Digital Marketing Measurement

Paid, owned and earned media: the POEM categorization

A popular way to categorize media in the marketing industry today – and perfectly valid for the digital world in particular – is denoted by the acronym POEM and distinguish between paid, owned and earned media types. Sean Corcoran (Forrester Research) has outlined the main features of each category highlighting the different roles and specific challenges of each type.


 In Corcoran’s summary, paid media are defined as those where the “brand pays to leverage a channel”, or as Dave Chaffey puts it, those “where there is investment to pay for visitors, reach or conversions […]”.

This is the model of traditional offline media such as television and print, for instance. Typical samples of paid media types in the online world are display ad networks, affiliate marketing and paid search.

Immediacy and scale are the main benefits specific to paid media, whereas the main challenges lie in the cluttered nature of the advertising landscape, the consequent declining response rate and the poor credibility of a type of media towards which consumers have grown more and more resistant.

Corcoran notes how “paid media is shifting away from the foundation and evolving into a catalyst that is needed at key periods to drive more engagement” and is meant to “feed” owned and “create” earned media.

For example, a time-based display advertising campaign run in a key period – e.g. the launch of a new product or a special offer – should eventually support the longer-term efforts of an online presence built up through the company website, as well as generating social buzz and earned interest.


Typical examples of owned media – a “channel a brand controls” – in the digital world are websites, blogs and mobile appsSocial media presence – such as on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or Twitter – is also seen as at least partially owned media.

According to Corcoran, the role of online media is to build “longer-term relationships with existing potential customers and earn media”.

Owned media are a different type of investment, yet an investment all the same, but it’s important to underline how they are meant for a longer-term perspective, as they lack the immediacy of a targeted paid media campaign.

The versatility of owned media enables brands to tailor content for both broad and niche audiences; even though not immediately scalable, this type of media can provide – in Lee Odden’s words –  “long term growth benefits without corresponding growth in costs”.

From a brand’s perspective one of the most appealing aspects of owned media is the fact it allows direct communication with their audience in a controlled environment. However, the key element is not so much in that control per se, but in the opportunity to provide the audience with high quality content. The challenge for marketers, as described by David Germano, lies in shifting “from content that represents their messages to consumers to content that audiences themselves are looking for”.


Traditionally the term “earned media” refers to PR publicity generating brand awareness and media presence without a direct investment in paid advertising.

In the online world, it is used in particular to describe word-of-mouth through social media as well as viral marketing. As much as it is impossible to really predict what will go viral and what won’t, brands can proactively stimulate social buzz by engaging with online communities and customers through social media.

As Corcoran puts it, it’s about letting customers “become the channel”.

Corcoran lists credibility as one of the main benefits of earned media, as opposed in particular to paid media. Customers are more likely to take the word of other customers rather than the word of the brand itself.

On the other hand, one of the most disputed aspects related to brand engagement with social media is the risk of opening the gates to spurned criticism and bad PR. However, many have identified the increasing need for brands to be more “human” and able to be open and honest about their flaws.

The recent episode of Bodyform’s ironic (and slightly mean) comeback to a facebook post about the deceptiveness of tampon ads comes to mind.

Some (e.g. Odden) classify social media as a different category altogether, defined often as “shared media”, since it hinges on the interaction between brand and consumers.

Like owned media, earned media are also an investment even though there is no direct money exchange. As Gavin Llewellyn notes, the investment is one of “time, effort and resources”. Llewellyn also adds that “earned media isn’t easy to achieve and for many paying for an advertisement is quick, simple and often easier to calculate ROI.”

In conclusion, the different media types can support and sustain each other, therefore brands can benefit greatly from combining these different media in an integrated strategy that takes into account their different specificities.


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