Owned, paid, earned – where to invest


As consumers have adopted mobile, (to the extent that Ofcom has called the UK a ‘smartphone society’*), brands have evolved from a multi-channel business model to an omni-channel model. The concept recognises that customers engage with companies or brands in many different ways, at any time, across a variety of platforms - sometimes simultaneously. This is particularly true in retail where consumers expect to be able to discover and buy products or services whenever and wherever they want. By its very nature therefore, the customer experience is now front and centre of your umbrella business strategy.

Marketing needs to follow suit. By looking at your overarching strategy through the lens of the customer experience, you naturally move from an advertising-led approach to a content-led approach. This is where an enhanced paid, owned, earned model is not only useful but imperative.

The key is to understand what this means in the current climate and to strike a delicate balance between the different options. Understanding this landscape is essential in terms of deciding on the different levels of investment for the myriad platforms and formats that are available to brands.

Challenges to the traditional model

The well-known paid, owned, earned model for digital media planning, developed in 2009 by Dan Goodall of Nokia, is still relevant, with its focus on content marketing - how it’s targeted and what happens to it once it’s been shared.

Source: Dan Goodall, All that good

It’s certainly a useful starting point and framework - however, the world has moved on. For example, networked media (vloggers, bloggers, influencers) is a vital part of the marketing mix for certain brands, although realistically it could be classified as paid media now. Then there’s borrowed media - essentially areas that you can control but don’t own, such as social media. The lines are increasingly blurred here too though as most brands realise they now have to pay to achieve decent reach on most platforms. 

The way content is delivered is also moving on apace, from virtual reality to wearables; artificial intelligence to the internet of things - these all shape the kind of content as well as the cost of content that can be produced.

1. Owned media

You obviously have to have your own media spaces operating to their maximum, from the website to the blog, and offline, from the packaging to the POS. Investing here is a priority for obvious reasons as it’s all about your brand and your products or services and how you want to look. Choosing the right channels to invest in depends on the audience you want to target.

Choosing the right channels to invest in depends on the audience you want to target.

You could for instance, try out virtual reality, as indeed several retail brands have already. Topshop, for example, gave competition winners access to a 360 panoramic video stream while they sat in a special pop-up space in store. The experience put them ‘virtually’ in the front row of London Fashion Week and gave them exclusive behind the scenes insights.

In a similar way Coca Cola leveraged its long association with Santa Claus and created a virtual reality sleigh ride. Using Oculus Rift, viewers were treated to a roller-coaster type experience, flying to different villages to deliver presents.

Another recent trend is for content hubs. These often incorporate original and curated content, making them a type of ‘one-stop-shop’ for information. If done well they can position your brand as an expert in a particular field. For example, L’Oréal’s FAB site is all about the beauty industry, but isn’t there to actively drive sales - its purpose is engagement and to improve customer experience. 

If done well content hubs can position your brand as an expert in a particular field.

Source: FAB Beauty

2. Paid media

Bought or ‘Paid’ media such as Pay Per Click, Display Ads, Remarketing Ads, etc. are all still relevant. However, having a good paid social strategy is increasingly important. It is an acknowledged fact that organic reach, on some social channels, is declining. Good quality content will prevail but to achieve real scale, brands are turning to paid media solutions to target bespoke audiences.

With an onslaught of ad blocking software now appearing on Android and iOS handsets as well as PCs, social media ads have come into their own as one of the few formats (mostly) safe from this software. This is especially relevant if you are trying to target a younger audience, with nearly 1 in 2 young people using ad blockers on their computers and mobile devices.

Apart from social media ads, native advertising is also expected to grow across other platforms. More and more big-name publishers are now offering sponsored content on their sites, and brands should make the most of opportunities to find the right outlet for them in terms of association and audience targeting. 

3. Earned media

Earned media is something brands should definitely strive for. It is the online word-of-mouth such as viral trending, mentions, shares, likes, retweets and recommendations which all fall under the umbrella of advocacy marketing.

Ironically ‘advocacy marketing’ may seem to be a contradiction in terms as it could be perceived to occur naturally, however, it is possible to put subtle tools in place to encourage it and brands are recognising the importance of doing just that. Identifying what makes people speak out positively – and on the flipside, what stops them from doing so – is a valuable exercise that can reap rewards. Small improvements such as clear hashtags, nudges to encourage product reviews, and improved two-way conversations with consumers, for example don’t incur much cost but can produce good results. 

4. Networked media

Your relationship with vloggers, bloggers, journalists and other influencers is critical in today’s media landscape. They can bring experiences to life, increase engagement and have the potential to reach large numbers of people. However, it is now more of a transactional arrangement as influencers have grown in both visibility and popularity. Despite this, brands have to think carefully about who they work with and the costs involved. Any given influencer has to be right for you, and have some affinity with the product or services being sold. The public will be put off by anyone they believe is not authentic - and a wrong decision on who you’ve partnered with can have a negative impact rather than a positive one. 

5. Borrowed media

The changes in social media have resulted in it being more of a borrowed media space as well as a paid one. It mixes up content that can be shared openly with paid-for activity, and in today’s world, you almost certainly need to partake in both in order to reach your audience.


For your content to be seen - whether that is paid or organic - you need to seed it out across all of the above channels and consider your weighting of investment accordingly. Where you prioritise to invest is a matter of understanding where your audience is and what they need from you. Through the study of your customer journey, you should be able to determine the requirements of your target audience at each stage, and think about how you can provide them with the information necessary for them to make a purchase decision.

As these consumers are increasingly connected, they want an omni-channel, flexible shopping experience, and they’re getting it. Brands have to keep up and ensure they’re providing the service that’s expected, and the content across all channels that are relevant to their audience.

But most important of all is putting your customer first and making their experience of your brand as positive as possible; with efficient and effective investment you will take your customer on a seamless journey from discovery through to advocacy. Brands have to do more than sell products now - they have to strive to help and support the consumer at all stages.