“Branding” or “owned media” essentially indicate the level of popular interest in a brand, product, or company (what anyone pre-internet would call “word of mouth” advertising); yet today’s term is so much more than simply giving out free samples so consumers will create a chain by telling their friends. So, let’s take a closer look at earned media, why it deserves focus, and how it can benefit a company.
Looking at the term itself, earned media can be broken down into the 2 component words: earned and media. The base term, media, meaning ‘a channel of communication’, is the pluralized version of the Latin adjective medius, meaning ‘in the middle’. (To better understand the correlation, think of media as something that is in the middle or between the exchange of information between two entities.) Earned, from the verb earn, meaning ‘deserving of merit, praise, or (in this case) attention’, comes from the Old English earnian, which is derived from the Proto-Germanic aznon, meaning ‘to serve or harvest’.
Taken as a form of mass communication, the first use of the term media in this sense can be found in the journal Biblical Repertory, which stated in January 1850 that: “Our periodicals are now the media of influence. They form and mould the community.” For a more strictly communicative business sense, this can be attributed to the writing of G. Snow in Noble T. Praigg’s 1923 book, Advertising and Selling, where he states that: “Mass media represents the most economical way of getting the story over the new and wider market in the least time.” Finally, with the introduction of the term “social media” in 1994, our term became closely aligned with individuals creating and sharing content.
First noted in the Old English poem, The Life of St. Guthlac of Crowland, which was written in the late 8th century, earn is used as the result of specific action, stating: “So the souls of the sooth-fast may climb up into that perpetual home, that those…earn eternal life on earth.” Only varying slightly from this primary meaning, William Baldwin’s 1559 first edition of A Myrroure for Magistrates, treating the term as something obtained or received from work or effort, such as feedback or a desired result, mentions: “Good Earle Thomas Hayer, Whose earned praises never shall appear.”
Beyond simply looking at the term, the meaning- and importance- of earned media is what makes it so valuable. Differing from media that is directly distributed from the company, like the company blog or social media accounts, and media that is directly paid for by the company, such as pay-per-click advertising, paid spokespeople, and traditional advertising methods, earned media is driven solely through the activity of consumers. Reducing this idea, this is the interaction that a company can’t pay for: the independent shares, mentions, and reviews of potential customers.
In many ways, earned media is a lot like fire.
- For sales, as with survival, it is a necessity: offering a conversion rate that is typically more than 5 times that of paid media, earned media provides honest, independent, trustworthy interaction among consumers in the marketplace about your brand or product.
- However, if you are inexperienced with fire, you can easily get burned: sometimes, mistakes are made and, being independent, bad reviews, mentions, and overall “fails” can happen, potentially tarnishing a reputable brand and, in some cases, even killing a product.
- Finally, if you learn how to control it and use it responsibly, earned media can be a very effective tool: given the compelling impact that video marketing can have, it is of the utmost importance to assure that the best possible message is being delivered to the right audience. Again, with the nature of earned media being independent, it’s impossible to control how your content is received, especially to an ever-widening audience; however, through effective use of SEO, steering the narrative and tightly controlling the message you’re attempting to convey, and working with influencers and journalists who share the ideals of your company, proper use of earned media can be a useful block in building up your company in the eyes of consumers.