By Chad Pollitt published May 27, 2014

Help Your Owned Media Hit its Goals: Combine Earned and Paid Promotion

soccer ball-distant net-green fieldContent marketing has seen a huge growth in adoption by brands over the last four years. So much so, in fact, that the Content Marketing Institute reports a 90 percent adoption rate by B2C brands and a 93 percent rate for B2B brands. The same studies report over 70 percent of these brands have increased the amount of content they create (owned media) over the last 12 months and are planning on spending more.

Unfortunately, the majority of brands still believe their content is not effective. The reports from CMI suggest that marketers are planning on propping up both their content quality and quantity to address this problem. However, some marketers are avoiding the quality/quantity conundrum altogether by deploying online content promotion and distribution solutions.

Forrester’s Ryan Skinner reports that marketers can actually step down content production and step up distribution and promotion to see better results. He also reasons that content quality will increase more quickly because the feedback loop is accelerated with promotion.

At the same time, Nielsen reports that earned media — i.e., content that’s written about a brand by a third party — is 88 percent more trustworthy than owned media content alone, and has a greater impact at all stages of the consumer purchase process.

It’s these revelations that are encouraging both marketers and PR professionals to look to paid and earned media channels for content promotion and distribution. The number of eyeballs available to read owned media content is finite — limited to those who know to look for it directly on your channels. But with more than 90 percent of brands creating, publishing, and sharing owned media — not to mention the countless other flavors of content being published by individuals and media outlets — it’s becoming much more difficult to attract and keep audiences today.

Content promotion and distribution efforts empower brands to tap into paid and earned channels to get their owned media content in front of other, more established audiences. For example, Outbrain reports a six percent click-through rate across its 100,000-plus publisher network. And the Nielsen study shows that third-party citations from credible media outlets are a 38 percent more effective source of information for impacting the consumer at the top of the funnel. In other words, pitching the media to cover a brand’s owned content has more consumer impact than owned media alone.

Content promotion trends and insights

In 2013 brands spent, on average, 8.5 percent of their content marketing budget (or 2.4 percent of the overall marketing budget) on native social media promotion. They also spent 6.7 percent of their content marketing budget (or 1.9 percent of the overall marketing budget) on sponsored content (advertorials). (Disclosure: Data points from four different sources were used to determine averages: CMI, Custom Content Council, eMarketer, and AdvertisingAge.)

The collection of data mentioned above shows that, on average, brands spent at least 15.2 percent of their overall content marketing budgets on content promotion and distribution. However, this does not factor in other channels such as earned media, or sponsored recommendations from services like Outbrain or Taboola. Unfortunately, this data is not publically available yet. But as content promotion and distribution matures and becomes even more commonplace, these data points should begin to publically surface.

That said, Jason Mlicki of marketing agency Rattleback suggests allocating a full 45 percent of content marketing resources to promotion and distribution of owned media. If most content marketers believe their efforts are not effective, it could be because their budgets for promotion and distribution of owned media are too small.

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Image credit: Rattleback

An examination of our own client portfolio revealed spending on content promotion and distribution hovers in the 30 to 40 percent range, with more than 60 percent of the promotion budget spent on media relations (earned media).

Paid vs. earned content promotion, and their perceived value

Deciding which channels to use and what the proper mix should look like is a juxtaposition of two major benefits: control and influence. Brands have to decide which is most important to their marketing. Paid media channels offer brands the most control of the two channels. On the other hand, earned media offers little control (brands don’t control journalists or editorial decisions, but can sway them with the pitch) but maximum influence, according to the Nielsen report. Other key performance indicators (KPIs) to consider include visibility, click-through rate, organic search, and shareability.

Below is a chart containing the total overall perceived value of each channel based on the likelihood of impacting each KPI mentioned above.

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(Download the full chart [registration required])

If brand awareness is your top KPI, then channels that offer the maximum visibility should be considered. If driving inquiries to nurture is most essential for your marketing strategy, then channels with high click-through rates should be leveraged. SEO and social metrics are other KPIs some marketers strive to achieve — both of which can be impacted by several of the content promotion channels.

Since media coverage appears to be the most trusted channel, a good rule of thumb is to use paid channels to distribute and promote earned media coverage of your owned media content. In other words, if your brand’s study, guide, or eBook is worthy of being covered by the media or a well-known influencer, it’s ideal to support it with paid content promotion. Third-party endorsements of a brand’s owned media content suggest to consumers that its quality and helpfulness is high. The one-two punch of using paid channels to promote earned media sees to it that all of the KPIs listed above are strengthened.

Other considerations when choosing the right channel mix include demographics and personas. Companies that service extremely niche markets may find paid social promotion the easiest channel to leverage due to its robust targeting.

What type of content should be promoted?

The answer to this question depends largely on the channel. Paid media channels will let brands promote most types of content without much of a quality threshold — blog posts, studies, guides, and eBooks included. Content such as slide decks, videos, and audio have very specialized networks (for example, YouTube) that can be leveraged for paid promotion.

On the other hand, earned media channels are generally much more finicky — the content must be judged worthy of coverage by its stakeholders and decision-makers. This generally requires the content to be extremely helpful, informative, and/or entertaining to the particular audience it serves. Studies, guides, and eBooks are generally the easiest content formats to pitch to earned media outlets and influencers — as long as they solve a very important problem in the marketplace.

In order to accomplish this, consider these four content promotion/earned media rules of thumb:

  1. Content promotion strategy should be planned out before content creation begins.
  2. Good promotion plans start with audience and media research.
  3. The more valuable the content will be to its intended audience, the more successful the promotion will be.
  4. Only promote high-impact, high-quality content.

Which tools assist with content promotion?

If audience and media research are prerequisites to effective promotion, then having the best tools to leverage is a must. The internet is full of free and paid tools that empower marketers with the knowledge of Big Data to assess audiences, influencers, and the media outlets they frequent. The following suggestions can help get you started:

  • Audience targeting tools: Brands should strive to develop a thorough understanding of the audiences to target. Tools like Hitwise, Quantcast, Compete, and Google’s Keyword Planner allow marketers to discover who is interested in topics their brands would write about, where they hang out, and what problems they’re trying to solve. Other tools that assist in uncovering popular topics include Buzzsumo, Followerwonk, Social Crawlytics, and Prismatic.
  • Paid promotion tools: Marketers can go straight to the promotion networks themselves or use tools that tap into several at once. Networks like Outbrain, Taboola, and Adblade are designed to recommend related articles for consumers to read on other sites. Most of the social networks offer both native (in-feed) and banner promotion. Due to banner blindness, in-feed content promotion is ideal most of the time for content promotion. Platforms like Cision’s Content Amplification tool, inPowered, and InMobi allow marketers to tap multiple native networks and social platforms at once.

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  • Earned promotion tools: In order to execute media relations, effectively leveraging PR outreach tools to identify media outlets, journalists, and influencers to pitch is critical. Platforms like Cision, Vocus, Gorkana, and Meltwater provide vast databases to query containing people to target allowing marketers and PR folks to create targeted media lists. Buzzsumo has some of this capability, too.

Sites like HARO, Seek or Shout, and ProfNet can be described as classified ads by the media. Journalists and influencers use these services to find subject matter experts to interview and write about topics that are important to their audiences. Sharing links for the journalist to cite that back up the interview is a good way to get branded content promoted.

Brands that continue to struggle to make their content marketing effective should be adopting promotion and distribution as part of their greater strategy. Many of those who have embraced it are already breaking through the online noise, driving increases in their audience, and meeting or exceeding KPIs. If the majority of brands engaged in content marketing feel they are ineffective and they spend at least 15.2 percent of their budget on promotion and distribution, then make sure you’re allocating even more resources in the right channels for your brand.

If you’re just getting started with content promotion and distribution of your owned media, you may want to bookmark this post, and also reference this quick-start cheat sheet to get you up to speed on the content amplification space.

For more great ideas, insights, and examples for advancing your content marketing, read Epic Content Marketing, by Joe Pulizzi.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Chad Pollitt

Chad is a decorated veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and former Army Commander; member of a Forbes Top 100 List and the VP of Marketing at DigitalRelevance. He authored "51 Things Your Mother Taught You About Inbound Marketing" in 2014 and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, Social Media Today and LinkedIn Pulse.

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