How does owned, earned and paid media work with content marketing?
How does owned, earned and paid media work with content marketing?

How does owned, earned and paid media work with content marketing?

Content remains one of the most misunderstood areas of marketing. With brands continuing to adopt dozens of online channels, and using these channels in myriad ways, the lines are often blurred and it’s easy to become lost in buzzwords. In this post, we’ll look at how content marketing works with owned, earned and paid media to:

  • Build an audience
  • Grow demand
  • Drive conversion
  • Retain customers

Robert Rose (Content Marketing Institute) published an excellent video recently (below), explaining the four types of content marketing. This was borne out of Andrew Davies’ Content Marketing Quadrant, which is another really insightful way to look at how content marketing works.

But here’s the thing: it’s still not an easy concept to understand. That’s to be expected. Andrew Davies claims it took “three months” to come up with the Content Marketing Quadrant and it remains a work in progress, despite input from a few of the industry’s top thinkers.

Understanding how content marketing works with owned, earned and paid media

Many marketers have become familiar with media ownership in offline channels, however, I thought it would be useful to dive into how owned media, earned media and paid media work in the ever-changing world of content marketing.

This might help you to better plan your content marketing strategy and understand the best way to use various forms of content marketing – and at the right time – to achieve your goals.

Build your audience with owned media

When we talk about owned media, it’s specifically content that is distributed using owned channels. This might be your company blog, Facebook page or email newsletter.

Owned media should not try to directly persuade people to make a purchase. It’s more about creating demand for your product or service by attracting an audience. Through tuning in to the audience’s mindset, we can publish valuable, well-received content. To be effective, content must be one (or more) of the following:

  • Informing – information to help achieve a goal or fix a problem
  • Educating – explaining a concept to improve understanding (…like this post)
  • Entertaining – sharing an interesting or amusing story for pleasure

Owned media should genuinely resonate with the target market. The goal here is to make the brand more relevant. By offering value upfront the brand is set to win space in the front of the audience’s mind.

Example: If you’re a car dealership, it might be useful for your audience to understand how to choose the right kind of car for their needs (inform), let them know about how warranties work (educate) or share a story about an everyday vehicle that completed an interesting journey (entertain). The idea is they’ll remember you for this when they (or a friend) are thinking about buying a car.

The video takes a look at Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter – a content driven website specifically about pregnancy and baby care. They’re not trying to persuade visitors to directly make a purchase here. Rather, positioning the brand as experts in baby care to build an audience and drive demand for baby care products. You’ll also notice a distinct lack of J&J branding here.

Grow your audience and drive demand with earned media

Earned media is primarily and traditionally won through PR campaigns. However, effective content marketing can also win earned media – and on an ongoing basis – by offering genuine, newsworthy value to the audience.

When our owned media content resonates with online audiences it will – fingers crossed – receive recognition in the form of shares and comments on social media. Then, comes response through news coverage, blog posts and videos.

This reactive activity is called earned media – the by-product of our content marketing.

Earned media, in this sense, has three main benefits:

  • Awareness – valuable third-party recognition from the audience and hopefully influencers
  • Reputation – ideally, the audience’s reactions reflect and support the the brand’s values/product benefits
  • Relationships – builds a relationship between the brand and the audience

Example: This post you’re reading right now is a (rather convenient) example of earned media. I came across Robert’s video and really liked it. His video was in reference to Andrew’s Content Marketing Quadrant diagram, which I also think is awesome. With this post, I’m reflecting and supporting what both Andrew and the Content Marketing Institute does and spreading the word.

As well as a horizontal spread of sharing/word of mouth, there’s a cascading effect on owned media channels with responses to an original story, and these can sprout new branches of commentary.

It’s also interesting to note the mix of media that’s led to this post being created; video, image and text.

That’s how content marketing can create earned media.

Using paid media to help attract, engage and convert

Paid media is what everyone’s most familiar with. Essentially, it’s the paid promotion of a message. This covers what we consider to be traditional advertising; newspaper ads, TV commercials and billboards. But it also covers promoted media placements online.

Paid media includes search engine marketing (AdWords), promoted posts on social media (Twitter) and pre-roll videos (YouTube). It also covers display ads found across the web.

Paid media can be used to promote pretty much any message online, but typically:

  • To increase the reach of owned media – to get more eyeballs on your content, quicker
  • To capture top of funnel interest – like the Pardot example (below)
  • To win lower funnel traffic and generate immediate sales – i.e. direct response

Example: While there are many readily available instances we could look into here, Facebook is an interesting case study in the respect of paid media and content marketing working together.

As we know, Facebook has developed more than a few ways to generate revenue over the past few years. There’s quite a few types of ads, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll discuss just two, Sponsored Posts and Boosted Posts. If you want to check out all the options, you can do so here.

While it’s easy to spot the display ads that sit in the margins areas, Sponsored Posts are little less obvious, appearing in the newsfeed as regular posts. While marked up as such, they easily blend into the news feed.

In the Pardot example below, the landing page contains a signup form to access the promoted content. This will allow Pardot to build and segment an audience – on their own platform. Over time they will aim to nurture this interest, with a view to eventually winning sales. They’ll then use insights from this process to influence new content. A little blurred here between owned and paid media, but you can see how they function together, with content as the stimulus.

Example of sponsored post on Facebook
Boosted Posts are where things get interesting. These are posts a publisher has paid to achieve a more prominent placement in newsfeeds – and this isn’t displayed to the user. As you might expect, ‘boosting’ sparked some controversy amongst less well-funded Facebook page owners when introduced just over a year ago. Without spend, it’s unlikely posts will be seen in their followers’ news feeds – what’s referred to as (now all but defunct) organic reach.

Boosted Posts can also appear in user’s friends feeds and friend’s of friend’s, widening their reach further. For marketers, this is now really the only way to increase reach of owned media content on Facebook.

While the content is owned media, it also technically becomes paid media with ‘boosting’. This is where the lines are being somewhat blurred. Boosted owned media? Turbo owned? Who knows?

Other well known examples of online paid media include:

Anyway, that’s a quick look at online paid media.

Something worth noting; As social networks look to monetise their audiences, many marketers and publishers are now seeking ways to pull social followers onto their own platforms, to retain the audience that they have built.

Using owned, earned and paid to retain customers and create advocates

After all of the effort required to build an audience and win new business, it makes sense to consider how you speak to existing customers.

In 2009, management consulting powerhouse, McKinsey, published the Consumer Decision Journey; an updated version of the sales/marketing funnel to better reflect the buying process of modern consumers (see image below).

McKinsey customer journey

Image credit: McKinsey

Based on extensive research of 20,000+ consumers over multiple continents, this reflects a different purchasing process to that of days past.

As you can see, this is an ongoing cycle where consideration, evaluation, purchase and experience are a continuing cycle. This closely aligns with how Robert and Andrew discuss content marketing effectiveness. The single biggest change here is advocacy and it’s perhaps the most challenging area for brands to manage.

By using owned, earned and paid media with content marketing, we can speak specifically to existing customers across numerous channels. Adding post-purchase value elevates the customer experience and drives a new cycle of customers.

An additional or alternative benefit to this activity is customer retention. This is particularly attractive for subscription based products where it’s important to remind the customer of the value of the service.

Now, I appreciate that for some organisations, asking IT to replace a USB cable is a 39 step process that needs approval from 3 managers, but if you do have a CRM platform and can access data relatively painlessly, there are some pretty interesting ways to use it….

Spread the love (owned media)

Setting up a specific email newsletter for customers might be a great way to stay in touch with relevant information. While you might repurpose content from your blog, social and sale material, it’s still important to talk to customers in the most relevant way. By plugging CRM data in, it’s easy to send out a birthday discount offer or renewal offer on a purchase anniversary. If there’s an updated version of a product available, you might want to let specific customers know. Or maybe, offer some shout outs to followers via social media from time to time. All of this improves the customer experience and helps create advocacy, fuelling new sales and customers.

Feel the love (earned media)

By improving the customer experience, through relevant and timely content, your customers will talk. This might be on social media, email (sharing links), in real-world conversations or even via blog posts. In the Content Marketing Spectrum video, we see a great example from Coca-Cola of an owned media platform enabling customers to create earned media for the brand. This shows how seriously brands are taking advocacy in the digital age.

Buy the love (paid media)

While owned media might get to a certain number of your customers, as we know, paid media can multiply that reach. For example, ads can be targeted to users based on their email address (Google, Facebook). This means ads can use specific messaging for special offers, product advice, or to make customers aware of things they’re already paying for, e.g. customer service.

Example: Social Media Examiner have listed out some great examples of enhancing customer experience with social media that you should definitely check out.


Content marketing is arguably the best way to build your brand online, albeit, perhaps, the most challenging. While owned, earned and paid media may seem a world away from their traditional counterparts in the offline world, the principles remain the same. If you want to stay ahead of the pack, getting to grips with your consumer decision journey will help make your content marketing efforts perform better. But as marketers, we need to understand how newer, online channels and our marketing activity therein, fits into the bigger picture. And more importantly, how it helps us achieve our goals.

I’m keen to hear what you think of this post and the content marketing spectrum in whole. If you’d like to keep the discussion going, find me @mattdove on Twitter or let me know in the comments below.

How we can help you

We can help you drive digital marketing performance by using the world’s most powerful digital marketing channels to full effect

How we can help you

Get a proposal

Would you like to see how Reef can improve your digital marketing campaigns? We welcome the opportunity to share our best ideas with you

Get a proposal