The case for investing in owned media. Right now.

Let’s go back to the basics for a moment. As marketers seeking to reach our audiences, we have three categories of media channels available to us: Paid, Earned and Owned. A healthy and sophisticated marketing and communications program will incorporate aspects of all three of these categories into its strategic mix. But how do you know where and in what combination to invest your hard-fought budget dollars for the most impact and return on your investment? Ultimately the best choices for your media mix depend on the design of your campaign, what you’re trying to accomplish, and with whom.

The pros/cons of each media option can be evaluated on a few value scales, which, for the sake of argument, I’ve oversimplified to evaluate based on their relative levels of control, precision and trust, with trust being the primary focus of this piece.

Control – Who should have control over your story? Well, that really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Hence the dilemma of how to define your marketing mix.

  • Paid Media: They control the relationship with the audience, they set the prices, you control the content.
  • Earned Media: They control the audience relationship, you control the cost of your time spent earning their attention, and they (mostly) control the content.
  • Owned Media: You control the audience relationship, you control the cost to reach them, and you control the content.

Precision – How exacting do you want to be with who sees your story, and in what context? How much do you care about how it looks or how it is worded? Does it matter how much it costs? Let’s just assume we all shouted in unison, “Very!” “A lot!” and “Absolutely!” And hence the specific media channels you choose for your various messages and content will be selected accordingly. Each category offers specific advantages with varying levels of precision.

But in order to fully optimize the impact of your efforts, your channel choices also need to be filtered through their relative levels of consumer trust.

Trust is a tricky thing to gauge, so let’s have a good, hard look at the available data.

Nielsen’s semi-annual Global Trust in Advertising survey is a consistently reliable source for tracking the pulse of consumer trust in various media formats and channels. Their most recent report, released in late 2015, indicated that there had not been much of a shift in the balance of consumers who trust various ad formats:

  • Paid Media (e.g. TV ads 63%; newspaper ads 60%; magazine ads 58%)
  • Earned Media (e.g. recommendations from people I know 83%; consumer opinions posted online 66%; editorial content such as newspaper articles 66%)
  • Owned Media (e.g. branded website 70%; brand sponsorships 61%; subscribed emails 56%)

Their 2015 conclusion appears to be consistent with previous years’ surveys: Earned Media and Owned Media continue to remain the most trusted formats. Meanwhile, Paid Media’s role in the mix remains solid and continues to offer its own distinct advantages in select media, such as TV ad formats, which still deliver the highest unduplicated reach. The need for a well-planned media mix for your brand’s unique audience has never been more important.

But that was 2015.

And things have changed a bit in the media environment, to say the least. While we don’t discount the insights of the Nielsen study of 2015, we must look further to better understand the current climate for brands who seek to earn and keep their customers’ trust and loyalty.

The Cision State of the Media 2017 Report highlights a shift in journalists’ confidence level: 91% of journalists surveyed believe that the media is somewhat or much less trusted than they were three years ago.

According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer:

“In this new world, the hierarchy of official sources has been upended. Sixty-four percent of the general population say they find leaked information more believable than press statements. Fifty-five percent say individuals are more believable than institutions, and a company’s social media page is more believable than advertising.”

Whoa. Those are some alarming insights. Among the many eye-opening findings of their annual research report, Edelman found that trust in the media has plummeted to an all-time low at a global level, with less than half (47%) of the U.S. population expressing trust in media. However, U.S. trust in media showed no statistically significant shift over 2016 numbers, while U.S. trust in business rose by 7 points over last year, to 58%.

Business is more trusted than the Media?!

Indeed. More trusted than the media, to the tune of 11 percentage points. Seems like an unprecedented opportunity for businesses to take their stories directly to the public, bypassing Paid and Earned media and building their own library of content, doesn’t it? Absolutely. But not so fast…it’s not as simple as it seems.

So what are you going to do about it?

While none of these findings should necessarily result in a 180-degree pivot of your efforts, here are a few guidelines to consider as you evaluate your brand’s approach to telling your stories:

    • Reconsider who should be telling your story: Only 38% of Americans view CEOs as trustworthy spokespeople on behalf of a business, down 5 points over 2016. And “a person like yourself” is now tied with “a technical expert” as most credible source of information, both rated at 60% extremely/very credible. Further, the data indicates than an employee of a business is the most credible spokesperson, across a variety of topics, as compared to the CEO, senior executives, activist consumers, academics and media spokespeople. Perhaps you have an opportunity to elevate the voice of the employee/consumer peer among your communications vehicles.
    • Points for style: Consumers rate “blunt and outspoken,” “spontaneous speakers” as more believable than “diplomatic and polite,” “rehearsed” spokespeople. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: there is an important difference between conveying spontaneity and being unprepared.
    • Speak with, not at your audience: 62% of consumers reported finding a company’s social media more believable than its advertising (38%). Social media channels enable consumers to feel an immediate and direct relationship with your brand through a two-way communication channel.
    • Tell stories that contribute to building trust: The Edelman report also delineates the 5 most important business attributes that contribute to building trust in a business:
      • Treats employees well
      • Offers high quality products/services
      • Listens to customers
      • Pays its fair share of taxes
      • Ethical business practices

While these attributes must also be conveyed through everyday consumer experiences, your content program can be an effective vehicle to reinforce the stories that demonstrate these brand experiences.

    • Choose your channels wisely: 59% of consumers are more likely to believe search engines than human editors. Don’t forget to make sure you optimize your content to be findable and accessible.

So what does it all mean?

The data tells us what we already know but most brands aren’t consistently delivering on: that who delivers your message, what your messages are, and how they are delivered can all have an impact upon the level of consumer trust in your brand and business.

Right now, your brand is faced with an unprecedented opportunity to build consumer trust through your Owned Media channels and content. Now is the time, more than ever, to:

      • invest in telling authentic brand stories,
      • through the voices and experiences of “people like me” spokespeople,
      • reinforcing the important trust-building attributes that make your brand valuable and credible,
      • delivered through trustworthy channels
      • in formats that break through the noise and clutter.

Easy peasy, right?

Ahem. Well, that’s why we’re here. Trust us to help you navigate the path toward building a valuable, credible, strategic and rich Owned Media future for your brand.