Paid vs. Unpaid Media: Guidelines for Creating Useful Media Plans in 2019

COMMUNICATIONS LEADERS HAVE TO ANSWER A LOT OF QUESTIONS FROM EXECUTIVE TEAMS AND ADDRESS A RANGE OF AUDIENCE NEEDS: WHAT CHANNELS ARE WORKING BEST TO REACH BUYERS? HOW DO WE KEEP UP WITH TRENDS AND APPLY THEM? HOW DO WE DEMONSTRATE ROI FOR OUR EFFORTS?

Traditionally, the media trifecta was a mix of paid, owned, and earned. It started with creating owned content where readers can research their problems, and find your useful solutions. They love it, like it, share it, and organic reach explodes with little upfront investment.

Then, you move into a phase where paid promotion drives more readers to your content. And you can’t forget the series of media pitches that earn you a feature in that big name publication. There you have it.

But, what happens to your strategy when this delicate ecosystem is disrupted?

Because of shifting algorithms and communication transformations, companies face a new challenge when marketing to their audience. Organic reach is in steady decline, and worse off, paid + unpaid media are quietly merging.

For any size business, this means it’ll become increasingly difficult to build a strong social platform without spending money.

In this article, we’ll highlight the different types of media and their advantages, what’s changed in paid + unpaid media, and what you can do to sustainably increase awareness, get leads, and drive revenue.

DEFINITION OF PAID MEDIA
Definition: Paid media is any marketing tactic where you pay to promote content on a third-party channel. Typical outlets are search, social, display, PPC, native, and more.

Paid media starts by planning the action you want a viewer to take. In its most basic form, paid media drives traffic to a piece of unpaid media with an objective in mind. Content promotion, retargeting ads, and native advertising are all paid promotion examples that can get you earned media, increase awareness/traffic, or drive revenue.

ADVANTAGES OF PAID MEDIA

1. The effects of paid media are immediate. Once you pay for placement, your content will reach more readers, faster.

2. It’s scalable. Because of affordable and effective social channels, you can reach as many or as little people as your budget approves.

3. Paid media is controlled by you.

DEFINITION OF UNPAID MEDIA
Definition: Unpaid media is any marketing tactic where you don’t pay to promote — and it’s two-fold:

  1. Owned media, or any channel that a brand controls and does not have to pay for basic usage. Common channels include, but are not limited to, blog, social networks, and website.
  2. Earned media, or the digital word-of-mouth underpinned by mentions, shares, reposts, reviews, or any content that a 3rd party publisher curates.

ADVANTAGES OF OWNED MEDIA

  1. Builds relationships with prospects and customers. Helpful content that lives on your site can be easily referred to and shared by readers.
  2. Cost-efficient. Owned content produces 3x as many leads per dollar than paid search.
  3. Adaptable. Owned media can be any mix of content your audience prefers, and allows teams to flexible with testing new types without using paid spend.

ADVANTAGES OF EARNED MEDIA

  1. Trusted. It’s no surprise paid ads are less credible than earned. In fact, audiences view earned media as the most authentic form of marketing.
  2. Purchase Motivator. Globally, prospects rely on word-of-mouth (64%) and customer references (49%) compared to media articles and salespeople when they make purchasing decisions on business software.
  3. Transparent. Since earned media is voluntarily given by customers, it’s considered more authentic than paid or owned media.

WHAT’S CHANGING IN PAID MEDIA
Paid and earned media are unifying — which means, it’s impossible to do anything successfully without spending money. Lack of understanding is a common problem in organizations because it changes how teams create and promote content. It also raises an important question for senior leaders: where does your company go to achieve results — a content marketing agency or a PR firm?

The result of this merger is referred to as native advertising. Native ads look so similar to organic content, audiences may not even recognize a difference between the two — plus, they’re effective. The BI Intelligence Digital Media Brief revealed that 1/3 of Millennial’s purchase from a brand after seeing sponsored (promoted) content. Readers trust the publications they read, so in turn, they’re more likely to click into sponsored content versus, say, a frustrating pop-up or in-your-face banner ad.

This “pay-for” model is agnostic of business or person. It’s used to push stories out that were not able to get picked up by media outlets before. This poses a big issue for PR firms because of the increased competition for exposure in digital publications.

“Pay-for” models are also expanding its jurisdiction into new territory. Two examples are:

  1. Guest blogging, which was once free, is moving to a pay-for model. For example, Forbes Councils, Daily Beast, and other’s cloaked as membership programs.
  2. Speaking opportunities such as TED (main stage) are moving to pay-for models. You need to pay them to speak.

WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
To successfully leverage new paid channels, you want to approach your media plan slightly different. Native content should be casual in that it’s not too promotional or spammy. Strategic in that you drive readers to an owned media source. And smart as in the partnerships you create are niche and attract the right viewers.

If you want to create a well-rounded media plan, it’s important to include earned, owned, and paid for better results. Here’s what you can create a purposeful strategy:

  1. Define the purpose of your campaign. Do you want to bring in 5,000 new recruits by the end of Q1? Or land 2 big name enterprise clients in 2019? Your purpose determines where you’ll allocate budget for paid media spend.

For example: If you want to bring in new recruits, you can put more budget for promoting ads and sponsored content. If you want to land bigger clients, pay-for speaking gigs and guest blogs to niche, high-profile audiences are where you want to put more budget.

2. Create researched and value-driven content to promote. Find what topics in your niche perform well, their format, and keywords your audience uses to discover them. Then, create a piece of purposeful content (i.e., blog post, ebook, video, case study, white paper) and promote it. No clickbait titles. No inflated value propositions. Just honest and transparent content.

3. Start small, spend more on what works. Run campaigns for at least 2–3 months to better understand what helps achieve objectives, and what you can get rid of.

4. Fuel owned and earned media with paid. Not only does a high-performing article boost organic growth, but they can also serve as engaging paid ads, too. It can help reach prospects and influencers with highly-targeted content faster.

5. Be Human. Exaggerating claims and self-promotion only hurt your efforts in the long run. When a person clicks through and sees they’ve wasted their time, they feel cheated and disappointed. And yes, they remember it’s your brand’s fault. Keep language simple and straightforward to avoid negative consumer sentiment.

SOME FINAL WORDS
The change in paid + unpaid media means that organizations need to rethink how and what content they will promote. Because of the circumstances mentioned above, it’s unlikely that only organic content will help improve visibility, mentions, and revenue. If you want to raise interest in your product or service, you’ll have to increase paid spend in a profitable and approachable way.

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