Is the Best Digital Marketing Earned, Owned or Bought?

Marketers, CMO’s and business owners have so many digital marketing options to promote their brand and make ideas spread that it can make their head spin.Is the Best Digital Marketing Earned Owned or Bought

Do you advertise on Facebook, start a blog, jump onto Twitter, produce a viral video or optimise your website for search engines?

Social media marketing is sometimes seen as free but in essence nothing is for free.

Writing a blog post takes time and participating on Facebook and Twitter diverts resources away from other tasks and this all comes at a cost. Developing a marketing strategy for your business or blog can start to look extremely complex and soon that marketing plan is only half done and still sitting in your to-do list tray.

So how do you obtain perspective and context amongst the digital marketing noise and options?

The “Simple” Digital Marketing Landscape

Sometimes its worth standing back and seeing the digital marketing landscape in its simplicity is the best place to start.

Daniel Goodall from Nokia segmented his marketing options initially into three components.

Owned Bought and Earned Digital Media

Research from Forrester further explains the differences, advantages and challenges of these three which is summarized below.

1. Owned Media

A channel a brand owns. This could be your website, blog, Facebook page or Twitter account

This is where you are building a long term on-line asset and relationship with existing and potential customers that continues to build the more you invest. Investing in this is often overlooked because it doesn’t produce immediate benefits.

The Benefits

  • Control
  • Cost efficiency
  • Longevity
  • Versatility
  • Niche audiences

The Challenges

  • No guarantees
  • Company communication not trusted
  • Takes time to scale

2. Bought Media

This is where you pay to participate. This could be display ads on Facebook or paid search on Google. This media can be treated as a catalyst that feeds owned and creates earned media

The Benefits

  • Immediacy
  • Scale
  • Control

The Challenges

  • Clutter
  • Declining response rates
  • Poor credibility

3. Earned Media

Customers respond to your marketing and become the channel (crowd sourced marketing). This can be word of mouth (WOM), buzz and viral. This is where you listen and respond and stoke the fires. This is often the result of a well executed and well coordinated owned and paid media.

The Benefits

  • Most credible
  • Key role in most sales
  • Transparent and has longevity

The Challenges

  • No control
  • Can be negative
  • It has global scale
  • Harder to measure

They all have their advantages and challenges and which you use will come down to goals and asking some questions.

Which is the Best Marketing Media for Your Brand?

This will come down to your goals. If you have objectives that require immediate results then bought media is your best option. If you have time and you want to build a long term asset that will keep producing sales and enquiries then earned media will be your best option. If you want keep costs down and have time to invest in building your on-line assets then your owned media channels are where you should be investing your time and dollars.

The optimum approach is to combine all three to provide a synergistic approach that is greater than the sum of its parts.


Create a Hub and Spoke Model of Owned Media

The hubs you own such as your blog or website should be where you publish and optimize for sharing. Treat your rented social media channels as extensions of your home base where you can engage  on the social networks where your audience hangs out and distribute your content and ideas. Do not give up or hand over your on-line assets into a Facebook only  approach. Remember you are on Facebook or Twitter under their terms and  conditions and you are only renting the asset and you are there at the Landlord’s mercy and sufferance.

Invest in the Future

Earned media takes time but the benefits over time can be extremely valuable. Engaging with your target market so the crowd leverage’s your brand for you, will create an on-line brand asset that money can’t buy. Videos going viral and Tweets being shared can spread your brand like wildfire and Google backs that up by indexing it on their servers to be found on-line for perpetuity (or as long as the electricity is on!)

Make Paid Media your Catalyst

Paid media’s role is not dead but evolving and should be treated as the catalyst to produce immediate results and gain access to audience at scale. Paid media can create awareness for your owned media that can accelerate your marketing. Paid media can start the fire!

Where are you investing your time, resources and money? Owned, Paid or Earned?

More reading

Image by nudevinyl


  • Brock Blohm

    Earned. At least that is how I feel. These are people who enjoy reading/listening/viewing your content. They keep coming back for more. This means that you, as a business operator, are doing something right! :) This is key to true longevity of an online business…

  • Anonymous

    Person should go for digital marketing as per the affordability. But as per my view owned media is better. Though it demands for more time to show the result but that for longer time. As if we have own website so visitors comes to visit it , give their reviews. But it is our responsibility to provide best information to attract people.
    article submission

  • Sean Corcoran
    • AjeetK

      Gosh, you are right Sean, I am shocked to see the extent to
      which this author has taken from your research.


      In fact, it is a mere re-writing of the original. E.g.,
      “Create a solar system of owned media” was spinned to “Create a
      Hub and Spoke Model of Owned Media.”


      Likewise, “Your paid media is not dead, but it is
      evolving into a catalyst” was tweaked to become “Make Paid Media your

  • Digital Marketing

    Nice points… It’s a great post regarding earned/owned/bought
    media. I think Earned media is media you don’t buy but earn the hard way and PR
    is the best example of earned media.


    • Kristian Friis

      Earned media has nothing to do with that. Earned media is the buzz that’s created around your brand, that you don’t have any impact on yourself. As for instance all the Word-of-Mouth a successful campaign can generate. PR will be owned media, because you controle it, while whats being said by others about it is Earned.  

      • Sumeet Ambré

        totally agree with you kristian

  • hima chhag

    gr8 post. But i really have 1 doubt. Do we really have total control over our facebook or twitter account. We have seen many ups and downs over a period of time. What about that?

  • Prakash Gurbaxani

    Great analysis of social media options available to businesses. Actually options is the wrong word, since they are complementary. “Bought” is perhaps the only small option

  • dojan

    But one does not exclude the other, right? On the contrary, I believe they live in symbiosis with each other. I believe the best way to get earned media, is to be (own) media. To be something great, something valuable :-)

    • Jeff Bullas

      This is not about exclusion it is about awareness and inclusion. Use where appropriate!

  • Jason Cruz

    “Do not give up or hand over your on-line assets into a Facebook only approach.” – Especially true now with Facebook limiting page post reach. It’s probably time for lots of brands/companies to diversify and go Twitter and/or YouTube…

  • Holly McIlwain

    Thank you, Jeff, excellent post. We’re going to adopt these terms from Goodall for our marketing strategies. Gives us a way to communicate internally and plan. Two of the three are more costly. Stoking the fires of ‘Earned Space’ can be as simple as asking your customers to remember to refer you, tell their friends and ask them directly for a referral. If you get into a customer rewards loyalty type program I can see that’s where the ‘Earned’ and ‘Bought’ spaces overlap.

  • Jamie

    Blatant plagiarism. Shame on you!

  • Glade Swope

    Owned Earned Bought? There could also be 3 more categories… I just couldn’t resist: Begged, Borrowed, and Stolen!