related exposure, and owned media is represented by the elements of your brand’s online presence.
No Channel Is an Island
The most important thing to remember about the media mix is that each type of media has a place within a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. Brands that focus exclusively on one method of connecting with their audience will likely overspend and underconvert. Each element helps fulfill a different marketing goal, and these three elements not only work together, but when used effectively, improve the effectiveness of one another.
How Does Paid Media Work?
Let’s take a closer look at paid media.
First, the benefits. Paid media is very scalable. Generally speaking, the more money you pump into paid media channels, the more effective they become. There is, of course, a ceiling for this, but for many channels the range between very little performance and very high performance is quite large.
Paid media also offers brands a high degree of control over messaging, with a lot of room to be creative. Add all of this to the fact that there is a wide range of paid channels within the digital environment, and paid media has a high potential to make an impact for your brand.
There are, however, some notable negatives to the paid media channel. Audiences suffer from what is known as ad fatigue, and advertisements or sponsored content can produce diminishing returns over time within the same audience sector.
Additionally, paid messaging comes with an asterisk—audiences often view ads with a healthy amount of skepticism, and as a result paid media often has a lower credibility level than earned media.
Finally, the proliferation of paid media channels in the digital space has evolved into a double-edged sword. You can reach more people, but audiences are bombarded with paid media in various forms and it can be tough to make your message stand out from the competition.
How Does Earned Media Work?
Earned media can be fickle.
In the age of viral content, earned media has the potential to be more impactful than ever before, but when everyone is “joining the conversation,” there are a lot of topics that don’t get covered.
First, the benefits.
Earned media has the highest degree of credibility. Because it often represents publicity or word of mouth, it is not viewed with the same skepticism as paid advertisements or other paid media—earned media is considered by many to be more honest or transparent.
Because it isn’t paid media, earned media does not directly incur cost. It’s often generated in part by exposure to paid or owned media, however, so although it isn’t entirely free, it is very cost-effective.
Ideally, earned media takes the form of positive reviews or anecdotes relating to your brand, posted by happy customers. These positive brand associations can effectively transform customers into brand ambassadors: people who have a high level of authority and trust within their social circles and who are positively representing your brand, your products, and your overall messaging.
For all the positive potential that earned media can deliver, it is not a silver bullet.
As a brand, you have no level of control when earned media pops up, and for this reason it is difficult to scale positive earned media. Additionally, unlike paid or owned media channels, earned media isn’t always positive. Perhaps you have heard a PR professional say that there is no such thing as bad publicity . . . if only that were true.
How Does Owned Media Work?
Owned media constitutes the messaging channels that brands directly control.
These often consist of websites, mobile sites, blogs, or other content assets such as white papers, case studies, or reports. Because brands literally own these channels, there are no restrictions on control whatsoever. The brand, as the owner, has complete messaging control.
Whereas earned media can fizzle out over time and paid advertisements will offer diminishing returns, owned media channels are long-lived. They can be populated with messaging designed to meet the versatile messaging needs of a brand, and there are no creative restrictions.
However, in the same way that paid media channels come with an asterisk in the minds of many audiences, brand-direct communication is also often viewed with skepticism. Additionally, it takes time to scale owned media channels. Paid media comes with instant reach, and earned media has varying levels of reach, but owned media does not have an inherent level of reach and must be built up over time.
A Combined Effort
Altogether, the media mix represents a combined effort.
Each element of the media mix has a role to play in a successful digital marketing campaign, and as you explore strategies, tools, and tactics, think about the category or categories that each one falls into to better understand how it contributes to your overall strategy.
The Role of Paid Media
Paid media is active and direct messaging. It is designed to project your message, and the highly scalable nature of paid media campaigns means that paid messaging should firmly represent your brand’s voice.
Effective paid media feeds owned media to current and new audiences and encourages positive earned media.
The Role of Owned Media
Owned media represents foundational messaging and the core of your brand’s voice. It reinforces long-tern relationships with customers and encourages positive earned media. Because your brand has total ownership of this kind of media, use it to appeal to niche audiences and rely on it for the basis of paid media campaigns.
The Role of Earned Media
Cost-effective but unpredictable, earned media is the most credible messaging channel your brand can cultivate. Dedicate resources to producing quality paid and owned media to encourage positive earned media.
Don’t just rely on your other media channels, however; listen and respond to customers to encourage positive earned media. Let your superior customer experience drive the positive buzz surrounding your brand!
The Bottom Line
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The power and scope of today’s digital marketing would have been inconceivable to marketers just a few short decades ago, but take away the screens, social media, and powerful analytics, and core marketing concepts such as the media mix are still very much in play.
It is also important to remember that thinking critically about the elements of your digital marketing strategy is never “busy work.” Refining your strategy, analyzing your performance, and better understanding the linkages between the elements of your messaging channels—even if it doesn’t yield results right now—will ultimately make your strategy stronger and more informed.
Benjamin Sweeney is the Senior Business Writer for ClydeBank Media who specializes in the wide and wonderful world of business and process optimization. He has an appetite for waste reduction and an eye for efficiency. He has authored two titles on the subject of Lean manufacturing, both available from ClydeBank Media.