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Marketing Mastery: Owned, Paid, Earned and Borrowed Channels

integrated marketing marketing tips Nov 18, 2022
clipboard, magazine and pen on top of laptop

After 21 years in marketing, I know the best approach is an integrated approach. The best campaigns are integrated, and the best channel strategy is an integrated multi-channel strategy.

Why use a hammer to build your entire house when you have so many other tools at your disposal?

Also, over-relying on one channel is perilous, especially when that channel is a social media platform. 

To start building an integrated omnichannel campaign or strategy, we first need to understand the different channel types and their role in your marketing mix.

Let's do it.


What are Media / Marketing channels?

A media channel is a specific medium brands use to communicate their messages to the intended audience. So, it's the channel of distribution. The terms marketing channels and media channels are commonly used interchangeably to mean the same thing: the avenues brand marketers use to get their messages across.

There are hundreds of media channels, with new ones introduced daily. Media channels can be grouped into four categories:

1. Owned channels

2. Paid channels

3. Earned channels

4. Borrowed channels 


Each channel type plays an important role and comes together as part of your marketing arsenal. Let's deep-dive into each of these categories.


1. Owned channels

These are channels that brands have built and have control over. 

  • Website: your website and all your sales and landing pages
  • Blog: most brands have a blog within their website, but standalone publishing platforms like Substack or Gumroad are gaining popularity
  • Memberships and communities off social media like Circle.So and Mighty Networks
  • Apps and software e.g The Duolingo mobile app is an owned channel
  • Podcast: this is a brand's podcast, not guest appearances covered in earned media channels
  • Email list: email subscribers who have given consent to receive marketing emails from your brand
  • Physical premises: if you are bricks and mortar retailer, then your studio, store, factory etc., is also an owned channel to promote your brand to your customers



Lipstories podcast by SEPHORA


The overwhelming benefit of owned channels is that they are essentially free and afford brand custodians almost complete control. There are no editorial guidelines (besides your own), character limits or algorithms to compete with.

In 2022 and beyond, purchase decisions will be made on owned channels because they are a distraction-free environment.

Owned channels take a long time to build, which is why I highly recommend marketers start investing in building their owned channels from day one.


 2. Paid channels

These are channels that brands pay to play within. 

  • Traditional advertising: TV, print, radio paid advertising  
  • Out-of-home media: outdoor or transit media 
  • Social media ads: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok
  • Spotify ads
  • Influencers (paid)
  • Programmatic marketing 
  • Search engine marketing, like Google ads
  • Advertorials and sponsored posts
  • Sponsorships


Out-of-home media example by activewear brand LNDR


The benefit of paid channels is that they help you reach new people and build your audience.

Paid channels can get expensive, especially when you're starting out. Paid media does not guarantee sales, which is a bitter pill. 

In my 21 years of experience, I've seen too many brands waste money on paid channels before they have organic traction. Instead of doing the hard strategic work to get their product, price, value proposition, messaging and branding right, they throw good money after bad at paid channels expecting miracles. 

Paid channels don't speak to your credibility or authority, so we look to earned media.


3. Earned channels

As the name suggests, you can earn media coverage in exchange for non-monetary currency. I have built my brand on earned media: I exchange my marketing expertise for coverage in leading business and marketing publications.

Examples of Earned Media are:

  • Press and publicity, including media mentions, expert commentary and thought-leadership PR
  • User-generated contentcontent created by your customers and community
  • Podcast guest appearances
  • Guest blogging 
  • Branded mentions
  • Shares
  • Reviews and testimonials
  • Reposts
  • Recommendations

An article I contributed to Social Media Examiner


We are living in an era of widespread mistrust. Audiences are no longer willing to take a brand at its word and have high levels of scepticism with advertising. Earned media is the antidote.

The best way to establish your brand as legitimate, credible and reputable is with earned media: others talking about you.

I have been featured in Social Media Examiner, Smart Company, Mumbrella, Marketing Mag and Better Marketing and have not paid one single dollar to be there. I have earned it.

Audiences know that you can buy your way into the editorial sections of leading media outlets, and not everyone gets in. This helps me stand out from other marketers and gives me a stamp of authority that others may not have.


4. Borrowed channels

These are channels that we can leverage for our benefit but that we don't own and therefore have limited control over.

  • Social media channels
  • Social media communities like Facebook groups

Would you build a house on borrowed land? No. Then why do so many brands over-invest and over-rely on social media? That's a rhetorical question; I know why.

It's because, during the golden era of social media, brands could reach and convert large audiences at a minimal cost. You could amass a huge Facebook following and have a reasonably captive audience to sell to. That has not been the case for several years, and the jig is up on that strategy.

The best way to use borrowed channels is to drive people to owned media. Put that on a post-it note and put it on your office wall.

Use your organic social media channels to drive people to your website, sign up for your email list and listen to your podcast.

With organic reach essentially dead on most social media channels except TikTok and LinkedIn, social media is a paid channel.


@duolingo am I the new face of balenciaga? #duolingo #dulapeep #balenciaga #fashion ♬ this is viral lol - libra 🇰🇿


Education app Duolingo is leveraging TikTok's platform to drive users to download the app.


Why is a smart mix of owned, paid, earned and borrowed media channels important?


Here are my top two reasons:


Reason 1. They each revolve around different stages of the marketing funnel.

For the top of the funnel, both organic and paid social media work best.

For the middle of the funnel, earned and owned media come into their own. As your customers arrive at the evaluation stage of the customer journey, earned media gives your brand that credibility boost you need to beat out the alternatives. 

For the bottom of the funnel, your owned media nurtures and converts prospects through to a sale. 


Reason 2. It allows you to do more with less.

Using a mix of paid, earned, owned, and borrowed channels make your budget work harder, and integrating your marketing efforts across multiple channels has a multiplier effect.


The whole is greater than the sum of the parts - Aristotle 


Adopting a multi-channel approach is more work, but it's worth the payoff. The key is to prioritise your efforts and plan ahead. Some marketing activities matter more than most, so Mia has recorded a webinar to help you prioritise your marketing efforts, and you can watch that for free here.



About Mia:

Besides having earnt the nickname "The Campaign Lady", Mia is an expert marketing strategist and founder of Campaign Del Mar. You'll love her hard hitting, no BS marketing expertise honed by 20 years in the industry. She is a widely published writer for publications including Social Media Examiner, Mumbrella, Mamamia and Smart Company. The first decade of her career was spent in brand management roles for global consumer brands Vegemite, Kraft, Maybelline and BIC in France. Now? She's a full-time trainer, mentor and consultant that works with you to drive your business results. Strap in for your journey to marketing glory.



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