Marketers face three types of media as channels of interaction with their audiences: paid media, earned media, and owned media. We know that in today's hyper-relational, atomized micromarkets, paid media's effect is somewhat limited. The days of broadcasting one-way messages via mass media are gone. Traditional advertising is struggling to cut through the clutter in an economy in which attention is the scarcest resource. Most ads are ignored or perceived as spam.
Earned media, on the other hand, has the merit of third-party credibility, and it reaches people when they are opted in and value the information. Media coverage in the right publications is still the single most effective tool to raise brand awareness. But what are the right publications? The big media juggernauts are ailing, and their authority is increasingly undercut by social media whose vibrancy and dialogic nature has turned static information into a constantly evolving conversation. Blogs, social networks, file-sharing sites, and micro-blogging services have reached the critical mass needed to dominate the mainstream agenda. The timeliness of Twitter, the quintessential conversational medium, makes it a direct competitor to traditional news outlets (which is why Umar Haique suggests the New York Times should buy it). Just ask yourself: Would you go to the NY Times, CNN, or to Twitter if a disaster hit the US?
The stark difference between traditional media and social media is that the former provide original content whereas the latter provide an open forum for content from third parties. This has given rise to the notion that everyone is a media channel, and the rise of owned media. With paid media being largely ineffective and earned media facing the growing irrelevance of traditional media in face of burgeoning social media, brands pursue the avenue of becoming media companies in their own right. Bypassing traditional media channels, they either set up their own TV channels, print publications (corporate publishing), or blog networks (McKinsey's What Matters is a recent example), or they actively participate in the social web conversation, shaping and following the meanderings of the status update economy.
Owned media alone, however, is no longer a differentiator when most consumer and enterprise brands have their proprietary media channels in place. No matter how fragmented the new media landscape will look, there will still be a hierarchy based on authority of voice, and there will be winners and losers. Brands still need to find the right balance between talking and being talked about, and they still have to distinguish themselves from others by having a unique voice and perspective.
Smart marketers realize this and embrace a branded content distribution model that spans all three types of media: By producing compelling proprietary content (owned media), they attract the attention of traditional media and extend it to social media (earned media), and can then amplify the exposure via advertising if needed (paid media). Only this three-pronged media approach works. Multimedia, in this sense, does not only mean a richness of media formats (video, text, audio), it means the combined use of multiple types of media to yield maximum brand exposure through sustained cross-media conversations.