This business has been around since brands started to understand that paying for media increases their sales. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying TV, Print, OOH or Digital – the principles are similar. You determine where your placed media gets the best efficiency and effectiveness, and you purchase media placements that work for your brand. The latest wrinkle to this model is to partner with specialized buying agencies that can get you the best bang for your buck. Especially in the digital space, you need to work with sophisticated partners to take advantage of DSP’s, SSP’s, RTB’s and all these other inventions in the age of the quant. Your partner (in most cases an agency) will focus on putting your communication in the most relevant environment for the lowest price.
Earned Media is not free. Instead of paying for a placement or exchanging money with a partner for their execution, you are paying for the time and resources of people who are engaging with your brand on multiple platforms. You can deploy employees, contractors, social agencies, media agencies or your intern. You always have to keep in mind that you need to find a hook for people to talk about you. You can’t buy their attention, you need to earn it. Often, that hook is created by an outside source (agency) since brands don’t have the resources for that specific task. The people talking about you aren’t compensated (unless you want to run an unethical, ineffective initiative), instead you provide triggers to share their love of the brand. This can come in many forms: content curation, sharing content, seeding content, interacting with brand loyalists. We’re still figuring this out but we know it’s real and search engines love that. As a brand, you need to meaningfully participate in the spaces where your brands, products and services are relevant.
What paid media can learn from earned media.
If you’re boring, mediocre or just shill your products, you’ll never make it in the earned media world. You need to find ways to earn attention. This can be done through a remarkable product, service, promotion, initiative or stunt. The emphasis is on “remarkable”. The brand has to develop something that’s worth talking about. When something is remarkable, brands earn the attention of people.
Paid media, on the other hand, is often used to disrupt people. The remarkable thing about digital marketing is the technology behind the scenes. All these new exchanges and trading desks, the quants at works. Just to deliver a more efficient and relevant impression to people. This might be remarkable to all of us but the customer doesn’t care. He might be surprised/annoyed to find the same banner following him throughout the Internet after he visited a brand site. But the actual creative is absolutely unremarkable. Most display ads are forgettable commodities that communicate mainly: “Nothing to see here.” While we focus our whole attention on the remarkable aspect of our technology, we tend to forget what real good creative can do: Get people talking.
Things won’t be getting easier. It will be tougher and more expensive in the years to come to pay for attention. Too many screens, too many things to do. It’s so alluring to focus on better technology and more advanced algorithms. But if your creative/value proposition is not up to par, attention increasingly will come at a high premium.