The future of branding is debranding, Forbes magazine proclaims, and this time around, debranding means something different than it did three years ago when everyone was excited about Coke taking their name off of their labels and putting people’s names on. Today, debranding means giving up on traditional advertising and focusing one’s promotional efforts instead on earned media.
Earned media is the coverage your business receives in newspapers, magazines, television news programs, and on websites and social media you do not control. This perception is that information found in these venues is more objective and reliable than advertising content; different media outlets enjoy different levels of credibility, which is important to keep in mind when trying to secure earned media coverage for your company.
Earned Media Doesn’t Just Happen
Before you start rejoicing about all the money you’ll be able to save on advertising, there are some things you should know. First of all, securing earned media coverage is tricky: you need to have a newsworthy, engaging story to tell, and a venue that wants to tell it, preferably in a way you’ll like for it to be told. Using good PR techniques, it’s possible to make an appearance in the relevant media for free – but it’s never a sure thing.
Money Talks: Understanding Paid Media
To increase the certainty of coverage, the field of paid placement – known sometimes as paid media or native advertising – has expanded exponentially. Paid placement can refer to content you’ve created, or a publisher has created for you, that runs on a platform you do not control. Some media outlets are scrupulous about labeling paid content as such; others aren’t. The impact of paid media isn’t quite as great as earned media – today’s consumers are fairly savvy about the content they encounter, and will reject material that’s too sales-oriented – but it does appear to outperform straight advertising, particularly in terms of how long a customer will stay engaged with your brand’s messaging.
The cost of paid media can vary wildly, based on the platform chosen. You’ll want to do your research – securing coverage for $100 sounds great, until you discover that approximately 4 people per year ever visit the site offering that rate. Choose sites that have a significant reputation and that are relevant to your target audience: the odds are the prices will be higher, but you’ll garner more satisfying results.
Bear in mind that earned media is not without its costs. Identifying newsworthy stories and pitching them to the appropriate people takes time, skill, and energy. If you have people in-house who are capable of doing this work, great – but otherwise, you may find it more cost-effective to outsource this to an agency or PR firm. Of course, nothing beats personal relationships: cultivating friendships with local reporters, TV anchors, radio DJs and other media figures is always a good idea.
Don’t Abandon Advertising Just Yet
Debranding has its advocates, but we’ve yet to see a leading successful brand abandon all advertising efforts in favor of an all-media strategy thus far. More realistic is the idea of rebalancing your marketing budget to include earned and paid coverage, taking the funds to support that from other, preferably non-performing, advertising channels. Keep the advertising that works! Time spent with your metrics analyzing advertising performance is always well spent, but when you’re deciding which channels to abandon in favor of earned and paid media, it’s absolutely essential.