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Earned media’s critical role throughout the customer journey

Originally focused primarily on paid creative, Brooklyn Brothers began integrating earned media into paid and owned efforts for brands after it sold to Golin in 2005. “We saw early on and then over a long period of time that earned media had this exponential improvement on campaign performance,” says Paul Parton, one of Brooklyn Brothers’ cofounders.

Paul Parton

Paul Parton

“And so we actively began to structure campaigns around earned media,” says Parton. “Now we execute what we call earned-first campaigns even if it has a big paid component. Paid has a multiplier effect on earned.”

Named Golin’s first group chief strategy officer in May, Parton’s new role reflects the firm’s activation in mapping earned, owned and paid media strategies to the customer purchasing journey.

This has become critical for brands. A survey by a digital marketing agency of 3,000 consumers in the U.S. and U.K found 70% expect a connected experience from the brands they engage with, regardless of the media. The expectation is that every interaction be personalized and fueled by all previous touchpoints, from past purchases to promotional preferences, and for brands to anticipate their needs.

Earned media can play a pivotal role in moving a consumer seamlessly along on that journey. But Parton contends most of the time it is only used for general awareness at the top of the purchasing funnel.

For instance, a camera brand might create broad awareness with a potential customer with a combination of earned and paid media. But if the brand has done little or no strategic outreach to earned media and influencers and built credible, richer content about the camera, this can create a fracture in the customer journey at the consideration phase.

Or think about a repeat purchaser of a camera brand. With personalized, ongoing communications that recognizes and rewards her loyalty, the brand could turn her into a brand advocate – an influencer in the purchasing journey of other customers and also more likely to continue buying from the brand.

“Brands need to think about the role earned media can play at every point of the customer journey rather than just at the top of the funnel,” Parton stresses. “Earned media can boost brand affinity, drive strong consideration, help close the deal with consumers and subsequently convert them into brand advocates.”

To do that, he suggests mapping earned media channels based on reach and relevance.

“If earned media’s job in the customer journey is to increase awareness, we’ll look at media that have proven to get us the greatest reach,” he says. “But if we’re trying to move people to purchase, the media channels we’ll want to focus on are those with more depth of content and alignment with the brand. From a social perspective, you also have a huge opportunity to influence consumers near the end of the purchasing journey by directing them to specific earned content.”

The formidable challenge: your mapping is only as good as your data-sets.

“Data is at the core of creating a more integrated media ecosystem and a more relevant brand experience for consumers,” says Chad Latz, chief innovation officer, global president of digital at Burson Cohn & Wolfe. “While the craft of brand storytelling is still a valuable and essential dimension of communications, without science behind content creation, channel selection and audience targeting, earned media efforts are simply a guessing game driven by a brand’s agenda rather than audience interest.

Chad Latz

Chad Latz

“A fully-integrated communications-driven approach to media will not only be optimized to contribute to specific business goals, but will also expand the capacity for prospecting new audiences, content formats and channels,” continues Latz. “Our experience is that we can broaden attribution modeling, providing new intelligence to determine, predict and optimize which assets deliver the greatest value at each phase of the funnel.

“Doing this also ensures continuity in the consumer experience and increases the likelihood of conversion,” concludes Latz.

Dale Vieregge, senior director of digital strategy at APCO Worldwide’s Tokyo office, is excited by the very near prospect of journey mapping being fleshed out by both analytics and direct audience enquiry.

“The former had the benefit of scale and quantitative measurement, but often only captured the last set of steps before the target action. This minimizes the value of message repetition and antecedent steps in educating and persuading targets,” explains Vieregge. “The latter [direct enquiry] had the advantage of being more comprehensive of a full journey, including critical offline information and engagement, but because more qualitative it often overlooked smaller trails in favor of well-worn paths to the target action.”

Dale Vieregge

Dale Vieregge

“I can readily foresee a fast-approaching future in which declared data will help us to bring these two methods into closer proximity,” he says. “By having direct input from individual targets and merging these with existing platform data where possible and ethically responsible, strategists and developers can have a more complete and nuanced understanding of diverse users’ needs and expectations throughout the funnel.”

“With these insights in hand — and linked to addressable user account — we can create highly-personalized content and experiences across multiple platforms, from email to events, earned media to ecommerce.”


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