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Leveraging paid, owned, & earned media

As prospective customers move along the path to purchase, your brand gains more and more control of the context and the message. A shopper interested in your product may look at your website, read reviews about your product, and visit your social media channels. For the most part, these are all marketing avenues where your brand controls the message.

There are a number of ways that consumers learn about your product. One simple framework categorizes messaging and context into three buckets: paid, owned, and earned media.

Customer acquisition: 3 types

Customer Acq Framework v2021

While there’s obviously overlap, these three categories contextualize which levers to pull to make customers aware of your brand, cultivate familiarity with your product, and ultimately convert someone into a paid customer.

Paid media and outreach

Paid media is advertising that your business pays for. Traditionally, this would include TV advertisements, radio, and print advertising. In today’s digital world, this includes:

paid social media posts

paid search

display ads


affiliate/referral marketing programs

Owned media and outreach

Owned media consists of content that you publish—as well as community conversations that you generate—on channels your company owns and controls. This could include your:



social media channels

Owned media is driven by your content marketing strategy. Content marketing includes imagery, text articles, and videos. Often, your brand promotes owned media via paid outreach or organically on social media. This is key to getting more eyeballs and broadening your reach.

Earned media and outreach

Earned media consists of all the content and conversation around your brand or products that has been created by somebody else and published somewhere other than your owned channels. Earned typically includes:

media relations


professional recommendations (e.g., dermatologists)

credentialing (e.g., association recommendation)

Earned media is the murkiest in terms of calculating your customer acquisition costs. It’s gained as a result of your efforts in paid and owned media, which get amplified through press coverage, unpaid social media mentions, shares, and online reviews.

Mentions in earned media, when they’re positive, are great for your brand’s credibility. Of course, the opposite is also true—if your product is shoddy or service is indifferent, earned media will make sure that message spreads via word of mouth.