Earned, Owned or Paid content? What are they and why should marketers use them?

To earn or to own (or even to pay), that is the question. Content marketing still reigns supreme when it comes to conveying your brand message, engaging consumers and leveraging your influence, but how does this play out in practical terms?

The Drum’s recent report ‘Everything you need to know about content marketing’ starts from the Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) definition of content marketing. CMI defines content marketing as ‘the discipline of creating quality branded content across all media channels and platforms to deliver engaging relationships, consumer value and measurable success for brands,’ which is a good starting point for marketers.

But beyond knowing that content marketing is a rewarding avenue to pursue, where should marketers go from here?

Earned, owned or paid?

The debate over whether to own, earn or pay for your content remains hotly contested. The three avenues offer marketers different ways of integrating content marketing into their strategy, with each giving its own benefits and, inevitably, the occasional challenge.

So how should marketers decide which is most appropriate, and when? First of all, you have to know the difference.

1) Earned content – best defined as ‘exposure that you’ve earned through word-of-mouth’. This can take the form of content you’ve distributed, the influence of SEO or even the customer experience, and is most often found in mentions, positive reviews, reposts and recommendations.

In our digital-dominated era, social media has made earned content easily shareable and often free to marketers looking to increase brand exposure. Yet despite the wide reach and low cost offered by earned content, the lack of control and dependency on the goodwill of your consumers imposes some limits on its potential as a marketing tool.

2) Owned content – in many ways what it says on the tin, owned content is media which you have created and belongs to you. This can take the shape of your company website, the blogs you write or the social media accounts you maintain. It is argued that the primary goal of owned content is ‘to continue providing value to leads as they move down the funnel.’

Econsultancy argues that the three key words for owned content are quality, persuasiveness and relevance. The obvious value of owned content is having the creative freedom and control to promote your brand’s self-image, but is still not a flawless, linear route into driving customer loyalty and sales.

3) Paid content – With so much noise in the content sphere, sometimes paying for your content can feel like the only way to get your brand voice heard. Paid content is often best thought of as more traditional advertising, in which brands pay for space on a platform. That this platform can be anything from a magazine column to a sponsored LinkedIn article is important, as it offers brands variety and scope to target new, specific audiences depending on the message.

Yet as one might expect, paid content comes at a cost. With the likes of Facebook and Google charging brands a premium for the top spots on their ad roll, and influential commentators such as Forbes questioning the value of traditional print and TV advertising in a digital age, paid content alone is not enough for a long term strategy.

For even more details on the differences between earned, owned and paid content, check out this Hubspot article or Econsultancy’s full blog here.

How should marketers decide?

The most important thing for all marketers to remember is that the debate between earned, owned or paid content is not a simple case of ‘either or’. Just as you seek to create a marketing mix which utilises multiple platforms and allows for fluidity in strategy, content should be tailored and honed to meet the needs of the brand at any given time.

1) Weigh the pros and cons

As can be seen above, each avenue offers its pros and cons, and can often vary in usefulness depending on your stage of brand development. If you’re looking to draw in new consumers, paid content can offer reach and scale. If you’re looking to build retention and added value, owned could be the best way to go. If you’re confident your product or service offering can speak for itself, letting your brand reputation do the talking in the form of earned content can be rewarding and require minimal maintenance.

2) Take your time, and do your research

Taking the time to consider what you need from your content is key, as is planning how your strategy is going to get you there. A little research can go a long way: a recent whitepaper by earned content agency Olapic (and distributed by Marketing Week) argued that creating more engaging content is both the top priority and the biggest challenge for UK content creators.

3) Keep it simple

It was also suggested by Olapic that turning your owned content into brand assets, with simple methods such as using hashtags, offers good cross-platform integration to tie your efforts together. The CMI also proposes keeping it simple, arguing that when it comes to earned content, choosing an influencer who is active on the key social media platforms for your target audience is crucial to making sure your message is targeted and ultimately well received.

Whichever combination of options you choose for your content marketing, the standard practices of clear messaging, informed targeting and high ROI for your time and money still stand. For tips on how to measure your new content strategy to make sure it’s working for you, check out Brand Watch’s guide to ‘How to Measure Paid, Owned, and Earned Media.’

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