Digital marketing and advertising spend in 2019 will outpace analog marketing spend across traditional channels such as TV, radio and newspapers. As the battle for attention heats up online, the question for CMO’s is where to allocate marketing budgets. While new opportunities with influencer marketing and social media advertising have received the bulk of the attention, earned media may actually have a more valuable role in the digital marketer’s toolbox.
So says a new report from BMV, a PR and digital marketing agency for growth brands. The BMV Digital Brand: Awareness, Engagement & Action Index surveyed more than 1,000 consumers in the 1H of 2019 — weighted for U.S. population — to discover how brands garner attention and drive purchases online, while also examining consumer viewpoints on digital channels and uncovering how trust is earned in the fake news era.
Earned media drives product discovery and influences buying decisions
According to the BMV Index, earned media is the No. 1 way consumers say they discover products online, with 30% of respondents saying that a digital news article is typically how they hear about new products and services online. Furthermore, consumers say news articles are also the most impactful in shaping their buying decisions.
In fact, news articles came out ahead of positive social media posts on a product or service from friends and family (28%) as being the most impactful for driving a buying decision. Meanwhile, while 29% of consumers admitted that social and digital ads drive their awareness of new products, only 12% said a positive mention of a brand in a digital or social ad influences their buying decision.
“While there’s little doubt that brands must look beyond telling their story exclusively through traditional earned media in our digital age, the pendulum and PR industry perception on ROI may have swung too far in the direction of social media advertising, branded content creation and paid influencer endorsements,” said Kyle Austin, BMV founder and managing partner.
Earned media’s ROI
Austin points to the recent USC Annenberg Center’s Global Communications Report survey of in-house and agency PR professionals as an illustration of the industry undervaluing the current and future sales value of earned media online. That survey found that agency staffers believe the percentage of media revenue from earned media will drop 10% over the next five years. In addition, he notes the headlines around Edelman, the biggest PR agency in the world, is about the firm evolving into a full-service ad agency.
“Edelman had one of, if not the largest head count in the industry, and really a supply and demand problem with PR staffers outnumbering journalists 6-1 across the industry,” Austin added. “However, while it is harder than ever before to garner earned media given this ratio, the business outcomes today from earned media may be greater than ever before. The fake news era has created an appetite among consumers for trustworthy information from credible media outlets. As a byproduct, digital news articles are driving product awareness, and ultimately purchases, more effectively than new digital alternatives.”
While consumer interest in credible sources in today’s digital ecosystem should be driving new interest in leveraging earned media, PR professionals should also be aware this is impacting areas such as influencer marketing and digital advertising in inverse ways. Recent reports suggest that fake influencers may be costing brands more than $1 billion a year.
The BMV Index also indicates that consumers may be tiring of influencers. Even more telling, 29% of survey respondents noted that a positive online recommendation from an influencer was the least likely to impact their buying decision. That’s compared to the 23% that said a positive mention in a social/digital ad, 18% that said a positive mention in a company’s branded content, 16% that said a positive social media mention from a friend/family and the 14% that said a positive mention in a news or editorial article – were the least impactful in influencing their buying decision.
Finding credible digital channels as consumers combat privacy and fake news
In addition, consumers may be growing wary of how brands and marketers are targeting them with advertising. BMV found that 75% of consumers are at least sometimes dissuaded from doing business with a company that they believe or know has been collecting data on them for advertising purposes.
Where can PR professionals look in addition to earned media to drive consumer engagement and action? One area is certainly branded or owned social media accounts. Nearly one-third (32%) of consumers said they follow and consume branded social media content simply because it’s interesting and engaging. This was the top answer and even higher among Gen Z and millennials (39%), who are increasingly looking for their favorite brands to entertain and enlighten them.
On the other side of the spectrum, the affluent 45-to-60-year-old demographic was most likely (30%) to follow a brand’s social media because they’re close to buying a product or service from a company. Further evidence that branded content — especially content that is distributed via owned social channels — can be a key ingredient at both the top and bottom of the purchase funnel.
“While our index indicates that brands are likely undervaluing the sales impact of media relations in the digital age, the difficulty in achieving earned media means brands must also be able to create compelling stories across owned channels and amplify through authentic influencers and thoughtful social ads,” adds John Eidson, VP of content and strategy at BMV.