Digital Marketing 101

  • What is paid, earned, and owned marketing?

  • Get to know these essential digital marketing terms today

  • Structure your marketing around paid, earned, and owned media efforts for maximum effect 

Marketing your company in today’s digital age can be uber complex. And running a team to meet those digital marketing goals can be just as daunting!

Whether a shoestring- or Super-Bowl-sized budget, you need to understand how a modern digital marketing structure looks — more so if your product or service is primarily online. 

In the end, it doesn’t really matter who’s doing what, as long as the what—engaging your target audience—is done.

So how do you best organize your marketing team?

Here’s a suggestion: Do it by marketing type: paid, earned, and owned media.

Organize by marketing type: Paid, earned, and owned media

You’ll be glad to know that both small and large companies can deploy nimble marketing efforts to reach their marketing goals.  

You can do this by divvying up roles and responsibilities according to the three types of marketing: paid, earned, and owned marketing. 

(Here, we’re using marketing interchangeably with media and content, because we consider the former to be one and the same as total marketing output.)

Learn more about what each of these marketing types means for your business. 

Paid marketing: Pay to get your name out there

As the name implies, this is any advertising for which you pay to reach your target customer. 

Traditional paid marketing examples include billboards, TV, public relations, and radio and print ads. 

Billboards are traditional paid marketing initiatives, but choose your copy wisely.  ©   Fox Searchlight

Billboards are traditional paid marketing initiatives, but choose your copy wisely. © Fox Searchlight

Examples of digital paid marketing tools include search engine marketing (SEM), or “paid search,” and web ads. 

Today, paid marketing has also evolved to include affiliations, partnerships, and endorsements from brand ambassadors and social media influencers, who then disclose the relationship with  #ad or #spon in their posts. 

Hate her or love her, no one holds the the #spon crown quite like the queen herself, Kim K:

Paid marketing doesn’t have to seem disingenuous. 

We live in a world where the devoted fans and followers of celebrities and influencers perceive product recommendations and shoutouts to be gospel, even though they know that some brands have paid their favorites to tout products. 

Jenny McCarthy has an affiliate partnership with FabFitFun, and she wants you to know all about it. 

If you’ve provided concessions (free products or services) in exchange for shoutouts and other exposure, then you’ve engaged in a form of paid marketing.

An Amazon Marketplace is also an example of a paid marketing effort, because you’ve paid to get that extra visibility. 

Paid marketing is also known as acquisition marketing, because it’s an effective way to build your audience for earned and owned marketing results, which we discuss next.

Earned marketing: The Oprah effect

You “earn” free marketing any time someone mentions or says something (hopefully positive) about your company.

This is known as the Oprah effect.

Spanx was relatively unknown until Oprah Winfrey included it in her “favorite things” list, which helped catapult the brand into household-name status and forged the billion-dollar company it is today.

Examples of earned marketing include search engine optimization (SEO) aka organic search, uncompensated press coverage, testimonials, and word of mouth referrals.

In short, earned media carries weight because people perceive it to be objective.

People are more trusting of objective news sources, and you and 84% of consumers are likelier to believe recommendations from friends and family members than other forms of advertising.

Earned media also includes “social proof,” where people vouch for your brand with likes, follows, and comments that openly support your awesome product or service.

Sometimes, brands deserve a genuine shoutout just because people love 'em.

Got a little sidetracked 🙈

A post shared by Erin Schrader (@livinginyellow) on

Like the Oprah effect, any unsolicited brand recommendations from bloggers, influencers, and celebrities can yield some serious exposure for big and up-and-coming microbrands.

Owned marketing: Create your own following

The third type of marketing involves content that your company creates, such as blog posts, marketing emails, videos, newsletters, podcasts, social media posts, webinars, and thought leadership content.

By producing engaging, interesting owned media, your company can extend its brand further into the marketplace. If done well, this can result in your very own devoted community or tribe and overlap into earned marketing results.

Take a cue from Glossier, which started as the cult blog “Into the Gloss,” and is now a multi-million-dollar beauty brand.

When it came time for Founder Emily Weiss to launch Glossier beauty products, her readers were ready to invest in the line, which echoed her focus on body-positive, inclusive skincare.

Buzzfeed Tasty uses recipes to promote its brand. These recipes are shared by home cooks all over the web, creating earned marketing.

Food reviewers The Infatuation use Instagram to hype up a delicious restaurant with truly Insta-worthy food pics.

They also rely on their more than 750,000 followers to use the #EEEEEATS hashtag, which generates even more earned and owned marketing. Adding to this, they also curate a monthly Spotify playlist with more than 14,000 followers, named, what else but, BEEEEEATS.

Measuring success

By now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, this is all great, but does it work?

Yes, and you can measure the effectiveness of all three types of marketing by setting the right benchmarks, like key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs are also sometimes easier to pinpoint than total return on investment (ROI) within each marketing, which can be more one-dimensional when comparing sunk costs and results.

Your KPIs will be unique to your company, goals, and budgets. Here’s an article to help. Once you’ve set these up, track your progress against your specific goals.

What’s most remarkable is how your paid, earned, and owned strategies will interact with each other.

For instance:

  • Paid → owned:
    Paid social media ads may increase traffic to company videos or blog posts

  • Owned → earned:
    Popular owned media can be shared, which creates earned media

  • Owned → earned, or earned → owned:
    Your own blogs and others’ blog content touting your products and services drive even more SEO to your site

  • Earned → owned:
    Online reviews can link back to company websites

  • Owned → earned:
    People who talk about your awesome video ads can drive viewers and potential customers to it

With consistent execution and focus, your company should see some uptick in inquiries, attention, follows, and, ultimately, revenues—and hopefully some profits, too.

Yaaaaaas queen!