Is it "Earned" or "Owned"? How Today's Marketers Are Responding to the Changing Media Landscape

As we enter into the new year, and as communicators and marketers fine tune their marketing stack, it’s important we take a step back and evaluate the basics. The PESO (Paid, Earned, Social, Owned) model is a strategy that lays the foundation for a holistic and successful marketing program, and it has influenced how marketers form their strategic plans since it was first introduced by Gina Dietrich in 2014. 

But our marketing landscape is changing, and the lines that categorize one tactic from another are becoming blurred - particularly with earned and owned media. If we go by traditional definitions, earned media is media coverage that you or your company received but didn’t create yourself, or pay for. Owned media is the opposite. It includes mentions of your brand that you created, like your company’s blog or website that you created and continue to maintain.

But what do you call a blog post that you wrote and published on LinkedIn? Or an article you write for Forbes as part of a paid contributorship? Or a positive post from a customer on a paid third-party review site? 

It’s important for marketers to understand how these two core elements of the PESO model are evolving so that you can strategize and activate in a way that best supports your brand and objectives. As such, this has been a topic I’ve focused heavily on this year; I wrote a Forbes column on the topic in May 2020, and then I brought together a panel to discuss these ideas in more depth. This panel, “The New Media Landscape, Is It ‘Earned’ Or Is It ‘Owned’?” was part of the MAC Summit 2020 with the following esteemed panelists:

  • Derek Weeks, VP of Marketing, Sonatype
  • Lisa M. Sherwin Wulf, VP, Americas Marketing – ITOM, SolarWinds
  • Cindy Zhou, Chief Marketing Officer, LogRhythm

In this article, I’ll share some of the key insights that came from our thoughtful discussion, but to get the full breadth of knowledge, listen to the full panel session available here

Where the lines have blurred

As the examples above indicate, certain mediums that previously operated in silos are starting to overlap. Sherwin Wulf shared that one driver she sees is the shrinkage of journalism staff at earned media publications. This forced many marketers and PR professionals to find new ways to get their stories told, given reporters had less bandwidth. That’s when we began to see a real uptick in authored articles, as well as longform content on owned channels.

Another example is the evolution of pay-to-play opportunities. For third party review sites, like G2 and IT Central Station, you pay a subscription fee, but the customer reviews are ‘earned.’ For sponsored content opportunities, like a Forbes Council membership, you pay a subscription fee but are also responsible for developing the ideas and content. 

It’s important to understand how these examples branch into both ‘earned’ and ‘owned.’ That’ll help you understand how to tailor your approach in a multifaceted way to be successful. 

How to evaluate tactics to include in your marketing stack

While it’s important to include a variety of tactics in your marketing mix, determining the right tactics to further your objectives can be challenging. The panelists discussed what they look for when selecting tactics to execute, and what factors are most important. 

Quality of content and understanding what you’re trying to achieve - Sherwin Wulf articulated that the quality of content is critical to any tactic you may look to execute. To effectively reach and influence your target audience - be it customers, prospects, industry analysts, or others - you must have quality content that aligns with your goals. Your goals should then influence what tactics you move forward with. For example, if looking to establish yourself/company as a thought leader, an authored article placed in an earned media outlet is a great tactic. If you’re looking to inform potential customers on the new features of a product, a paid review or a blog on your owned channel are more feasible options. But at the end of the day, if the content isn’t of high quality it will struggle to be effective. 

Understanding your goals as it relates to your business landscape - Weeks stated that understanding your goals (and how your goals may shift over time as your company grows and/or the market changes) can impact the content you create and tactics you execute. For example, a young company with a small portfolio may need to be very targeted and informative in its content. But as the company grows and its portfolio expands, its marketing goals can also expand. Perhaps the company moves from positioning itself as a leader in a particular category to a leader in an entire market segment. Thought leadership content, which generates broader brand awareness, may then become more prevalent.

Ensuring your approach reaches your target audience - Choosing the right channels to reach your target audience is equally as important as developing quality content that aligns with your business objectives, suggested Zhou. It’s important to verify that the channel you are targeting reaches your target audience, particularly before you enter into a pay-to-play opportunity. Today, there is a growing abundance of new mediums and content opportunities - the challenge is selecting the right ones for the right audiences. 

So, is it ‘Earned,’ ‘Owned,’ or both?

As our panelists confirmed, the answer is - it depends. The media and marketing landscape is constantly changing, and that is why it’s important to continually evaluate and reevaluate various opportunities at hand to make sure you are selecting tactics that align with your goals, developing quality content that supports your objectives, and selecting the right medium for that content that effectively reaches your target audience. 

Let’s talk.