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The difference between paid owned and earned media

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 17 Nov, 2021
Essential Essential topic

With the ever-rising importance of social media and online PR, marketers are rapidly adapting their methods of budgeting, reporting, and investing in paid owned and earned media to reach and engage their customers

Investment in media is frequently grouped into the 3 media 'buckets' of earned, shared and paid which each give opportunities to influence customers. None of these media types are new, but what is new is the increasing prominence given to owned and earned media while paid media has always dominated in the past.

It’s a positive move since it poses questions about how best to measure the returns from social media and set the investment at the right level.

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In some sectors, there may be a tendency to focus more on the typically higher-cost paid media or lower-cost earned and owned media, but we recommend a balanced approach will often work best for "always-on" media activities, while for campaign objectives you may choose to 'dial up' a particular media/channel depending on your objectives.

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Select media investments

Select media investments

Part of the Digital marketing strategy and planning Toolkit

Discover three tools to review the effectiveness of different types of media for ‘always-on’ marketing

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Definitions of paid, earned, and owned media

1. What is paid media?

Simple. Paid or bought media are media where there is investment to pay for visitors, reach or conversions through search, display ad networks or affiliate marketing. Offline traditional media like print and TV advertising and direct mail remain important accounting for a large share of paid media spend.

2. What is earned media?

Traditionally, earned media has been the name given to publicity generated through PR invested in targeting influencers to increase awareness about a brand. Of course, it’s still an investment.

  • Earned media also includes word-of-mouth that can be stimulated through viral and social media marketing and includes conversations in social networks, blogs and other communities.
  • It’s useful to think of earned media as developed through different types of partners such as publishers, bloggers and other influencers including customer advocates. Think of earned media as different forms of conversations occurring both online and offline.

3. What is owned media?

This is media owned by the brand. Online this includes a company’s own websites, blogs, mobile apps or their social presence on Facebook, Linked In or Twitter. Offline owned media may include brochures or retails stores.

  • It’s useful to think of a company’s own presence as media in the sense that they are an alternative investment to other media and they offer opportunities to promote products using similar ad or editorial formats to other media. It emphasizes the need for all organizations to become multi-channel publishers.

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As you can see, each of the 3 media offers today's digital marketer a plethora of approaches, and channels. As always, we recommend planning your goals and objectives before diving head-first into the world of media.

As well as planning your own activity, setting clear digital marketing goals and objectives will help you get buy-in from colleagues and brief agencies better.

Moreover, if you need to expand your paid media budget, you will need to have a clear justification to do so, and planning can help you produce the numbers to back this up.

Paid, owned, earned Venn diagram

As you can see, there is overlap between the three different types of media. It is important to note this since achieving this overlap requires the integration of campaigns, resources and infrastructure throughout your multichannel marketing strategy.

Paid owned and earned diagram

A popular multichannel marketing tactic includes planning content on a content hub or site being broken down (atomized) and shared into other paid and earned media types. With the right budget, this activity could even be powered by APIs and widgets, taking the labour out of the task at hand. Clearly, multichannel marketing is key to unleashing the full power of your media content.

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Media investments: The content distribution matrix

When it comes to selecting media investment, our content distribution matrix tool helps to review the paid, owned and earned media options in terms of the value of the investment.

It works both to review the effectiveness of existing media investments or consider future investments, in line with your objectives.

Of course, the world of media is moving quickly so it pays to be scanning and anticipating media changes to continue to cut through the noise and reach your customers. Here's what our matrix looks like at the moment, although you may want to tweak yours according to your own internal findings:

  • Low volume low ROI
  • High volume low ROI
  • Low volume high ROI
  • High volume high ROI

Paid owned and earned

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Brand Experience of paid owned and earned media

Summarising a brand's current use of paid-owned-earned media is a powerful technique as part of marketplace analysis for developing marketing strategy.

This marketplace mapping visualization presented by Rich Kirk at Brighton SEO over 5 years ago is still a great visualization for marketers today since it overlays different types of touchpoint point on the customer journey against Paid Owned and Earned media.

Brand Experience across paid owned and earned

Media marketing for today's digital landscape

In conclusion, while none of these media types are new, digital marketers are certainly warming up to the opportunities available for owned and earned media types alongside paid media. You can use the diagrams/matrix to plan your media activity and dial-up your media mix according to your marketing plan.

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By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights. Dave is editor of the 100+ templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ digital marketing experts. Our resources are used by our Premium members in more than 100 countries to Plan, Manage and Optimize their digital marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. My personal site,, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

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