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Marketing Commercial Real Estate: Paid vs Earned vs Owned Media

Marketing in digital spaces is, in many ways, very similar to traditional marketing in physical spaces. Many of the fundamentals still apply: Generate leads and nurture prospects by getting your brand in front of a relevant audience. The strategies for finding prospects and generating leads fall into three marketing buckets: paid, earned, and owned media. 

These terms refer to 3 types of marketing “media” in digital spaces. You can think of the term “media” in the most literal sense: Communication material between your brand and an audience. As we go through the definitions of each type of media, remember that no single type is always going to be the best. In fact, the most successful campaigns generally incorporate a blend of strategies into their marketing mix. 

To grow your CRE business, you’ll want to incorporate all three media types within your strategy; however, this will be heavily dependent on your business strategy, goals, audience, and, of course, budget. 

Below, you’ll find a high-level overview of paid, earned and owned media in marketing. The diagram shows how paid, earned and owned exist on their own, but also how they support each other. 

Let’s break down the sections of this graphic. 

What is Paid Media?

Paid media is perhaps the easiest to understand if you’re already familiar with traditional marketing. Essentially, paid media is a piece of content that your brand has paid another service to put on their platform. 

An easy example of paid media in a traditional space would be a TV commercial. A TV network has some amount of content that draws regular viewers to the program. However, this network has certain slots in between content that’s reserved for paid media — or commercials. Other traditional paid media used in CRE include billboards, print (trade magazines), trade show sponsorships, and even direct mail.

In digital spaces, paid media are the ads that are displayed on websites. These ads will usually feature a special offer or deal, encouraging the user to click on the advertisement and be directed to the advertiser’s website. 

On Google, for example, these are the sponsored websites that appear within search results. On social media, like LinkedIn, this is the advertisement content that appears in a user’s feed. Paid media generally utilizes a pay-per-click (PPC) system, where an advertiser pays the website a fee every time someone clicks on an advertisement. 

Pros and cons of paid media

Paid media is a great way to not only get your brand in front of your audience, but find prospective leads that are actually relevant to your brand. For example, if your brand manufactures glass windows, you can target searches for terms like “glass for office” or “smart glass” to drive this traffic to your business. 

However, the costs of paid media can quickly add up. There are nuanced options in ad services like Google Ads and LinkedIn Campaign Manager that can quickly add up if you’re not familiar with digital spaces. A lot of preparation and research needs to go into the terms and audience profiles that your brand is trying to target. To best manage online paid media, you can self-educate through a digital advertising course, or you can look for someone or an agency that does this professionally (search for “ppc manager,” “ppc agency” or “Google ad management services” for example).    

Examples of paid media

  • Advertisements on the margins of a website (or banner ads)

  • Sponsored positions in Google search

  • Social media advertisements

  • Ad reads in podcasts and videos

  • Ad retargeting (the ones that seem to follow you as you browse online)

What is Meant By 'Owned Media'?

Owned media, unlike paid media, involves information channels that are extensions of your brands and under your control. Your website, for example, is a piece of owned media. You control all content that’s on there that a user can see. And a user entering your website will be gently guided toward making some sort of purchase. The goal of owned media can generally be whatever you need it to be, but most businesses have a strategy that entails attraction, information, and conversion. 

But owned media extends beyond the content on a site you own. Social media posts, like a Tweet, for example, don’t exist on a website that you own. However, that Tweet is made by your brand’s account and therefore an extension of your brand. Owned media will sometimes be referred to as your brand’s online presence. (Technically, some marketers refer to social media content as shared media — a fourth type of media — because you’re sharing the audience with whatever platform you’re using — X, Facebook, LinkedIn. They “own” the audience, but you can directly market to the audience through use of their terms.)

A real-life example of “owned media” would be a business storefront. If a sink and kitchen business, for example, operated out of a completely bland building with no windows or signs, it may hurt their business. However, if this business had a large sign and open windows with floor model products displayed, a passerby may remember that brand and be interested in doing business with them. But this storefront is completely controlling the business — it’s their decision how they want to display themselves based on their unique goals. 

Pros and cons of owned media

For the most part, owned media is inexpensive and sometimes even free. It costs very little to make new social media or blog posts on a website to drive organic traffic. More of an online presence will drive more general traffic to your brand and website, which does help with more conversions. 

However, owned media is mostly fueled by chance and hope. There’s a chance that a prospective client may see a piece of owned media you produce, but it’s not guaranteed. You can hope that your social media posts and emails drive traffic, but it may be difficult for people who aren’t already aware of your brand to see this content.  You’re also competing with other brands online who have their own “owned” media (your competitors).


Examples of owned media

  • Blogs

  • Social media posts (shared with the platform)

  • Website content

  • Email marketing

  • YouTube channels (shared with YouTube)

What is Earned Media? 

Earned media is often confused with owned media, but it has a crucial difference: Earned media isn’t produced by you. 

Earned media is related to the viral nature of internet content. Some pieces of content, often referred to as memes, can be shared across the web at a rate that can only be comparable to a virus (ergo, viral). As it relates to marketing, earned media is produced by other people on the web but is related to your brand. 

Earned media involves people talking about your brand and driving traffic to your business. It’s often called word-of-mouth marketing, but in the digital space, earned media includes links from other high-quality websites to yours. While earned media may be the most difficult to get, it’s worth the effort: 64% of marketing executives say that word-of-mouth marketing is the most effective form of marketing. Additionally, according to the 2021 Nielsen Trust in Advertising study, 88% of respondents most trust recommendations from people they know. 

A traditional example of earned media would be a non-sponsored review by a credible source, like a newspaper. This newspaper article may have listed the best lawn care services in a local area and indicated that your business is a popular choice among office complexes. This content was “earned” by your business because of your history of doing great work in the area.

Pros and cons of earned media

Earned media is completely free and can be incredibly effective for driving traffic to your brand. It also takes advantage of the viral effect of modern digital marketing across social media platforms. Many of the traditional word-of-mouth logic that applies to traditional marketing will also apply to earned media. 

However, there’s no guarantee that this media will be created. If your audience isn’t aware of your brand in the first place, they can’t try it out and recommend it to a friend. Additionally, there’s no guarantee that a piece of earned media will be positive. It’s entirely possible that earned media can be negative toward your brand.

Lastly, earned media can come at a cost, especially if you use a PR firm or individual, whose primary role is for growing that “earned” media (which makes you wonder … is it earned if you have to pay for it? Fair point!)

Examples of earned media

  • Social media tags or mentions 

  • Reviews, particularly by high-profile clients or people who can influence a larger audience (influencers)

  • Reposts and shares of content you’ve created

  • Organic search engine rankings (related to SEO)

Bottom Line: Should You Buy, Own, or Earn Your Marketing?

All the above! The most effective marketing strategies involve a blend of different media types. Of course, you can’t always have an absolutely equal amount of earned, paid, and owned media. 

For example, if your business is new on the block, you may not have as much earned media as people aren’t aware of your brand. If your brand doesn’t have a high marketing budget, or isn’t as familiar with digital marketing, you may want to limit the amount of paid media. If your brand is just starting to build its website and online presence, or doesn't have a dedicated digital marketing specialist, you may ramp up to more owned media over time. 

Indeed, there are many subtypes of media that involve blending multiple, and sometimes all, types of marketing media. Eventually, in a complete marketing strategy, you may leverage all three media types.

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