Content marketing media can sometimes feel like the mall during the holidays: overwhelming and overcrowded, but essential and necessary.
A recent study from PR Newswire lists 10 different earned media formats, tactics and channels that at least half of marketers are currently pursuing, at small and large organizations alike.
As the options diversify, the barriers to entry are coming down. In an age where everyone’s an influencer and every company is a media platform, it’s easier than ever to land press mentions with or without an agency helping you.
There’s even a vibrant software ecosystem around helping businesses get started with different strategies. There’s HARO (Help a Reporter Out) for earning press by answering queries from journalists in real time. Tools like ClearVoice allow buyers to source content from top marketing writers, plan campaigns and track impact. MyBlogU provides a way to crowdsource and contribute to up-and-coming bloggers’ expert roundups and guest posts. And there are dozens of marketplace platforms like TapInfluence for planning and managing influencer marketing engagements.
Hypothetically, having all these options means every business can choose what’s really best for them and their goals.
- Need SEO juice, enterprise clients and investors? Reach out to contributors from mainstream business publications.
- Going for social media discoverability? Write for mid-tier multi-author sites.
- Product trust a problem? In-depth reviews and influencer shares can help.
- No one knows you you are? Use podcasts, influencers, and co-marketing for brand awareness.
Then there are your AMAs, guest hosting Twitter chats, thought leadership, sponsored posts, and more. The options are a lot to process.
It’s a wide open world for the marketers who have figured out what works for them.
But too many marketers aren’t dealing with these options well, and as a result of their paradoxes of choice, find themselves working with an unstrategic and ineffective earned media mix.
Too many of us are settling into media mixes quickly and poorly, based on the wrong factors, like what’s most attainable or what will get the most immediate returns. Maybe you’re making decisions based on metrics that don’t matter to your business.
Or you might find yourself on one “track” and just stay the course with it. You have momentum, are forging connections, or are working with a team or agency that has a specific specialty, and you don’t want to rock the boat.
But one way or another, your strategy gets screwed up, if you can even call it a strategy anymore.
In fact, given the messy state of attribution and measurement, a lot of us don’t even know what’s working and what’s not. In DemandGen’s annual attribution report, 52% of respondents said their company’s ability to measure and analyze marketing impact was either sub-par or non-existant.
And this is all happening as marketers are spending more.
So basically, people are throwing more money at digital media without a thought-out strategy or effort to measure what’s working and what’s not.
It’s time to work with an actual strategy.
The wrong ways to approach earned media
What’s standing in the way of marketers trying to make an impact with earned media?
Many of us know how to create a successful strategy, but we’ve fallen off track somewhere along the way for any number of reasons.
Here are just a few common “detours.”
1. Sticking with the “same old” marketing plan
Are there any parts of your strategy that feel outdated, but are “working well enough” that you stick with them? Because it’s “something you do?”
You’re not alone, but you can do better.
It’s easy to continue a given marketing tactic once you’ve built momentum and gotten into a routine with it. You have the contacts, tools and processes in place, and your team knows what they’re doing. The results may even be steady and solid, but they’re not what they used to be – and they have the potential to be far better.
If you’re nodding your head thinking about this, you probably need to consider which channels you’re spending your resources on.
Earlier this year, the WebProfits agency announced that it was moving away from Snapchat, because it didn’t turn out to grow their audience well enough to meet their own goals. They shifted, gained insight from it, and shifted again when they needed to. They didn’t keep snapping just because they’d already started.
All marketers need to regularly check in on where we’re spending time and budget to make sure our actions align with our goals. In addition to goals themselves changing, so can the effectiveness that a certain channel or strategy offers when it comes to moving you towards those goals.
It’s essential to pivot when you need to and try new things. If something doesn’t work, you don’t need to stick with it.
2. Going where your audience isn’t
Another big mistake is spending a ton of time on a campaign with a topic your target audience will love, but placing it somewhere they’ll never find it. Yes, marketers still sometimes forget to double check that their message appears where their ideal audience hangs out.
One common cause of this is working with the wrong influencer for your media goals, which MarTech Advisor posits is one of the most common influencer marketing mistakes.
Even if the actual collaboration with this influencer is totally on-message, when your content reaches the wrong audience, it won’t be able to drive the impact you’re after.
Instead, you need to focus on influencers your target audience likes and trusts.
In a great example of surgical relevance, FreshBooks frequently partners with Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon, the co-hosts of the Being Boss podcast, even co-producing in-person events for the podcast’s audience.
The partnership was promoted on the podcast, the Being Boss website and through several messages to their email list – all of which attract entrepreneurs, solopreneurs and small business owners. This message may not not reach as many people as MailChimp’s ad on Serial, but Being Boss has a large community of the exact people who would want or need FreshBooks.
3. Being unrealistic about your resources
Finally, your strategy won’t get anywhere if you’re not thinking about realistically tying earned media back into the big picture of your resource allocations.
Where you’re spending your budget, as well as your team’s time, should be in line with what’s actually driving results. Focus, in all ways, on the channels that bring impact in the right areas of your business.
Based on the same PR Newswire study cited above, here are some industry benchmarks for various content media types and their effectiveness in the B2B and B2C sectors, specifically for the KPI of generating sales leads.
Let’s say you’re trying to generate email leads by publishing thought leadership-oriented guest posts and going on podcasts as an “expert” guest. These types of publicity are best for building brand awareness, trust and website traffic, so already they may not be your best option if lead capture is really what you’re after.
Sure, it can work, but it’s not a direct path. It starts off a process that’s tied to many other factors. Will your podcast guest slot listeners remember your brand name, find you online and submit a response to a lead capture form? Unlikely. Will your guest posts’ audience members click through to your site, and if they do, will they register as leads? They might or might not – you can’t rely on it.
So if you’re spending a lot of time and resources on these specific types of publicity, not only are you missing out on results by using a less than optimal media mix, but you’re taking time and budget from working on channels that could directly drive the conversions you seek.
What to do instead
Start with the “why,” and build your strategy out from there. Instead of going with whatever mix of earned media tactics you find easiest and trying to force your strategy to fit the mix after the fact, design your strategy with your overall business goals in mind from the start.
Depending on what your focus is in terms of marketing outcome, there are a few different combinations to consider.
1. For building brand awareness
If you’re trying to build or expand your audience and extend your brand’s overall reach, your best media mix will focus on ways to reach new people with top-of-funnel content.
The tactics that will help you most will likely be things like influencer marketing, social advertising (it’s true that this isn’t technically earned media, but it’s still an important part of your marketing channel mix) to cold audiences, publishing thought leadership op-eds and being mentioned in other people’s articles.
Since you’re looking to expand your brand’s reach, these tactics put you in front of an already engaged audience belonging to someone else. For example, social media ads can place your message in front of a platform’s engaged users, and depending on the targeting parameters you opt for, you can even try and poach some of your competitors’ followers. Podcasts expose your brand to the podcaster’s community of subscribers and active listeners. The audience already knows, likes and trusts the outlet, so associating your brand with the podcast brand adds to your equity.
With these tactics, content is usually high-level and informational, and you can lean on your past expertise to talk easily about the topic at hand. Contributing quotes to expert roundups is a great way to do this.
Below you can see how a quote from Crate’s Ross Simmonds, in a roundup on Shane Barker’s website, helps to spread Simmonds’s personal brand awareness while displaying his expertise and helping to promote his SaaS product.
2. For driving traffic and engagement
Once you’ve got some recognition on earned media, it’s time to engage more meaningfully with your audience and take them to the next step in your customer journey. Here, your objective is to get them onto your website or social media channels so they’ll start looking around and interacting with you.
Tactics to focus on might be building links to your most important content, creating a co-marketing campaign with another company reaching the same targets, or getting PR coverage in feature articles.
Using tactics like these, you’re talking to people who might already know who you are, but who need to be convinced to deepen their connections with you. A long-form feature article, co-marketing campaign or in-depth content resource are signals that your brand is the expert, is trustworthy and is worthy of serious consideration.
For example, Kissmetrics runs an ongoing schedule of co-hosted webinars with marketing thought leaders, including this recent one Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina. This is a great win-win for both parties, as it allows them to engage with each other’s audiences.
3. For converting leads and sales
Finally, if you’re using earned media for generating leads or sales, or providing sales enablement, you’ll want a more surgically targeted approach. This might mean retargeting website visitors who found their way to you thanks to your other efforts, laser-targeted niche PR coverage, or lead gen ads with a targeted free offer.
For example, Jon Loomer retargeted website visitors and engaged fans on Facebook with a lead capture ad campaign offering a free webinar.
You may have acquired an active and loyal audience, but they need a little encouragement to convert. This requires more focus and addressing specific needs than when you’re building general trust and awareness. Segment your content analytics to determine which publications, platforms, channels and campaign creatives drive you the referrals with the highest conversion rates – not the most conversions – and double down on your footprint there.
Another push towards an offer they’ve already seen, or targeted messaging that addresses a problem of theirs, can tip the scales.
It all flows forth from the goals
When building your marketing media strategy and selecting channels, don’t let the real purpose of strategy stray from your focus. If your activity doesn’t bring you closer to your broader objectives, then you’re simply wasting resources.
If you find yourself on the wrong channel track, whatever the reason, there’s always time to correct your course. Your main KPIs and business goals provide you direction if you look to them.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.