Erasing the Line Between Paid and Owned Media Can Transform Your Marketing

2023 will be a year of media fusion with unified efforts for end-to-end customer communications

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Centering the customer, seamless paths to purchase and personalized experiences have been marketing buzzwords for decades. Unfortunately, data, technology and organizational silos have thwarted noteworthy progress on integration efforts in the past.

However, all of that is about to change, and for good reason. Economic uncertainty is the primary catalyst precipitating marketers’ need for greater transparency and coordination across paid and owned media. That said, there are also broader strategic reasons for marketers to streamline customer communications, and technology that makes it possible to do so.

Let’s look at the arguments in favor of a unified paid and owned media approach.

First-party data becomes essential

Mar-tech (mainly owned media) tools have generally relied on identifying information like email, phone and address for customer communications. What’s different now is even ad-tech (mainly paid media) tools are shifting to audience models developed from first-party or comparable consent-based identifiers due to the shrinking pool of mobile advertising IDs (MAIDs) and third-party cookies.

This targeting disruption is forcing marketers to rethink the audience data stack as a multipurpose utility for more reliable and consent-based communications at scale. 

The fractured customer journey

The past decade of siloed investments in advertising and marketing automation tools have done little to reduce typical lead times from awareness to conversion. And what’s worse, they have aggravated customers with inconsistent messaging, erratic frequency and at times blatant disregard for privacy preferences. 

The journey for considered purchases in industries such as financial planning, online learning, home improvement, insurance and automotive range anywhere from a few weeks to several months. If customer journeys are to be seamless over such a period, marketers must break out of the paid and owned communication silos and do a better job of orchestrating customer touch points across the ad-tech/mar-tech divide to deliver a consistent experience and elevate the sophistication of holistic marketing initiatives.

The talent challenge

The rapid proliferation of SaaS offerings across a full spectrum of the LUMAscape ad-tech and mar-tech categories has led to marketer frustration. With the introduction of every new application to the tech stack come upfront costs, recurring fees, trainings and certifications as well. Making sense of the data deluge from the varied applications requires marketers to find and sustain highly trained analytics talent, currently in short supply.

Consolidating communications 

The automation space is headed for convergence with the anticipated arrival of new entrants from both sides of the divide to integrate paid and owned media capabilities. The newly evolved companies will be smaller and nimbler than the likes of Adobe and Salesforce, and will bring marketers closer to the promise of omnichannel communications with unprecedented efficiency.

Marketers who approach this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the customer communications processes will be able to finally achieve what, until now, has been a holy grail: a consolidated view of the customer journey across paid and owned media, standardization of the data stack for a common, up-to-date source of truth across touch points, and a streamlined, end-to-end measurement framework enabling real-time visualization, testing, insight generation and optimization.

Ready to make a change? Here’s how to transform your marketing with a unified approach.

Establish a common data backbone

Media unification starts with owning your strategy for the collection of consent-driven, multiparty data. Many marketers have already invested in technologies like customer data platforms to capture and enhance first-party customer profiles with data from external second- and third-party sources like data co-ops and publisher partnerships.

While paid and owned media use different communication channels tapping into varied subsections of the audience data and for separate use cases, they can concurrently operate from and update the audience profiles in a common database to help maintain a real-time directory.

Elevate planning and activation at the journey level

Marketing planning can no longer be a once-a-year exercise in forecasting and budget allocation by media channel. In the face of constantly changing audience behavior and decision journeys, allocations must remain fluid across paid and owned channels to accommodate shifting business priorities during the year. 

While the core inputs to media activation and testing—such as choice of content, message sequencing and frequency of exposure or interactions—apply equally to both paid and owned media, marketers can stop fretting over channel-specific completion and clickthrough/open rates. They can focus instead on optimizing cross-media journeys (i.e., ideal combinations of media channels, creative and frequencies by audience) to deliver better customer experience and business outcomes. Marketers will be surprised at what they can learn by zooming out of the silos they have lived with over the years.

Measure what remains elusive 

Get answers to long-standing marketing questions: What is the ideal balance of paid and owned interactions to optimize outcomes? Based on channel economics (like CPMs and response rates) alone, email and SMS would trump paid channels’ ROI by five or 10 times. But scale and growth can’t come from exclusive reliance on the current customer file. 

Similarly, what is the ideal customer journey? Is it the shortest with the fewest interactions leading to purchase, or the one involving multistage engagement that builds customer conviction on the way to checkout?

Does paid media impact owned channel performance? If so, does it impact sales efficiency, basket size or overall sales volume? One could argue that it depends on the audience. Of course it does, and that’s the point. It isn’t easy to get answers to such granular questions unless marketers have single-screen visibility with an intuitive UI to test and learn across both paid and owned interactions in real time.

The opportunity to unite paid and owned media across data, planning, activation and measurement will be transformative for marketers and customers alike. It will accelerate marketer learning and produce material impact on the customer experience and business outcomes in ways we can’t fully imagine.