Paid. Owned. Earned. Blurry.

March 28, 2012 8:18 pm

The Blurry YearsHere’s the great irony of the digital age.

More people than ever claim to be visionaries. Yet we’re living through the blurriest era in marketing history.

The New Media: Ottomans and BBQ Glaze

We used to think “new media” meant the Internet. What’s actually going on is a whole lot blurrier.

Media are becoming ottomans and couches and search engines, not to mention Black Cherry Balsamic BBQ Glaze and mobile agencies.

One company went so far as to announce plans to become a “seamless, multi-media, multi-platform sales and marketing services facility.”

How’s that for blurry?

Brands are becoming media and recording studios/record labels and schools. Schools like NYU, not wanting to be left out of the scrum, are morphing into global brands with far-flung line extensions.

And the more you look at the ecosystem, the blurrier things get.

Digital agencies are turning into ad agencies. Ad agencies are turning into digital agencies. Search agencies becoming part of publishing empires.

The New Marketing: POEM

Marketing is shifting from mostly being about advertising to a blur of paid, owned and earned media.

It’s blurry because the right mix for each business is different. The same social media that’s indispensable for @kogibbq (a Korean BBQ truck with almost 78,000 Twitter followers) isn’t nearly as meaningful for fast-moving consumer goods like a toothpaste brand.

And it’s blurry because we’re used to thinking about marketing as being mostly TV spots, which offer bimodal returns: your commercials are working, or they’re not.

Kirk Cheyfitz of Story Worldwide recently offered a useful shorthand way to think about paid, owned and earned:

1. Paid jumpstarts owned.

2. Owned sustains earned.

3. Earned drives cost down and effectiveness up.

He’s right, but our neat bimodal measurement (it’s working or it ain’t) is now hopelessly blurry. Are we paying too much for paid? Should we invest more or less in owned? How much is our earned media worth? What if the message in the earned media was mixed, or negative?

Digital has suffered a long-running war about last click, or last touch attribution, aka “what, exactly, made the sale?”

We should all pray that this war doesn’t spill over into paid, owned and earned. The only exception is if you own an analytics company. In that case, this is a debate that you want to see rage forever.

Navigating The Blur

Eventually, everything will snap back into focus. Until then, we’ll be sailing through dense fog.

So we had damned well better get used to steering our businesses despite not being able to see more than a foot or so in front of our eyes.

Boaters know low visibility presents two hazards: navigational errors and collisions. Here’s how they avoid wrecks.

1. Know that objects may appear bigger and faster than they actually are. says “When visibility is between 30 and 150 yards, objects — including other boats — may appear twice as large as normal. The illusion also tends to make you think that they are approaching at a much faster rate than they actually are.” Are location-based services like FourSquare really huge and about to transform your business? For some businesses, the answer may be “absolutely, yes”. But for others, the trend may not be as big and fast as it looks.

2. Don’t follow too fast, or too close. says it’s best for other boats not to be “directly behind the leader, so they can easily steer clear if the lead vessel stops suddenly.” When visibility is low, it’s human nature to want to huddle together for safety. But it’s not smart to copy what the leader in the category and follow as fast as you can. They may be about to sail into rocks, or over a waterfall. Give yourself enough room to change course. If your competition makes a costly error, they may give you your best chance ever to get ahead of them.

3. If you’re disoriented, stop. says: “If you are unable to get your bearings, stay put until the fog lifts”. Without knowing where you are, you can’t plot a course to anywhere. And if you just guess, you may be rushing 180 degrees from your goals. Get a fix on where you are and where you’re going.

The blurrier things get, the more opportunities there will be for the people and the companies who are able to maintain their bearings and steer a steady course.

In short, don’t let the waves push you off course. Don’t go overboard.

And at the risk of stating the obvious, go easy on the rum.

Photo Credit: Thunderchild7 on Flickr (Creative Commons)

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