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Paid vs. Earned Media


One of the benefits of digital media that it can be tracked, which means measurability. So, how does earned media measure up against paid media, and vice versa?

The terms earned, owned and paid media” have become very popular in the interactive marketing space today. In fact, taken together they can be applied as a simple way for interactive marketers to categorize and ultimately prioritize all of the media options they have today.

In Paid media a brand pays to leverage a channel. An example of paid media is display ads, paid search and sponsorship. Analytics packages tell you about what a visitor does once she comes through to your website. Your ad server tells you a bit more about what happened before that visit.

Many people are predicting the end of paid media (aka advertising). However, that prediction may be premature as no other type of media can guarantee the immediacy and scale that paid media can. However, paid media is shifting away from the foundation and evolving into a catalyst that is needed at key periods to drive more engagement.

Post click and view tracking allows for true measurement of a campaign – it’s all about knowing what happens after the click. By placing tracking code on the conversion pages of the destination website, conversions can be tracked by placement. Sophisticated ad servers also allow for cross channel tracking. Using this technology, we can gauge how display campaigns support search, for example, and the true value of the various elements of campaigns can be evaluated.

Earned media is when customer becomes the channel itself. “Earned media” is an old PR term that essentially meant getting your brand into free media rather than having to pay for it through advertising. However the term has evolved into the transparent and permanent word-of-mouth that is being created through social media. You need to learn how to listen and respond to both the good and bad as well as consider when to try and stimulate earned media through word-of-mouth marketing.

Earned media has the merit of third-party credibility, and it reaches people when they are opted in and value the information. Media coverage in the right publications is still the single most effective tool to raise brand awareness.

With paid media being largely ineffective and earned media facing the growing irrelevance of traditional media in face of burgeoning social media, brands pursue the avenue of becoming media companies in their own right. Bypassing traditional media channels, they either set up their own TV channels, print publications (corporate publishing), or blog networks


Ultimately, your tracking solution should allow you to not only compare your earned media vs. your paid media, but to see the effect that they have on each other (and of course on your search traffic). Instead of merely looking at the most recent source of a visit to your site, a multi-touch attribution model allows you to see what effect different media have on a series of visits to your website.

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