Using paid, owned, and earned media in your digital marketing strategy

Analytics interface showing the statistical results of paid, owned, and earned media in a digital marketing strategy.

In an increasingly fragmented media environment, it can be difficult to keep up. That’s certainly the case if you’re a consumer comparing the costs and content offerings of all the recently spawned streaming services. But it’s also true for business leaders making critical decisions about their company’s digital marketing strategy.

You’ve no doubt heard of these marketing terms — paid media, owned media, and earned media. While most executives have a general understanding of the concepts, many could use a reminder.

A comprehensive digital marketing strategy needs to include a mix of paid, owned, and earned media. But you have to know which type is which, and what they mean for your business.

In this article, you’ll learn about paid, owned, and earned media and how they work, as well as the differences between them and which is right for which circumstances or objectives.

Definitions of paid, owned, and earned media

Like any other business strategy, knowledge — rather than just awareness — is essential to success. Understanding paid, owned, and earned media is vital to marketing effectively across the complex and cacophonous modern media landscape.

While they are different, earned, owned, and paid media should be thought of as three interrelated elements of the pyramid that comprises a complete digital marketing strategy. They operate as a coherent system — but at the same time, each element requires and must contribute to an entire marketing strategy.

Before developing a strategy, let’s first dig a little deeper into each media type.

What is paid media?

Put simply, paid media is any marketing that you pay for. Used to to drive earned media and direct traffic to owned media properties, paid media includes all marketing efforts you can’t execute for free.

Paying to promote media is an excellent way to gain exposure and momentum — it gets content in front of an audience, which can then engage with it and move further down the marketing funnel. Because of its advanced targeting capabilities and direct approach, paid content is a highly effective strategy for reaching your audience, driving consumers to your website or social media platforms, and increasing conversions.

Paid media incorporates both traditional and digital types of advertising.

Icons representing traditional and digital varieties of advertising including print, radio, TV, billboards, SERP, PPC, display, social media, and paid influencers.

Whether you focus on paid search or paid social (or both), there are many advantages to using paid media as part of your digital marketing strategy. These benefits include faster lead and traffic generation, immediate results from ads once they go live, and greater control over the message — as you can choose what the ad will say, when it is active, and where it will appear.

What is owned media?

Generally speaking, owned media is marketing that is unique to your brand and you own. It includes any web property you control and content you can publish for free.

The most common example is a website, which is likely the main media asset your company owns. Other examples of owned media include non-paid social media, blog, and email marketing content, which further extends your website and brand in the digital space. A company with many brand assets will have more owned media, and it will be able to boost its web presence, increasing reach, exposure, impressions, and chances for conversion.

It takes time and effort to build up a library of owned media, as the majority of assets are content-based, but it’s a powerful tool in your marketing strategy toolbox. You don’t need the budget that you do for paid media, and you have more control than you do with earned media — you just need the willingness and ability to create content to try and reach your audience organically.

In addition to complete control of content and design, there are other benefits to owned media. First, as long as owned media materials are live they will continue to drive ROI. Second, the audience isn’t paying for ads but resources that are useful, informative, or interesting. Third, by delivering something of value, you develop trust and build a relationship with customers more quickly.

Owned media is the largest contributor to organic traffic — and through blog posts, social media, an email newsletter, and the content on your website, it’s an effective marketing tactic to grow your business.

What is earned media?

Earned media refers to content or advertising that publicizes your business, but which you haven’t paid for or created yourself. In other words, it’s other people talking about you.

Think of earned media as online word-of-mouth marketing. It’s how audiences interact with paid and owned media — and it’s the way that they often get to the properties where you want them to be, such as your website, blog, or social media.

While they are different, earned, owned, and paid media should be thought of as three interrelated elements of the pyramid that comprises a complete digital marketing strategy. They operate as a coherent system — but at the same time, each element requires and must contribute to an entire marketing strategy.

Earned media includes shares, mentions, reposts, reviews, and recommendations of your business or products. It also includes content picked up by third-party affiliate sites or news outlets. It can come from journalists, PR agencies, influencers, or your own fans and advocates.

Some of the benefits of earned media include:

High-quality brand content and strong organic search rankings are the primary drivers of earned media traffic. That’s why it’s crucial to develop good paid and owned digital marketing strategies, as all types of media have an effect on one another.

What is the difference between paid, owned, and earned media?

All three types of media — owned, earned, and paid — are important to a successful digital marketing strategy. It will depend on your business needs, resources, audiences, and goals to decide how to direct your efforts.

Remember, paid media is advertising or sponsored content you pay to put in front of an audience, whereas owned and paid media are free. Owned media is that which you create and control — for example, your website or Facebook page — but earned media is material others have produced about you, such as product reviews and social mentions.

Each type of media is different, but they all interact and even overlap at times. For example, an influencer could be a paid Instagrammer or a fan who shares their feelings with their followers and earns media for your brand.

Ideally, an optimized digital marketing strategy will use each type of media for different purposes. This way, each type of media will feed into and flow from the other.

  1. Paid media can be used to generate more earned media.
  2. Owned media can be used to generate more earned media.
  3. Earned media is driven by strong organic traffic from paid media and content from owned media.

Using paid, owned, and earned media in your digital marketing strategy

By now, you’ve learned what paid, owned, and earned media are, how they work, and the differences between them. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better able to evaluate your current marketing approaches, assets, and materials — to analyze performance and discover new opportunities.

But in this fragmented and fast-changing digital media environment, you still need technological tools that can make use of your knowledge and understanding. Adobe can help.

Adobe Audience Manager empowers you to integrate paid, owned, and earned media and turn insights into action. As a data management solution, it collects and merges information from practically any source, building intelligent audience segments that give you a complete view of your customers.

Learn more about real-time insights, audiences, and activation with Adobe Audience Manager.