Owned versus Earned Media Series

In this two part Owned versus Earned Media series we are looking at how brands are moving from the creation of owned media to earned media  and the impact this is having on brands and businesses along the way.  We offer examples, ask questions and offer ideas for what tomorrow might look like.

Part 1. Giving up control of the brand

Owned versus earned media is not a new concept.  Nokia was the first identifiable company to establish the premise of “Owned, bought and earned media”. A useful classification in allowing the segmentation of marketing activity in terms of the control marketers have over it. Owned media we are fully in control of, bought media I think of as being ‘rented’ media, which was have a degree of control of. Finally earned we have little control over at all as it comes from outside the company, generally by consumers.

On the surface it is surprising that a business may spend years and millions building a highly controlled brand, with well defined meanings and values that has come to be worth billions on its own merit. Coke’s brand alone is valued at $77.8bn (http://www.interbrand.com).

So why would marketers then give away control and focus on generating as much earned media as possible where control is minimal? Of course it is because of the shift in how we use technology, social media and the falling trust in corporations. The mass human connectivity of social media makes it easy to find a brand or product that suits us from people who are like us. We do not need to be told what to buy anymore, we can find out ourselves. This in its own right means that people have become used to having and giving their opinion on products and brands in no uncertain terms.

Advertising on the other hand is now what Anthony Mayfield regards as “spurned” media. Spurned media is what we deflect with Adblockers, RSS feeds and advertising blindness.

lotus on Facebook fail

lotus on Facebook fail

Today there is still a place for advertising, but as a result of these trends all eyes are now on how to earn media: how to get people to share a brand’s message, talk about the company on forums and create videos about our products?

This is a brave new world where companies are treading very carefully. On the one hand they want people to talk about their brands and spread the word, but only in a positive light, following the brand values that have been established by the business and in ways that help market its products. “Please do not make fun of us, criticise, or attack us on social media” they cry.

This is a particular concern because it is a very public setting. This behaviour is no good at all and yet unsurprisingly it happens a lot.

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It comes down to control. Brands want the positive exposure, but not the negative. They want to control what people say about them to avoid damaging the brand and ultimately sales.

So for the last few years companies have been moving into social media gradually and carefully, often by trial and error. Marketers are still finding their feet in how much control should be relinquished and how to channel earned media efforts in a way that delivers as much positive exposure as possible. The main mistake company’s have been making is taking the old route of trying to prevent negative communication by force with cease and desist letters, copy-write infringement cases and others.

Endless examples from numerous angles tell the same story. Kate Middleton being caught on camera topless, the employees from Dominoes creating a nasty video of their pizzas and Dell trying to stop a blog exposing their dodgy sales tactics.

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McDonalds Ghetto Ad

The lesson is the same. Once it is out in the open, it is in the wild. Once media is “earned” it can never be taken back.

We are now just at the cusp of companies getting the memo on this. Companies like Orange, Tacobell, EURail, US airways and loads more are now responding in a professional way. Embracing problems and being able to respond effectively to feedback and serious criticism is the order of the day. It is not just limited to “social customer service”.

taco bell Sue me Ad

taco bell Sue me Ad care of allvoices.com

Facebook’s hiring of a hacker that infiltrated Sony’s corporate network to join their security team. The Lego ambassador program brought loyal customers in to help them create new products. This is a move towards letting go, as are other crowd sourcing initiatives like Google’s competitions for consumers to produce videos for their products.

Owned versus Earned Media tomorrow? Companies will let go.

As the emphasis of creating related content grows, greater access to easy to use editing technology makes it easier for people to reformat and reproduce this content.

Brands will have to let go, relinquish control and allow consumers to express themselves with the brand. Creating and maintaining identity is one reason that branding works, but it is about to get far more personal. The main things that companies can do is be as inclusive as possible. Marketers should steer conversation and brand communication along brand guidelines as before, while not being scared of spontaneous contributions and subjective interpretation, but to take new brand iterations (of a logo or advert interpretation for example) ask for others to feedback, provide a personal response from the company as to their evaluation and thank people for being interested.

As long as a company is seen to be improving as much as possible, being honest, open and appreciating that people have an opinion that is not always 100% positive then negative PR is unlikely. If something bad does happen, a history of behaving well online will provide invaluable reassurances and people will be more forgiving. Just as though a company were a real person in fact.

Tomorrow letting go of control will eventually swing into giving consumers the ability to directly steer the destiny of a brand or company. This is beyond running a logo competition for the London 2012 Olympics, but a full scale crowd-sourcing approach akin to the population contributing and voting on the new government for nowhere island.

The company will become moderators and regulators of a marketing process that is led by consumers for consumers.  The majority of budgets will be allocated to facilitating and arming consumers with tools to interpret their brand, give product feedback and pay active, loyal fans to help mediate the social media environment.  A degree of owned media will exist, but these will be in the form of assets and dynamic platforms (more on that in the part 2) rather than websites. Some people may argue this is seen today, but the extent in reality is the tip of a toe being dipped in the water, by a small number of large businesses that are still trying to make them work via trial and error.

Tomorrow will see these strategies being found as standard on any marketing plan, best practices will be defined.  Brand advocate initiatives, content campaigns, loyalty schemes will all mix together neatly and optimised to fulfill a range of tasks from CRM, lead generation customer loyalty, sales and more.

Part 2 will look at how owned versus earned media will change from a more technical and platform perspective.  What will happen to the physical entities that we are busy investing in and creating…

Comment  below and let us know what you think?  What are your predictions for how companies created owned versus earned media?


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