The interplay between earned and owned content

Posted By Julie on Aug 25, 2017 | 0 comments


Smart content marketing leverages three types of content: earned, owned and paid. But it’s the intersection of earned content (press mentions, positive reviews, reposts and recommendations by influencers) and owned content (website, blogs and social media messages that brands control) that intrigues me most.

The reason that the interplay between owned and earned content is so important is because, in my opinion, it’s the least understood by companies and organizations trying to build an effective content marketing strategy.

Having sat on both sides of the content creation world—as a columnist for publications and a storyteller for brands looking to reach these very influencers—I have an interesting perspective.

As a writer and editor for print and digital outdoor publications, I’m regularly approached by public relations professionals who are anxious to “place” their clients’ products or services in an upcoming issue or online outlet. They’re doing their job—hustling to “earn” a review or mention.

However when an influencer is pitched something that’s totally out of industry, overly salesly or irrelevant (often perpetuated by the use of a traditional press release) it feels like a waste of time and an overload in the inbox. This is a missed opportunity in the owned media space.

On the other hand, I have great appreciation for PR people who don’t sell. They personalize a message, make an idea totally relevant yet not promotional, craft a brand story related to a trend and, frankly, do some of the legwork so I don’t have to. It feels like a burden lifted. Not only is it easier to pitch an on-point story to a publication or online outlet for acceptance, it makes researching, writing and editing the article or post faster and simpler. Everyone is happy.

When I switch gears to creating content for brands I try to keep this very thing in mind. What’s going to make each piece of owned content—the in-house stories brands write, control, post and share—the most “earnable.” It’s important to ask why anyone, but especially journalists, reviewers and influencers, would care about each topic you put out there.

Over time, we’ve learned that few in the “earnable” space—again people who might potentially mention a brand, share a brand story or recommend a brand in some way—care about “features” (nuances and technical specs) alone. There’s got to be more to the story: Why does it matter? What does it help people do better? How does it impact human lives for the greater good?

Likewise, the “newness” of a product, service, place or person doesn’t always mean “newsworthy.” This is not a strong lead for an earnable pitch. While it may feel new to the brand, if it’s not truly innovative or disruptive in some significant way, it’s not a “saleable” story.

If a national park, for example, just opened a new trail, that’s just not that sexy. If a wearable fitness technology just added a new element to its app, it’s probably not applicable to enough people. If an athlete just released a new cookbook, what’s really going to stir the pot?

To earn content, your owned content must be relevant. It must at least try to connect on a deeper level. Today, it’s also wise to consider brand stories about giving back or how your brand is doing something more profound than advancing consumerism.

People want to hear and share stories of real people interacting with a brand. How is it helping their life? How does it inspire action or art? How did it do something special for someone else? How is it relevant to a current trend? How can it make you laugh, cry, shout, sigh or think?

The stronger—that means real, relatable, relevant—your owned content, the more you will earn the attention that you deserve.