Commentary

Blowing Up the Paid-Owned-Earned Media Model

The paid-owned-earned media model has become dated. Social media, SMS/MMS, and email marketing have been awkwardly forced into the owned media slot, where they don’t really belong. It’s time to expand the model and acknowledge the uniqueness of these newer channels as well as our far from absolute control over them.

I would define owned media as content created by the brand that’s distributed to an audience developed by the brand via a closed platform controlled by the brand. It’s that last portion about the distribution platform that’s key, because social media, SMS/MMS, and email marketing don’t occur on such platforms. We need new language to discuss these media.

Leased Media As others have suggested, I agree that social media is better classified as leased media because it’s content created by the brand that’s distributed to an audience developed by the brand via a closed platform controlled by a single third party.

As such, social networks can change the rules whenever they want. For instance, to the great dismay of many marketers, Facebook has dramatically decreased the organic reach of brand’s posts, limiting brands’ abilities to reach the audiences they’ve painstakingly developed over the years. Also, social networks can disappear, taking all of a brand’s content and audience with it, as we’ve seen with Friendster, MySpace, and others.

Granted Media As I argue in my book, “Email Marketing Rules,” SMS/MMS and in particular email marketing should be classified as granted media because it’s content created by the brand that’s distributed to an audience developed by the brand via an open platform controlled by multiple third parties. Like social networks, inbox providers are active participants in the channel and have the ability to change the rules — but, unlike social networks, their ability to do so is tempered by the fact it’s an open platform with some standards and well-established consumer expectations.

It’s the open platform that is the source of email’s strengths — its ubiquity, vast reach, and low cost of use. For instance, market research firm The Radicati Group forecasts the email audience worldwide will grow to 2.76 billion by 2017. Ninety-one percent of consumers reported checking their email at least once a day, according to Salesforce Marketing Cloud research. And U.S. marketers can expect an average return on investment of 4,300% from their email marketing efforts, according to the Direct Marketing Association.

The open platform is also the source of all of email’s weaknesses — chiefly its sometimes-troublesome deliverability, inconsistent rendering, and patchwork of coding, authentication, and support standards. For instance, most brands have suffered blocks or junking — often at just one inbox provider. Email design experts openly acknowledge that having your emails look the same across platforms is simply impossible. And the lack of support for CSS and media queries at Google and for animated gifs — and let’s just say, etc. — at Microsoft make them the target of email marketers’ curses.

Of course, these drawbacks are greatly outweighed by the email channel’s strengths, as evidenced by email marketing’s channel-leading ROI and by brands’ continued plans to invest more in email. According to Salesforce Marketing Cloud research, 68% of marketers say email is core to their business and 58% plan on increasing how much their spend on email marketing.

Why This Matters First, you should recognize the risks associated with using social networks as publishing platforms. Websites and blogs can be a better home for long-lasting content, while social networks can be better for short-term content like contests, customer service, in-market conversations, and of course amplification of content hosted elsewhere.

Second, the media type should factor into your audience-building calculations. An email subscriber, a Facebook fan, and a catalog subscriber are worth different amounts and have different costs and success rates associated with reaching them. Those calculations also change over time, with certain platforms being more subject to change. Many companies have set audience goals and put advertising dollars behind those goals without a clear picture of the ultimate value they’re creating, which means their priorities probably aren’t the optimal ones.

Third, for email, treating it as owned media puts you in the mindset to fail. Marketers don’t own their subscribers. Companies cannot buy and sell subscribers to each other without great risk to their deliverability and brand image. Marketers have no right to, and no ownership over, the email delivery mechanisms — and therefore no entitlement to see their messages reach inboxes. Accepting that email is granted media puts marketers in the mindset to respect subscribers and ISPs, both of which are giving companies a super-inexpensive way to do retention marketing.

And fourth, looking at this broader, more accurately depicted media landscape may affect the perceived battles discussed so often. I’ve already mentioned publishing on the leased media of social networks vs. the owned media of websites and blogs. The much-discussed battle between social media and email marketing also seems rather ridiculous when you recognize it’s closed social media platforms vs. an open email platform with much greater scale and stability. It even puts the leased media of mobile apps in a new light when compared to the owned media of the Internet. The media landscape is more complex than the paid-owned-earned media model accounts for. It’s time to add leased media and granted media to the mix, and recognize the uniqueness of those media types.

3 comments about "Blowing Up the Paid-Owned-Earned Media Model ".
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  1. Matt Ruzz from Hiring? Let's talk!, November 5, 2014 at 11:37 a.m.

    I like this framework, as it highlights the dependencies of each media type in a way that owned/earned/paid does not. Nicely written, Chad

  2. Chad White from Litmus, November 6, 2014 at 3:23 p.m.

    Thanks, Matt.

  3. Jose Villa from Sensis, November 7, 2014 at 9:26 a.m.

    Smart analysis --- it is definitely time for a more sophisticated media model. I think your insight around social media being "leased" is powerful -- something marketers forget about all too often.

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