What is Earned Media? How Experiential Marketing Can Boost Your Efforts

What is Earned Media? How Experiential Marketing Can Boost Your Efforts
by Greg Schaal / July 20, 2023

In the world of marketing, there are pillars of thought that are evergreen. Take the 5 Ps for example (product, price, place, promotion, and people) – that help position a business strategically and shape the marketing and messaging for a product or a brand. The three types of media – paid, owned, and earned – also fall into this camp. But while paid and owned media are pretty straightforward, you may find yourself asking, “What is earned media?”

Earned media is the elusive, red-headed stepdaughter of media types. The one that you can’t control. 

It is the type of media that arguably benefits your brand the most but is also the most difficult to elicit. Earned media comes in the form of reviews, social shares, and blog reposts. It also is the purview of public relations firms – as media mentions and coverage are also considered earned media. Unlike paid and owned media, earned media is organically generated. While brands may not be able to fully control it, they can certainly influence it.

Although there are myriad strategies for boosting earned media, the rise of experiential marketing has given brands a unique approach to increasing the quantity and quality of earned media, while simultaneously building brand awareness, creating customer loyalty, and generating unique touch points in the buyer journey. 

In this article, you’ll learn how experiential marketing can generate earned media and why it should be a dedicated tactic in your marketing strategy.

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What is Paid, Owned & Earned Media?

Paid media is any kind of ad, marketing effort, or media that is directly paid for. This includes paid ads, influencer marketing, print ads, TV and radio commercials, pay-per-click ads, and more. Paying to boost a social post is also considered paid media. 

Owned media refers to media that you own. This could be a website, blog, or podcast. It also includes social media profiles and organic posts (even though you don’t own these platforms, you have control over the content, so it is considered owned media). 

Earned media is both beyond your control and ‘unowned.’ Earned media includes online customer reviews, press articles, unpaid influencer mentions, user-generated content (UGC), social shares, and blog reposts. Going viral is a form of earned media, as is press coverage. Earned media is unique in that brands can influence it but not control it. It is organically generated.

How Experiential Marketing Influences Earned Media

Experiential marketing, or XM, is one tool to influence and encourage earned media. The key is for the experience to be engaging and authentic. Today’s customers are incredibly savvy and will see through any experience that doesn’t offer value or is little more than a dressed-up sales pitch. But offer the customer a unique or valuable experience that transcends the formulaic environment they’ve come to expect – and suddenly you have created self-perpetuating marketing. 

Because experiential marketing is based on the creation of unique in-person experiences, it elicits emotional responses and fosters connection – both with the other customers present as well as with the brand itself. The upshot of this is increased positive sentiment around the brand and for existing customers, a boost in loyalty. 

The immersive, often multi-sensory experiences that characterize experiential design also encourage social sharing, user-generated content (UGC), and that tried and true traditional way of spreading information – word of mouth. This benefits brands not only through the earned media buzz that it garners but because when someone you know or an influencer you follow endorses a product or experience, you’re more likely to trust it than if the same message came from the brand itself. 

When McDonald’s sent mini-lockers to all the high school players selected for its All-American Basketball Tournament, they were intended as a fun and creative way to deliver the young athletes' uniforms and gear. Delighted players found them unusual and cool and it wasn’t long before they took to social media to show them off. It was a successful campaign for McDonald’s that had nothing directly to do with selling hamburgers but went a long way towards creating community and establishing loyalty among recipients.

Lastly, creating a thoughtful, authentic experiential marketing campaign can increase your odds of achieving the holy grail of earned media – going viral. Now, it’s important to note that no one has yet figured out just what it is that makes an image, post, or video achieve virality, but drawing your audience into a multi-sensory, share-worthy experience undoubtedly increases the odds that they will share it which in and of itself increases the likelihood of ‘going viral.’ Nevertheless, even if this is your ultimate goal, don’t neglect to create an experience that brings value and reflects both your brand and your audience's interests authentically.   

Ready to Generate Earned Media through Experiential Marketing?

At a time when 40% of American adults use ad blockers and dramatically more consumers have simply become blind to advertisements – brands and marketers have to be increasingly creative in their approach to generating reach, awareness, and loyalty. Experiential marketing bridges traditional and digital marketing to reach customers where they are, provide them with a unique and memorable experience, educate them about a product, and inspire them to share the brand or experience with others via social media or good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. 

This kind of earned media is invaluable to brands in an increasingly noisy world because endorsements from friends, family, colleagues, or unpaid influencers are given more weight and more trust than paid media efforts. 

Now that you’re clear on what earned media is and how experiential marketing can boost your earned media strategy, you may be looking for a partner to help bring an unforgettable experience to life. At Bridgewater Studio, we help brands design, fabricate and install extraordinary brand experiences from temporary event activations to fully-renovated retail interiors. Take the first step toward boosting your earned media strategy by scheduling a no-pressure introduction to Bridgewater today.




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