Everyone wants to get attention for their brand. Marketers divide their focus across the different forms of media to get attention.

Classically they are divided into three main types of media. Paid, owned, and earned media. Why is this important? Because each of these types of media requires different levels of effort, time, and dollar spend. They also have different levels of reach and scalability.

If you’d like to skip ahead to a specific section feel free.

  • Paid Media
  • Owned Media
  • Earned Media

What are paid, owned, and earned media channels?

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Paid, owned, and earned media is not a new phenomenon. Many marketers have found that it’s not beneficial to rely solely on one media channel, but instead to create a strategy that uses multiple sources.

You will find that paid, owned, and earned media can overlap. Which creates a pretty balanced marketing strategy. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand the difference between each channel type.

Pros Cons
  • Instant results
  • Easy to track
  • Control over message and copy
  • Easy to target high intent customers
  • Initially expensive
  • Getting more expensive as competition increases
  • Easy to get dependent on paid channels that do not scale with spend

payment 2310730 640

This is by far the easiest to define, and understand. It’s exactly what it sounds like… it’s any marketing channel that you pay for to increase traffic. Typically, paid media is usually aimed at prospects. But, does include retargeting to past customers.

Paid ads work really well when you are just getting started and nobody knows about you. Another great use is through paid retargeting to help you to get visitors back after they have already visited your site. When leveraged with other media types, you can reach people with high interest.

What it costs ($$$)

The cost depends on the type of ad being used. Social media ads could be relatively low-cost, while print could cost a pretty penny. The duration of how long the ad will display also factors into the cost. Another factor is the setup cost, which can actually exceed the cost of media. You might also have a designer fee if you plan on hiring out of house. Here is a better breakdown of the cost of advertising.

Some costs to consider

  • Content
  • Design
  • Production
  • Script Writing
  • Website Configuration
  • Graphics
  • Email Template

Time up front

Your setup process can take time if you’re creating an ad out of new material. But, if you are promoting an existing piece of content it might not take as long. To get the most out of your ads, you may also need to develop landing pages to drive leads to a conversion, which can take time (especially if you’re working with a designer).

Return on Investment (ROI)

With the expense of paid channels, ROI can vary wildly depending on the type of paid channel, cost of goods sold, a salesperson commission, how you charge (subscription vs product cost), lifetime value of a customer, etc. The good thing is that a properly set up paid marketing channel will also include elements of tracking so you can measure leads/sales directly with spend. Just be sure to know your numbers beforehand, so you can see if there is a positive ROI.

Time to results

Paid ads can generate traffic almost immediately. As soon as they are up, people can see them. So, as you can imagine, you get in front of people’s eyes rather quickly. As we mentioned previously this is a great way to get initial users to try out your product and gain visibility.

Examples of paid media

Here are a few examples of paid media.

1. Display Ads

display ads are a paid media

The founding fathers of online ads. You remember the static banner ads that appeared on websites, don’t you?

But, there is much more to display ads than the typical banner ad we all remember. Here are a few other common display-ad options.

  • Pop-ups – the little ad that pops up out of nowhere while you’re browsing around online.
  • Wallpaper ads – the background of a website might change to display an ad that fills the entire page.
  • Video ads – a small video that automatically plays when the visitor lands on the page.

Display ads are usually very affordable, as far as ads go. Pricing depends widely on the site you’re after and could be altered depending on if you’re going through a marketing site too.

These types of ads are great for retargeting and remarketing as well, and can easily target customers or users who have not completed your desired action (sale, subscribe, etc.).

2. Social Media Ads/Native Advertising

Trendy Butler runs a referral program, giving them paid owned earned media, all in one.

These ads tend to be hidden in disguise and blend into their surroundings. Instagram, like the image shown above, uses native ads all the time. If you’re scrolling through your feed, you may not even notice that some of the posts are actually sponsored ads.

Social media ads have become increasingly popular. Both online and offline businesses seem to benefit from these type of ads. The good news is, you can set up your ad campaign to be pay per click, so you’ll only pay for actual leads.

Social media can be broken down into two types of ads. Organic and paid.

Organic – or those that happen via word of mouth. These are also earned media (which we’ll discuss later on)

Paid – or posts that are paid to be promoted to reach your audience and others.

Great platforms for social media ads are:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Reddit
  • Tumblr
  • StumbledUpon


Many small businesses can run social media ad campaigns on their own. But, some find that springing for a marketing agency tends to be more beneficial. This is where the price gets knocked up from being relatively inexpensive, to moderately or more expensive.

A few types of native ads include:

  • In-feed
  • Promoted posts/listings
  • Search result ads

3. Search Engine Marketing (SEM)


These are ads that show up in search results. They can definitely put your name ahead of the competition (literally ahead of them). Now you can get you seen on the same search result pages as them. Thus making these types of ads one of the top forms of online advertisements.

Search engine ads appear at the top of search queries, meaning you’ll be seen first out of every other result that pops up. You can even pay to be above your biggest competitor, even if the search query is under their name!

There are a few ways to work these ads. You can opt for a pay per click(PPC) or per set amount of impressions (usually 1000).

4. Offline Ads


Rather an old school and not a typical channel for many eCommerce stores and saas businesses.

Even though it’s hard to measure the effectiveness of print style ads, they are still widely used. Think of how many ads you see driving to your favorite restaurant. You’ll see ads during your commute there, and you’ll probably see them at the restaurant too.

In fact, you may see them so often you’ve probably developed some sort of blindness to them. So here are a few examples to jog your memory.

  • Newspaper
  • Magazine
  • Billboards
  • Flyers
  • Branded swag (hats, water bottles, t-shirts)

These types of offline ads can get rather expensive between ad space, printing prices, hiring a designer, and buying product for swag, etc. Regardless, they are still used and very popular.

5. Radio Ads

Another offline ad can be a radio ad. Though not quite as popular as other types of ads, they can still be effective. The trick is getting all your information in the tight time slot given.

Certain types of businesses seem to do better with this type of ad over others, however. Like a local car salesman, or a new local restaurant, for example. If you haven’t heard of any competitors using this type of media, you may want to reconsider yourself.

Some of the better-fit businesses seem to be local and small businesses. You may hear a restaurant or the local car dealership, for example.

These types of ads can run a pretty penny though, so if you’re on a tight budget you may have to drop this option.

6. Video Ads


Has video ever gone out of style? Between Youtube channels, and now Live videos, you have a few platforms for all your video needs.

You may have noticed that you can even put your ad into some of these videos. Youtube, for example, has become notorious for placing video ads within a video. Though these video ads are short, they do get seen.

You don’t see video ads while browsing through Youtube. You may also hear a video advertisement start playing on a webpage you visit. Some sites rent out video ad space that will autoplay once the visitor arrives.

This type of ad can become expensive. But, generally speaking, you’re looking at 10-30 cents per view.

7. Podcast Ads

Podcasts are increasingly popular and very niche. So you might be able to find the perfect new audience for your own business by using a podcast.

Most podcast listeners listen actively and are engaged in the stories being told. Podcast listeners are also a wide demographic, hitting everyone from teens to adults. So your ad can probably fit into the perfect podcast and have a great impact on the listeners.

Depending on the podcast, you may get a time slot pre-roll ad or your host may read the ad live. So if you have a preference, be sure to do your research.

8. Word of mouth marketing

2018 05 18 14 57 07

You may be thinking word of mouth marketing doesn’t belong in ‘paid media’, but if you think about it, it actually does.

If we’re talking about word of mouth through a referral program, influencer program, or affiliate program then there is a price to pay. The referral incentive for the person sharing can be considered ‘paid media’.

In the example above you can see that the customer shared the business on their Facebook profile. But, if a referral comes in, that business will have to fork over $5.

Owned Media

Pros Cons
  • Complete control
  • Costs less
  • Published directly on your site
  • Limited audience
  • Needs internal maintenance

Owned media is everything that relies on the direct control of the business. Owned media is its own battlefield. What can you do to generate awareness and build user engagement?

Usually, paid and earned media are used to push traffic to your owned media. But, with the popularity of blogs, SEO, and content creation, it’s a lot easier to pull in traffic organically.

Owned media works by creating value for the visitor. These types of channels do more than just sell a product, which works at pulling customers in rather than pushing products and services on to them.

What it costs ($$)

Depending on what domain and host you choose, along with how much data you have, you could run your website fairly cheap. On the other spectrum, you can own a social media profile and even a WordPress site for free.

If you are looking at a paid owned channel, costs could run you as low as $10 a year but could go upwards to hundreds and beyond. And that’s just for the domain and host. There are multiple little things that can hike the price up, once you add it all up.

Costs to consider

  • Web hosting
  • Designer/developer
  • Content creator(s)
  • Themes
  • Domain
  • Plugins

Time up front

A website takes time. You may be able to set something up fairly quickly if you’re using a WordPress site, but even still you’re looking at a few days. But, this isn’t a set it and forget it type of thing either. You’ll find yourself doing updates and adding new content as you go.

Creating content takes time and effort. But, depending on your staff, you may be able to produce a few excellent pieces per week. You have to factor in, the time it takes to research, write, edit, and make SEO tweaks.

A social media profile, on the other hand, takes minutes to set up.

Return on Investment (ROI)

Measuring an eCommerce website ROI is pretty simple. However, for other types of websites, it can be a little tricky. However, if you’re using the right tools, you can measure just about anything. Google Analytics may be a good source to see how much traffic your website is generating for you. You may use your blog stats as a piece of the puzzle when calculating ROI.

Time to results

It may take a few months before the pages of your website can be ranked accurately. If you’re measuring SEO, this could take a few weeks to see what traffic a single post has brought in.

Examples of owned media

Let’s go over a few examples of owned media.

1. Your website


The most obvious. This is your personal hub and your digital location. You have complete leverage when it comes to your website. Your website is a long-term and versatile face to your business. Though it may take the most time to scale, it’s great for building relationships and giving you a platform within your niche.

On your website, you have free reign to do as you please. And if you’re like most businesses, you’ll provide your contact information and make it as easy as possible for leads to contact you.

2. Content Marketing

The easiest way to share valuable content with your audience. You can use this as a way to establish your brand position all while speaking directly to your audience.

Your blog can be an extension of your website, and it can easily be promoted and shared through your other paid and owned media. On most blogs, you’ll find social media icons for easy sharing.

3. Social media


Though you may not technically own Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and so on, your social media pages are yours. And your profiles are considered owned media. The great thing about using these channels is that you can reach a large audience, and you have the potential to share your content easily.

Even better is that in most cases you can create a profile for free. Oh, and what you share can overlap into earned media quickly!

In the example above you can see that our content is being shared, and our Twitter profile is getting a shout out.

4. Email Marketing

Email marketing allows businesses to have good versatility with their owned media. It’s cost effective and quite versatile.

Okay, so some people consider email marketing as a paid channel – as most businesses need to pay for an email marketing provider. But despite the fact that you “pay” for an email marketing service doesn’t make it a “paid” channel per say, because you essentially OWN your list. You earn the right to send people those emails, as they subscribe to your list.

Besides, you don’t have to use a paid service to send. And even if you do, the cost of sending those emails is near zero compared to real paid channels. It also gives you the platform to share your owned media like blog articles and other content created by you.

5. Word of mouth marketing

Word of mouth also fits in the owned channel. You create programs and content for people to share. For example, you may promote your referral program or an article on your Twitter profile. You are sharing an owned media (the referral program or a piece of content) on your social site (another owned media). See the example listed under ‘owned social media’.

Earned Media

Pros Cons
  • Increases your credibility
  • Heightens brand awareness
  • Expands reach
  • Can bring up negative publicity
  • Takes time and effort
  • Can be difficult to collect

Earned media is the word of mouth shared by other people. Most commonly, it is through journalists and reviews.

It’s something you can’t really pay for, and it can’t be owned. Rather it’s something that you get organically. It’s recognition that you get through communication channels as a byproduct of your content.

What it costs ($)

Many review sites will allow you to set up an account for free. You can pay for a premium account on some platforms, however. Social media, however, is free! So the takeaway is you may have to pay for a certain platform, but the recognition you will get on these platforms is earned.

Costs to consider

  • Time
  • Platforms or software that allows you to get earned media (email, review platforms, etc.)
  • Any potential cost for content creation

Time up front

LOTS Of time up front. You have to design, create, and write content first, which all takes time and planning. Then you have to work on getting that piece of content in front of others. Lastly the back and forth with tweaking things for SEO (which can take weeks to even get picked up). Not to mention, SEO is ever-changing, so you’ll likely have to update your content regularly to rank.


The biggest problem with calculating ROI for earned media is the costs of time are unbounded. You don’t know how much email outreach you have to do to connect with that journalist, or how much time you need to spend on updating and looking at results to tweak content for SEO.

But earned media brings in the highest ROI. This is because consumers and the brand develop trustability and in return, the brand grows in reach. Higher ROI happens because earned media proves to be cost-effective and instead get to invest in building a relationship with customers.

Time to results

Measuring engagement can take time. Of course, you are able to see ‘likes’, ‘shares’, etc instantly, but tracking impressions, clicks, and other SEO driven data can take time. You’ll also have to constantly promote your content so that you can build up your engagement, and work towards getting others to link to you. In all, you’re looking at a few weeks before you can track all your metrics.

Examples of earned media

A few examples of earned media.

1. Publicity from media outlets

Many businesses, especially small ones, don’t have a lot of money for marketing. Which is why they work on ways to get publicity from different media outlets. Though social media is popular and you can be spotted by a ton of new people, it’s hard to break through the noise if your brand is just starting out.

Thus, media coverage is a great way for businesses to break through. If you have a product that is unique, works well, looks interesting, or is ‘a must try’, you may be able to get some media coverage, for free. The media loves doing stories on interesting or new finds.

So if you’re a relatively new business, you offer something a little different or have an unbeatable deal, you might gain some attention! But, on top of your original business, you may still have to do a little work to get their attention.

You can pique some interest and get yourself some media coverage.

  1. Send out a press release, but make it memorable because it might get stuffed away with all the other releases that come in.
  2. Reach out directly to requests that fit your business. Something like HARO.com could help in this case.
  3. Sponsor an event. Your name will be in headlines, and you might get a follow-up story. This one might get a little pricey, however.

No matter what path you take to get it, it’s considered earned media. Someone (the media, in this case), is giving you attention, which can help increase your brand awareness.

2. SEO

featured snipper

Yes, that says SEO. No that isn’t a radio station or tv channel. We’re talking about search engine optimization, which is definitely an earned media. How so? Well, you can’t purchase organic searches and rankings. You get those, well… organically.

You see, if you create content to fit specific search queries, you might be able to make yourself one of the best fitting results for that query or even score a featured snippet (like in the image above). Meaning you’ve spent no money at all, but instead provided the most relevant content for that search algorithm, which put you on top.

A good way to think of it is that you have ‘earned’ that spot on the results page. Sure, you may have done the work to get there. But, you earned that spot organically, through your hard work.

SEO takes time to build up, however. Your team has to invest time into getting it going, and there is plenty of tweaking to do along the way. If you change your campaigns drastically all the time, your SEO is going to take a hit, and you won’t earn the traffic you’d like.

3. Review sites


Reviews and testimonials are great for building your credibility. Because most reviews provide the opinions of your users, you have an authentic channel for word of mouth to occur. These reviews are out there for potential customers to see, providing you with valuable ‘user-generated content’.

So the profile is considered owned media. But, the reviews and testimonials left on the profile are definitely earned.

4. Social media


Between mentions and reposts, it’s pretty obvious why social media is a great earned media channel. In fact, this is where you’ll see most people discussing brands and sharing content.

Social media works well when used in tandem with paid and owned media. You may see a brand share a new article from their blog (owned). Then you might see that brand promote that article (paid). Now all of a sudden, you’ll see multiple people sharing the post (earned).

As you can see, Larry Kim, for example, shared information about a presentation he is doing. Look at all those retweets and hearts!

5. Word of mouth

Yep, you guessed it. Word of mouth fits in the earned channel as well. The referrals coming in from customers sharing your business are earned.

Final Words

Marketing isn’t a one size fits all type of thing. You may start off with one channel in focus, before taking on others. At the same time, don’t be afraid to take some time mastering one channel before adding on new marketing channels.

Each channel can have its advantages and disadvantages. Most successful businesses have an omnichannel approach, but that’s not necessarily how they got there. Ask them what they did in the early days and I’d bet that they doubled down on a certain channel until they reached a certain size.

As you’ve probably noticed we put “word of mouth marketing” in all three categories. It’s one of the few channels that can be quantified that way. The biggest advantage to word of mouth marketing is that it can be fueled by $$ like a paid channel, access and promoted like an owned channel, and multiply like an earned channel. The biggest disadvantage is that you need a set of customer/partners to promote it to, so it doesn’t make a great channel to get started with. However, there are exceptions if your product can be inherently viral, like Dropbox or Uber referral programs.

Adapting along the way will help you get a clear picture of what successful results can look like. You may learn that you need to cut losses at some point or scrap the whole thing to start new.

Read More: