Media are converging.
Only a very short time ago, paid, owned, and earned media looked and felt very different. Paid media is, of course, advertising -- readily identifiable in print, broadcast, or online. Owned media is content created and controlled by a brand, whether it's a website, blog, or the brand's own social media channels. Meanwhile, earned media is consumer-generated media (CGM). It's how consumers react to and discuss the brand, either with the brand directly or with their peers. It can take on a multitude of forms, from posts on social media sites and tweets, to user reviews on e-commerce sites.
Each of these media streams -- paid, earned, and owned -- has become an essential pillar of marketing. Each enhances and amplifies the other. Increasingly, consumers don't even bother to differentiate between them as they rapidly flit between screens and devices. Paid, owned, and earned media are blending together seamlessly. A Bazaarvoice ad unit featuring user reviews is paid and earned, for example. A brand pinning a Facebook wall post into an ad in the page margin is an example of owned and paid.
Having spent the past several months researching paid, owned, and earned integration, some patterns have become clear. More than any other constituency (brands or software providers), agencies recognize the importance of integrating these three media channels for marketing effectiveness.
Yet agency revenue models, particularly media agency models, are potentially threatened by integrating paid, owned, and earned media. Why would they want to emphasize a channel that is not their area of specialization? This takes them out of the campaign driver's seat. Moreover, it requires them to collaborate with social media, PR, and other ecosystem players.
In this recent research report that I co-authored with my colleague Jeremiah Owyang, we make recommendations for working with agencies and software vendors to integrate paid, owned, and earned media. It won't be easy. Each party has a stake in a different part of the equation. But it can be achieved.
Varying agencies and vendors don't only have revenue models embedded in different media channels, but they also compete with one another for budgets and campaigns. The brands' role is to mediate these often clashing interests by bringing all parties to the same table, aligning them around the same KPIs, and by establishing systems that encourage cooperation rather than competition.
Large agencies and holding companies are deeply invested in social media, PR, listening, and other earned and owned media practices. They, more than any other constituency, see the need to commingle paid, owned, and earned media. Yet anyone who's been through an acquisition will tell you that buying is one thing while integrating is quite another. Therefore, a critical task for the client is to find the leaders at the agency who have both the power and the skills to jump-start cross-divisional cooperation and empower them to do so with deep campaign responsibilities.
Tools are rapidly proliferating in all forms of digital media, from ad serving and optimization to content production and dissemination to social media management -- and then there's the measuring and analyzing of all that data. Agencies are positioned to stay on top of the continual developments in tools and software, as well as maintain staff that are highly trained in deploying technological solutions. Uniting and unifying creative, data, distribution, optimization, and insights are hard enough within a single media channel -- much less across all of paid, owned, and earned. Understanding what tools to use and how to use them is a critical component of media convergence. Right now, agencies are best positioned in this area.
Rebecca Lieb is a research analyst covering digital advertising, marketing, and media at the Altimeter Group. On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
"Dynamic red and blue motion" image via Shutterstock.
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Convergence is a creature born of necessity and human desire to simplify everything. I'd add to this, firstly, not only agencies can develop the talent to develop integrated / unified campaigns; secondly, like the marketing mix, the level of convergence depends on your goals, which need to be clearly defined. Of course, if you have KPIs, then there should be goals - the two are inseparable.
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