top of page
  • Writer's pictureROMI

A Guide to the Digital Marketing Trifecta: Paid, Owned & Earned

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

Have you ever heard of the digital marketing trifecta? It refers to the three types of media involved in online marketing: paid, owned, and earned media.

The interesting thing here is that there can be some overlap for marketing channels of these types. Take social media as an example: it can actually belong to all three types in the trifecta!

How is that possible? We’ll go over it and more as we explain the trifecta below.

The 3 Main Types of Digital Marketing Media

Owned Media

Owned media refers to marketing content that takes place on marketing channels you own.

Your blog content is an example. That’s marketing content that’s published on a channel you own (the blog itself).

The same goes for your website. You own your website, so any marketing you do on it is considered owned media.

Social media posts can also be classed as owned media. Even if you don’t own the social media platform, you do have ownership of the account you’re using to post content.

Your social media account page also belongs to you and it’s primarily where you show the content you’re posting.

Why use owned media?

Owned media usually targets existing customers or consumers who already know your brand.

That’s usually why people end up on your digital properties (like your website) in the first place. They know your company, search for it online, and go to your website or social media account.

That being said, owned media can also be used to draw in new prospects.

With a strong content marketing and SEO strategy, for example, you can start pulling people into your blog even if they’ve never heard of you before.

That already indicates one of the strengths of owned media: it offers you an opportunity to win people over by establishing both your identity and credibility from that “encounter”.

It gives you a prime chance for trust-building on your terms. Why? Because your ownership of the property where that trust-building takes place also gives you control over the channel.

Why not use owned media?

Well, the truth is that there’s virtually no reason to skip owned media. It’s arguably impossible to do so when doing digital marketing, anyway.

That’s because it covers most of your activities in building a centre for your online presence. Notice that the other two types in the trifecta, paid and earned media, are very often designed to lead to owned media.

You often see advertisements from companies that lead to their websites, for example. That’s an instance of paid media (ads) leading to owned media (company websites).

The only downsides to owned media would be that it often requires some other type of marketing to get results early on (as in the example we just mentioned) and that it requires quite a bit of maintenance.

Optimising owned media marketing takes time and effort. Since it’s not the fastest at getting results, it can feel like a significant drain on resources at first.

Paid Media

Paid media is perhaps the easiest media type to understand in the trifecta. It covers marketing content that requires you to pay for its display, usually because you don’t own the channel where it’s shown.

Or, to put it even more simply, it refers to ads.

Social media ads, pay-per-click ads, paid search ads, display ads – all of these are examples of paid media.

Why use paid media?

Paid media can target just about any segment of consumers. That’s one of its biggest strengths, actually: that it affords so many options for targeting.

That’s because a lot of the platforms that allow ads have excellent targeting tools now, which means you can get ultra-granular with it.

In the same way, a lot of these same ad platforms offer users powerful tracking tools for ad performance.

You can monitor ad metrics with ease and use the data gathered to adjust, improve, or even decide to end your ads (if their performance is too poor).

And on the topic of performance, paid media offers fast results. It’s relatively easy to get a paid search ad on the first page of Google’s search results, for example.

Compare that to a blog post, which is an example of owned media. It can take months to do the same thing!

Why not use paid media?

There are some downsides to paid media too. The first one is obvious: cost.

Now, it’s true that just about every marketing media type has costs. Maintaining a website (owned media) costs you in some way, for instance, whether in terms of time or employee wages.

But paid media’s efficacy has an even stronger direct link to expense.

Stop paying for an ad and it stops showing immediately. Pay less than competitors for a paid search ad and your ad may not even show on the first page of the search results.

Paid ads aren’t all about how much you spend, of course. But they do tend to get more expensive as competition increases. Naturally, your costs also mount as you extend their use.

Plus, you have restrictions to follow in terms of format and content.

You still do have a lot of control over your ad and what’s in it, to be clear, but most ad platforms have rules on things like word count, video length, and the like. Contrast that to the freedom you usually have on owned media.

Earned Media

The last member of the trifecta, earned media – also known as shared media – refers to marketing content or support that others give you of their own volition.

The keywords are “of their own volition”. You can’t pay people for earned media or it’s no longer earned media. You have to earn it.

A good example of earned media is a third-party review of your products or services. Or shares of your content on social media. Or coverage of your company in the news.

You earn these instead of paying for them.

You earn the review by virtue of your product or service intriguing the reviewer enough to try it and then review it. You earn a repost with good content. You get covered by the news by doing something interesting.

Why use earned media?

The most obvious reason to use earned media is to capitalise on people’s love of social proof.

Consumers are warier than ever nowadays. So, they’re more likely to trust what other consumers or third-parties have to say about a brand (v.s. trusting the brand’s own statements about itself).

It’s also a great way to expand your reach and build brand awareness. And best of all, it tends to be free – again, you don’t have to pay people for earned media, after all.

Why not use earned media?

You can easily see the problem with earned media: it’s largely outside of your control.

Since you can’t pay people to produce it for you, you can’t set a lot of rules or boundaries on it. It’s entirely possible for a reviewer to say something unpleasant about your product, for instance.

You can’t even be certain that you will get earned media after encouraging others to deliver it.

You can make a resharing call to action a staple of your social media marketing strategy, requesting that people share your social media posts, for instance, but there’s no guarantee they will.

Begin your SEM campaign now!

SEM clearly has a wealth of benefits for most businesses. It’s pretty much a given, along with SEO, if you want a multifaceted online marketing strategy.

You can even see how it plays a part in our recommended digital marketing strategy for business owners in our previous article discussing SEO vs PPC.

That said, many people don’t feel comfortable doing their own SEM at first. That’s understandable, as the prospect of organising paid ads and bidding for their places can seem daunting.

We can help. Most of our clients request SEM from us and we’ve executed more than our share of such strategies successfully. So, feel free to contact us for a chat about your digital marketing needs.


bottom of page