Paid, Earned, and Owned Marketing Channels 

Are you making the most of your marketing budget?

A recent study found that — even with access to next-gen conversion tracking and analytics — businesses waste 40% of all marketing spend.

If you want to get the most out of your marketing budget, you need to understand which marketing channels are likely to work for your business and which stage of the buyer journey to use them in.

Understanding the different marketing channels and selecting the right one will help your brand reach your target audience — and spend less.

In this guide, we will:

  • discuss paid, earned, and owned marketing channels
  • give examples of each
  • discuss the pros and cons of each

To head directly to the marketing channel you’re most curious about, use this table of contents:

What Are the Four Types of Marketing Channels?

There are three main categories of marketing – paid, earned, and owned. A fourth, lesser-discussed type is converged media, a blended categorization applied to marketing that does not fall cleanly into paid, earned, or owned.

What is the difference between the four?

Here is a quick breakdown:

  • Paid Media: When you pay to reach an audience (example: display ads or commercials)
  • Owned Media: Platforms you own and control (example: your website)
  • Earned Media: When a 3rd party spreads your company brand and/or message for you (example: a TV interview or reviews on Yelp or Google)
  • Converged Media: Marketing efforts that combine two or more of the three main marketing channels (example: influencer marketing, which is typically paid for but functions like earned word-of-mouth marketing)

The table below provides additional examples and a brief list of pros and cons. We’ll take a more in-depth look at each media type in the sections below.

Media Type What is it? Purpose Pros Cons
Paid Paying to extend your brand’s reach:

  • Showing up higher in search
  • Display ads
  • Paid social ads
  • Sponsored posts
Extend the reach of your brand to increase awareness, engagement, and sales.
  • Works quickly
  • Easy to scale
  • Easy to measure
  • Full control over reach, spend, and targeting.
  • Costly
  • Complicated
  • Less credibility than earned or owned media.
Owned Platform that you own and control:

  • Website
  • App
  • Social accounts
  • Email list
Build long-term relationships with both current and potential customers.
  • Full control
  • More affordable
  • No risk of losing reach due to algorithm updates, etc.
  • Heavy time investment
  • Can be difficult to scale
  • No guarantee of reach or traffic
  • Challenging to measure
Earned Reach that your brand earns through engaging the community:

  • Word-of-mouth
  • Unpaid viral content
  • Organic social shares
Increase overall brand reach and trust with consumers.
  • High credibility
  • Long-lasting
  • Free (usually)
  • Difficult to predict or promote
  • No control over negative content
  • Difficult to measure results
Converged Reach that combines one or more of the above types of media:

  • SEO
  • Influencer marketing
  • Promoting branded content
Combine the pros and cons of other types of media
  • Can be used to leverage the strengths of each media
  • Can be much more effective than a singular type of media
  • The impact varies based on the channels used
  • More complex
  • Can be difficult to track

Paid Media

Paid media refers to any type of paid advertising. From running large-scale campaigns with Facebook and Google Ads to placing ads in a local newspaper, it’s all paid advertising.

One of the most ubiquitous forms of paid media in the digital marketing world is the Google Search ads shown on search results pages.

 Notice the frequency of “Sponsored” and “Ad” in the search results page below: 

Google Search Ad

Sample of search result using Google Search Ad

Paid media works quickly and is easy to scale by investing more ad spend. Brands can target different audiences and test to see which ads are most effective. However, consumers are less likely to trust paid media over other types of advertising.

What Are the Different Types of Paid Media?

There are dozens of different types of paid media. If you make a direct payment to another party for advertising, it’s likely paid media.

Below, we will explore a few of the most common types of paid media.

Social Media Advertising

Back in 2018 (the last time we have numbers), 78% of US consumers stated they had purchased products after discovering them on Facebook. Today, that number is likely higher.

And, it’s one of the largest marketing channels available to your business: 

Despite a large number of users, social media organic reach (the number of people who are likely to see a regular post from your business’s social account), is extremely low.

Facebook’s organic reach is only 5.5%, for example, and other platforms are even lower.

As a result, the most effective way to reach these audiences is to pay for it with ads like this one:

Paid Ad

Sample of a paid ad via a social media platform like Facebook

(Image Source)

But social media isn’t the only paid media platform out there.

Paid Search / Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)

If you want to reach a wide audience, PPC or paid search ads can be incredibly effective. Today, 71% of consumers begin their product discovery journeys with a search engine, and 74% use search engines for research, consideration, and purchasing.

In short, the easiest way to reach 7/10 of your potential customers is to get started with search marketing.

In the English-speaking world, the terms paid search and PPC are now mostly synonymous with Google Ads, as 88% of all searches are made on Google.

Paid Search vs PPC vs Google Ads

Sample search result showing how similar a paid search, a PPC, and Google Ads are

Video Advertising (YouTube Ads)

YouTube has over 2 billion active monthly users, and 90% of consumers say YouTube has helped them discover new brands or products.

It’s possible to take advantage of YouTube as a platform without paying for ads, but ads are the best-short term strategy.


YouTube’s interface

Pros of Paid Media:

  • Extremely detailed targeting
  • Immediate visibility
  • Wide reach
  • Easy to predict the outcome
  • Easy to scale by investing more money
  • Ability to test multiple versions of the same add to optimize

Cons of Paid Media:

  • High learning curve if you want to do it yourself
  • Can be very expensive if mishandled
  • Less trusted than earned media

How Does Paid Media Compare to Earned Media?

Paid media tends to be less trusted than earned media, because consumers know the information comes from the brand itself, while earned media is from other consumers or news outlets who, theoretically, have nothing to gain by sharing about your company.

However, earned media is fickle — an unhappy consumer can easily destroy your reputation. Paid media offers more control over the messaging.

How Does Paid Media Compare to Owned Media?

Consumers are less likely to trust both paid media and owned media platforms, such as your website. A key difference, however, is that paid media works faster and can reach exponentially more potential consumers than your owned properties, due to the ability to target people who have never heard of you or weren’t already actively looking to engage with you.

Earned Media

Earned media is any kind of outside attention that you “earn” but don’t directly pay for. A newspaper article, blog post, social media post, interview, or any kind of shout out that you earned through building relationships, public relations stunts, or dedicated PR campaigns fall under earned media.

Traditionally, earned media strategists focused on PR and relationships with media. But in recent years, earned media tactics have shifted to include more social media strategies and “viral” content creation.

Earned Media

Elementor leveraged their funding round to “earn” coverage in TechCrunch

In the example above, Elementor leveraged their funding round to “earn” coverage in TechCrunch.

Earned media is difficult to control, can take a long time, and may be challenging to track.

Pros of Earned Media

  • Incredibly effective
  • Consumers tend to trust earned media much more than paid and owned media
  • Can have a wide reach
  • Delivers results more quickly than owned media when it works
  • Can be leveraged over and over again as social proof

Cons of Earned Media

  • Difficult to predict the outcome of campaigns
  • Can result in negative attention
  • Can be very expensive when hiring a professional to facilitate
  • Difficult to scale

How Earned Media Compares to Paid Media

Earned media is generally considered significantly more trustworthy to consumers — because it comes from other people, not your brand. That means earned media is often far more effective than paid media — but only when you get it right.

And that matters to consumers.

According to a study by Edleman, the world’s largest PR firm, just 34% of consumers trust most of the brands they use — yet 81% say trust is a critical part of their purchase behavior.

How Earned Media Compares to Owned

Owned media is you talking about your own brand, while earned media is other people talking about your brand. While owned media can be valuable, earned tends to be far more effective.

However, you can’t control what other people say, which makes earned media more challenging to control and scale.

Types of Earned Media

Here are a few examples of earned media used in digital marketing.

Social Media Mentions / Attention

There are a total of 3.5 billion social media users around the world. That makes the potential reach of social media much greater than a TV ad or road-side billboard.

An unpaid social campaign about your brand on social media can go viral as people share it with their friends, family, and colleagues — all at no cost to your business.

Unpaid Social Campaign

Sample of an unpaid social campaign

Online Reviews

Reviews are powerful. 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses, and 91% of 18 to 34-year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Managing your online reputation on platforms like Google Maps and Yelp will help you get the most out of this earned media. For best results, make sure you respond to all reviews, both positive and negative. This shows your business cares what your consumers think and can offset the negative impact of poor reviews.

Media Coverage

Focus on industry blogs and work to get featured in their list posts to get more indirect traffic

Media Coverage (Blogs, Videos, TV, Newspapers, Magazines)

An easy way to get media coverage is to focus on industry blogs and work to get featured in their list posts.

This will help your brand get indirect search traffic, and since 12.29% of Google searches now include featured snippets, there’s also a chance your product will get featured directly on a Google search result page.

Featured Product

Sample of a search result where a product is featured by Google on the first page.

Owned Media

Owned media is any kind of organic content delivery channel that you have control over. This might include your blog, website, YouTube channel, or Facebook page. It does require an investment in time and resources to create, but you don’t directly pay for reach.

SEMrush’s YouTube channel is an example of an owned media channel effectively used to attract an audience organically.

SEMrush’s YouTube channel

This image shows how SEMrush’s YouTube channel looks like

Pros of Owned Media:

  • Easy to control
  • Easy to scale
  • Longevity and assuredness (you know where your money goes)
  • Allows you to address all stages of the buyer journey

Cons of Owned Media:

  • Limited reach
  • Relies on outside factors, such as organic search, to be successful
  • Less trusted than earned media

How Owned Compares to Earned Media

Owned media tends to be less trusted than earned media because it comes from your brand rather than impartial third-parties. However, you have a much greater level of control over owned media since it is on platforms you can easily edit and update.

How Owned Compares to Paid Media

Compared to paid media, owned media is far more cost-effective. It costs less money to publish a blog post than to run a social media campaign, after all. However, the reach of owned media relies on outside factors to be effective, which can be more challenging to control.

Types of Owned Media

Content Marketing

SEMrush offers a wide range of useful tools for both SEO and content marketing. From basic keyword research to competitive analysis to their SEO content template tool.


SEMRush’s SEO content template tool

Email Marketing

Email marketing influences the purchase decisions of 59% of consumers. Not to mention, it’s very affordable and provides continual access to prospects and customers. That is likely why 59% of marketers say email offers the highest ROI of any other channel.

Email Marketing

Sample of email marketing

Organic Social Media Marketing

Just because organic reach is down, doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get value out of organic social channels.

Tyler Moore has received over 34,000,000 total organic views from technical videos about WordPress and creating/designing websites — all without paying for ads.

Organic Social Media Marketing

Sample of Organic Social Media Marketing

(Image Source)

Converged Media

Converged marketing refers to campaigns that combine two or more of the types of media we explored above. A great example of converged marketing channels is SEO, which includes efforts that occur on owned media channels like your website but also relies on outside factors you cannot control like earning backlinks.

For example, Hunter Branch used SEO to take one of his clients from 20,000 monthly visitors to 140,000 visitors over 24 months.

Converged Media

Hunter Branch used SEO to take one of his clients from 20,000 monthly visitors to 140,000 visitors over 24 months

(Image Source)

Pros of Converged Media

  • Can be used to combine the pros and cons of other media types
  • Flexible and offers more control

Cons of Converged Media

  • Depending on which channels you use, seeing impact may take a long time.
  • Can be challenging to build
  • Can be time consuming

How Converged Media Compares to Paid, Earned, and Owned Media

It is difficult to compare converged media to other media due to the wide range of different types of converged medias. For example, if you produce an ebook, but then pay to promote that ebook, you’ve created a converged media campaign which may take less time to be effective than SEO.

In general, however, converged media is more effective than using other types of media on their own because it combines the pros and cons of each to create a highly effective, trusted marketing campaign.

Types of Converged Media

What, exactly, does converged media mean? Below, we explore a few different types of converged media.


As we mentioned above, SEO often combines both earned and owned media types. For example, Brian Dean used SEO to increase his one of his most popular post’s traffic by more than 600%.


SEO often combines both earned and owned media types

He did it using a combination of owned media — optimizing posts on his own website — and earned media — shares of his content on social media.

Influencer Marketing:

An influencer campaign is paid but it leverages earned media by using word of mouth to spread your message. This can be highly effective.

According to a study by Tomoson, influencer campaigns have an average ROI of $6.50 per dollar spent — which may be why nearly 60% of businesses plan to increase their influencer budget over the next 12 months.

Influencer Marketing

Sample of statistics using Influencer Marketing

(Image Source)

For example, Society6, an ecommerce store that sells artist-designed decor, prints, and household items, paired up with YouTuber Katherout to promote their products.

Here’s the video they produced:

Promoted Content

Content marketing gets three times more leads than PPC search advertising, making it highly effective. However, it can take a while to build traffic and external links to new content.

A converged media marketing example would be to create high-quality content then give that content a paid boost with social media ads:

Here’s an example from Marketo: 


Promoted content ad from Marketo

Matching Media Channels to the Sales Funnel & Buyer Journey

Modern consumers can have up to 400 different touchpoints before making a purchase, which makes it critical to cover all stages of the funnel. That means matching the right media to the right stage of the buyer’s funnel.

The Different Stages of a Sales Funnel and Buyer’s Journey

A standard conversion funnel has six stages that describe where the buyer is in their decision-making process. The top of the funnel is the awareness stage, where they are just becoming aware of your brand but aren’t ready to buy.

The Different Stages of a Sales Funnel and Buyer’s Journey

A standard conversion sales funnel and buyer’s journey

(Image Source)

As they move through the funnel from awareness to purchase, it’s not just the type of content you create that matters, but also what media you choose to deliver that content.

Use The Right Channels at Each Stage

  • Awareness/Interest: Use a mix of cold social media ads, organic search traffic through SEO and content marketing, and video ads to grab the attention of buyers with a need.
  • Consideration: Use a mix of email marketing, social media remarketing, and video to introduce prospects to the benefits of your product.
  • Intent/Decision: Manage a positive online reputation (reviews, social media posts, blog mentions) to make it easier to close customers with email marketing, video ads, and social media remarketing ads.

How to Determine the Right Marketing Channels for Your Business

Different marketing channels will provide different results depending on your business, target market, timeline, and goals.

So, to get the best results, you have to choose a select few marketing channels to prioritize and build on.

In this section we’ll cover the top way you can do that.

Step 1: Research Competitors

Analyze what your competitors are doing with paid, earned, and owned media.

For instance, you can use a tool like SEMrush to see what your competitors are doing on social media:

Competitor Research

Using a tool like SEMrush to see what your competitors are doing on social media

For larger competitors, you can also use website tracking sites like SimilarWeb to get insights into their digital marketing mix.


For larger competitors, you can also use website tracking sites like SimilarWeb to get insights into their digital marketing mix.

If your competitors are all investing heavily into specific marketing channel, it’s probably a safe bet you should be doing the same (with the caveat that copying your competitors isn’t a winning strategy on its own).

You have to do what they’re doing, but better.

Step 2: Determine Where Your Ideal Customers Spend Time and How They Make Purchasing Decisions

Do your ideal customers spend a lot of time on social media and follow the recommendations of influencers? Do they do their own research online and rely on news site articles and customer reviews?

A great way to track your prospective customers is to research the demographics of top marketing channels

Step 3: Implement Analytics and Conversion Tracking

To find the best and most profitable marketing channels for your business, you need to track your site traffic and customers.

You need to be able to see where they’ve come from, what they’ve done on your website, and even where they’ve gone after they bounced.

Install comprehensive website analytics and correctly set up conversion tracking to get the full picture of how your prospective customers are navigating your sales funnel.

If you need more information, we recommend this dedicated article on finding the right marketing mix for your business.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right marketing channels for your business can be a long process if you start from scratch.

In this article, we’ve covered the four main types of media that will allow you to grow in 2022 and beyond and we explained how you can use them to build a strong, effective marketing campaign.

To find the best options for your business, you will need to consider your timeline, budget, goals, funnel stage, and product-channel fit.

Need help with your overall strategy or implementing a specific marketing channel we covered in this guide?

Contact The Agency Guide for a free consultation with experienced digital marketing specialists.