Earned; the 3rd gear in the digital media machine. It is the least understood though offers the greatest value. Earned media has shown to provide the highest impact on conversion rate of any digital media. It is the "seal of approval."
Earned media like the name implies is "free." You can't buy it directly. How do you earn it? Provide a compelling description of the product or service. Meet or exceed buyer expectations. Or provide an exceptional service experience. Each of these strategies will resonate differently with prospects, customers and category watchers.
What kinds of actions can you earn: likes, reposts, retweets, shares, mentions, ratings, comments, replies, link saves, endorsements, subscribers, followers, pick-ups, recommendations, testimonials, reviews, and pick-ups. Effectively this is user generated content (UGC), which carries higher credibility within a network or community than company generated marketing material.
These earned actions can signal to others a positive experience with a company, product or service, therefore helping others get through the product research process more quickly. Putting your brand, product or service ahead of competitors in moving to conversion.
In the context of the purchase cycle; awareness, consideration, transaction and retention (ACTR), substantial media dollars are spent to create awareness and provide consideration to get prospects to move to transaction. Earned media can move a prospect right to transaction because others have done the work of becoming brand aware and putting the energy into evaluating features, benefits and overall value.
Below is an interesting chart showing results from a McKinsey study on touch points during the purchase cycle. The takeaway here is that company-driven marketing is more relevant during the awareness phase and consumer-driven marketing is more relevant during the consideration phase. Consumer-driven marketing being "earned."
In addition to moving a prospect more quickly to transaction, earned media results can also be bundled to give insight. For example, looking at number and quality of inbound links, retweets, number of twitter comments, Google +1's, Facebook likes, shares and comments and the extent content is shared or endorsed, can give an indication into brand/product influence. You can also bundle to get insight into engagement, sediment and other brand measurements.
There are costs associated with earned media which are more linked to operational overhead then direct expense like CPA or CPM. You need headcount to develop and distribute content, and promote and monitor earned actions. There can be paid content distribution costs as well if used. The work effort is in part a combination of traditional communications and social media management/monitoring/listening.
Earned media is a nurtured process where paid media is tactical, i.e. programmatic. A key nurturing strategy is simply to remind customers to give positive feedback. The old saying that those will with bad experiences will tell ten friends and those with a good experience will tell one applies to earned media.
There are tricks of the trade to develop and optimize a successful earned capability, but will save those for a later post. A key point to understand is that those providing earned actions need to have a reason to do so. For example, a strong emotional tie to the brand, some kind of return on their investment of time, and or a sense that their community or network will appreciate the UGC.
In the meantime, evaluate your digital media engine, review your earned process and understand how it is contributing to your overall conversion success.
Scott Alexander, President & Chief Digital Officer - Marketing Enablement