Advanced Guide to Paid Media

Table of Contents

Approximately every 10 to 15 years, paid media seems to experience a seismic shift in one way or another. From the 1980s through the mid-90s, paid media was oriented primarily around newspapers, radio, television, billboards, etc. The widespread adoption of the Internet by the late 90s led to banner ads on websites like America Online’s home portal. Then came paid search, blogs, YouTube, social media, podcasts, influencers, and the list just keeps growing.

With the ever-increasing number of paid media channels, how can brands determine which channels are best, what metrics to measure, and how to allocate the spending?

What keeps brands from running effective paid media campaigns and what strategies do they need to adopt in order to thrive in the ever-changing landscape of paid media?

The Basics: Understanding the Difference Between Earned, Owned & Paid Media

What Is Earned Media?

Earned media is any publicity or exposure that is gained through methods other than paid advertising. This includes online mentions of a brand, social media shares of their content, reviews, recommendations, etc.

For example, if your company publishes a blog post that goes viral and is shared by thousands of people, the exposure gained from all those shares is earned media. You didn’t pay anything for it. Rather, you earned it by creating an outstanding blog post that was compelling enough for a large number of people to want to share it.

What Is Owned Media?

Owned media is the reach and influence that comes from assets you own, such as your website, blog, email list, social media profiles, YouTube channel, etc. You control the content that goes into your owned media assets. Essentially, it is your sphere of influence with people who actively seek out your brand.

If you publish a blog post and send it out to your email list, you are utilizing your owned media channels to communicate with and influence your audience.

What Is Paid Media?

Paid media is any publicity or exposure that comes from investing money on advertising and marketing. This includes paid search ads, display ads, social media advertisements, influencer outreach, programmatic, retail media, etc. For example, if you run an ecommerce website that sells camping gear, you can pay to show up in the paid search results whenever someone Google’s a phrase like “best small tent for camping”.

Though all types of media play important roles in brand strategy, throughout this guide, we’ll focus on how paid media has historically been viewed, optimized, and managed, and how marketers can bring greater unity to their paid media strategies and philosophies to position their brands and businesses for longer-term holistic growth and success.

Paid Media Classifications: Brand Vs. Performance

Historically, paid media has been classified into one of two camps: brand vs. performance.

Brand Media

Brand media is intended to drive awareness of your brand, increase your audience reach, and strengthen consumer affinity. These campaigns are often based on creative executions that emphasize things like building brand equity and communicating your brand promise, or high-level messaging that can be applied across multiple business initiatives.

Brand media focuses on defining the brand’s reputation, core values, and quality in the eyes of their target audiences. It uses creativity and storytelling to create an emotional connection with the audience that leads to greater brand awareness, and ultimately attracts more consumers to the brand. Often, there is no specific call to action with brand media. Rather, the goal is to position the brand in a particular way within the mind of the consumer.

For example, a Nike YouTube ad featuring LeBron James talking about his relentless drive in the face of adversity highlights their core value of “Just Do It”. The goal is not to get people to immediately go to their local shoe store and purchase a pair of Nikes. Rather the goal is to get the audience to have positive feelings toward the brand so that the next time they’re buying shoes, Nike is their first choice.

Performance Media

Performance marketing is intended to drive specific actions that ultimately lead to conversions, such as online store visits, clicks, app downloads, email opt-ins, and sales. These campaigns are built around a specific offer or call-to-action, and are intended to drive prospects through the sales funnel more quickly. In some cases performance marketing is also used to extend brand campaigns that have been successful in driving awareness, affinity or other desired metrics.

graph of ROASOftentimes, performance marketing is often evaluated by Return On Advertising Spending (ROAS) as well as otherspecific key metrics to determine whether a campaign is successful. The specific metrics depend on the goal of the campaign and include things like generating leads, selling a specific product, pushing targeted traffic to a relevant page so they can be retargeted, etc. The results of the campaign are analyzed and then optimizations are made to improve the performance.

An example is a Facebook ad that invites people to sign up for a free trial of a SaaS product. The immediate goal is increasing the number of people who opt-in for the free trial, with the ultimate goal being converting those people to paid plans. Some of the key metrics would include the CTR of the ad, the conversion rate on the free trial page, and conversion rate of free trials to paying customers.

Limitations and Challenges Of Performance vs. Brand Classification

While classifying paid media as either performance or brand can be useful at a high level, it also creates unique limitations and challenges, and it can prevent paid media programs from reaching their full-potential.

First, it creates siloed teams, with one focusing on performance marketing and the other focusing on brand marketing. Rather than combining both their expertise and data collected from past campaigns to strengthen marketing efforts across the board, each team operates independently, without the benefit of the other.

This creates problems since the consumer buying journey has touch points that involve both types of media. They may discover a company through a brand marketing campaign, visit the website, research on Google, be retargeted with a Facebook ad, and finally make a purchase after being reminded by another piece of brand marketing.

For example, in a recent report titled “Rethink Brand and Performance Media,”[1] Forrester has observed that:

Historically, brand marketers specialized in ideation and communication of a unique message through superb media creative, while performance marketers were math wonks that focused on audience development and the application of data to inform media decisioning. But to be effective today, all forms of media need a unique idea communicated through excellent creative to a relevantly targeted audience while using data science across each stage of the campaign.

Siloed teams also lead to a lack of integration between brand and performance campaigns. Google notes that 85% of people will take action within the first 24 hours of discovering a brand[2]. If brand and performance campaigns are not in sync, capturing a significant portion of those people becomes much more difficult.

For example, if the brand side is running an awareness campaign, it’s reasonable to expect an increase in brand-related Google searches. However, if the performance team doesn’t have paid search ads in place that will display for those searches, an opportunity is lost.

85% of people will take action within the first 24 hours of discovering a brand” – Google

Similarly, by separating performance and brand media, you often get isolated marketing campaigns focused on just one stage of the customer journey, as opposed to a cohesive plan that covers each step of the way. You may have a top of the funnel campaign running but nothing in place for those in the middle or bottom. Or, you could be hyper-focused on conversions, but without upper-funnel awareness campaigns, your leads and conversions will eventually dry up. This is yet another lost opportunity.

And if you do have a top of the funnel campaign running, there’s a good chance that it’s a brand marketing one since performance marketing tends to get pigeon-holed as being only for the lower funnel. It’s true the lower-funnel results are attractive because that’s where the selling tends to happen, but if you only use them in the lower-funnel then you’re not tapping into their effectiveness at drawing prospects into the top of the funnel.

For example, a recent report by Catalyst and Xaxis noted that 74% of US consumers visit Google daily.[3] Additionally, in our “State of Ecommerce 2021” report, Catalyst and Kantar note that 53% of consumers discover products/brands through Google and 53% search Google when doing initial product research.[4]

State of Ecommerce 2021

The State of Ecommerce 2021

Explore our original research: “The State of Ecommerce 2021: Navigating the New World of Omnichannel Commerce & Retail Media,” a landmark study by Catalyst and Kantar that guides the omnichannel commerce efforts of brands as they navigate an increasingly complex ecommerce and retail media landscape.

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Creating paid search ads around these non-branded top of the funnel searches gives you the opportunity to capture leads that you would otherwise miss if you only use performance media toward the bottom of the funnel.

Finally, when you separate brand and performance media, there tends to be an overemphasis on Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) with performance media. While it can be a helpful, quick and dirty metric, it doesn’t provide the full picture of the success of your marketing efforts.

Becoming over-reliant on ROAS carries several risks that could hinder the holistic success of your paid media campaign. For example, being laser focused on ROAS can be detrimental to awareness building activities. Prioritizing awareness may look unfavorable from a ROAS standpoint, but it’s important in the long-run. Additionally, an overemphasis on ROAS will make your targeting pool too small, limiting opportunities to scale.

The New World of Paid Media: Marrying Brand & Performance

The lines between brand media and performance media are increasingly blurred. The customer journey involves an ever-increasing number of touchpoints, and many of these touchpoints can function as either brand or performance media, depending on where the customer is in the buying journey.

The reality is that paid media can be used to accomplish more than one type of marketing/business goal. In the “State of Ecommerce 2021” report, 46% of people said that doing an internet search was their first pre-shopping touchpoint, and 45% said that seeing a social media post or ad was their first touchpoint.

Though these have historically been classified as performance media, it’s clear that they now also play a significant role in raising brand awareness and perception. The data backs this up, with Google noting that search ads can increase top-of-mind awareness in consumers by as much as 80%.[5]

70% of consumers look for familiar brands when doing product searches.” – Search Engine Journal

In the same vein, brand media plays an increasingly important role in driving conversions and revenue. In the “State of Ecommerce 2021” report, 26% of consumers said that going directly to a brand website/app was their first touchpoint in the buying journey.

If someone goes directly to a brand’s website/app as their first step in the buying journey, it suggests that they already have a thorough knowledge of the brand and aren’t far from making a purchase. Or, to put it another way, increasing brand awareness and visibility can drive conversions. Additionally, a study by Search Engine Journal showed that 70% of consumers look for familiar brands when doing product searches.[6]

The bottom line is that both paid and brand media are merging together, and brands need a holistic approach in how they use them.

When it comes to performance media, don’t disregard acquisitions, but also think beyond acquisition. And, don’t equate performance marketing to short-term marketing. Rather, prioritize Customer Lifetime Value (LTV) and high-quality customer acquisitions while building positive brand sentiment and creating positive consumer experiences through media activations.

All paid media should holistically support brand health, drive more impactful customer acquisitions, and position brands for long-term growth. For that to happen, brand and performance media can’t be siloed. Rather they must be brought together so that they can play a mutually beneficial role in helping your brand reach your marketing goals.

Or, to put it another way, use brand and performance media in an integrated way so that you’re simultaneously strengthening your brand reputation, growing your audience, and acquiring new (and loyal) customers at the same time.

In light of this, the analytics tools you use to monitor your paid media campaigns must be able to provide you with cross-channel data and big picture insights. You need to be able to break down any existing siloes so that you have the complete picture for every campaign, channel, etc.

Catalyst Fusion

Learn how FUSION sits at the center of Catalyst’s performance marketing strategies to provide advanced reporting, enable omnichannel collaboration, and empower smarter media and business decisions.

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In their report “Rethink Brand And Performance Media”, Forrester recommends moving from labeling paid media as either brand or performance, and instead using the terms “persuasion” and “precision” media.

They define persuasion media as “…media you use when you want to establish, reinforce, or reset the perception of your brand in the market” and precision media as “…media you use when you want to get people to complete a desired action“.

By using these two categories, brands are able to fully cover the entire customer life cycle using whatever channels most effectively allow them to accomplish their goals.

Tying it All Together: The Impact of Omnichannel Marketing

To create a holistic paid media strategy that both strengthens the brand and drives customer acquisition, an omnichannel marketing approach is needed.

What is Omnichannel Marketing?

Omnichannel marketing is the integration of multiple marketing channels with the end goal of giving customers a seamless, consistent experience at every touchpoint. This includes a company’s website, social media profiles, paid media, retail locations, chatbots, etc. Omnichannel marketing allows brands to effectively engage with customers no matter what channels they’re using or where they are in the buyer’s journey.

To succeed with paid media, it’s essential to realize that we live in an omnichannel world as opposed to a brand vs. performance world. When a consumer sees an advertisement, they don’t stop to figure out whether it’s brand or paid media. They just want to find what they’re looking for, and they’ll seamlessly move across channels, screens, and devices in an effort to get it.

Using paid media as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy allows you to enhance the experience consumers have with your brand as well as increase engagement at each touchpoint.

It also enables you to create a cohesive and integrated marketing strategy so that all of your paid media activations are in sync with one another, as well as all your other marketing efforts. Your paid media aligns with your SEO, email marketing, lead generation, etc.

Omnichannel marketing also gives you broader, more holistic ways of measuring the success of your marketing efforts. Instead of evaluating a campaign solely on ROAS or customers acquired or clicks, you can include a range of other metrics as well such as brand sentiment, consumer engagement, customer retention, and LTV.

You also get much better attribution and reporting data across the entire customer life cycle. You’re able to see which channels your customers prefer, the campaigns that have produced the best results, how people initially find your brand, which channels tend to produce the most conversions, and more. All this data can be used to optimize future paid media campaigns, as well as other related marketing efforts.

Connect with Consumers Wherever they Are

Discover how Catalyst empowers brands to reach and engage with their customers across multiple touch points, providing a way to create a seamless and integrated customer experience that is tied directly to, and optimized towards, true business results.

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Future Planning: Succeeding in New World of Paid Media

Given the evolving behavior of consumers and the ever-growing number of marketing channels available, what do brands need to do to succeed in the new world of paid media?

Move to Business-Level KPIs to Guide Paid Media Activations

First and foremost, paid media budgets and activations need to be guided by KPIs that are specific to their business and tied directly to desired business outcomes. Overall goals need to be established and departments must work together to determine which channels drive specific results.

Silos between departments and teams need to be dissolved so that data, expertise, and technology can be freely shared. This pooling of resources allows for a better understanding of the target audience, easier attribution across channels, and insight into which paid media activations produce the desired results.

Embrace a Test-and-Learn Mentality when it Comes to Paid Media

The success brands have had using paid media with relatively new channels such as TikTok, video game streaming, and Fortnite demonstrate the need for marketers to be willing to test paid media on new platforms, learn how to properly measure attribution, evaluate the results, and then decide on the overall effectiveness of the channel.

Practically, this means dedicating a portion of the marketing budget specifically for testing emerging channels even when it’s not clear what the ROI will be.

Leverage the Benefits of Programmatic Across Paid Media Channels

Programmatic buying has specific attributes that make it both highly effective as well as appealing to marketers. It’s data-driven, allowing marketers to clearly and easily measure the effectiveness of their campaigns. It’s AI-powered, which frees marketers up to focus on other tasks, and it all happens in real time.

It also can help break down silos by centralizing the planning, activation, optimization and reporting. It allows marketers to be agile, letting them see which channels and campaigns are driving results and then optimizing accordingly. Combined, all these benefits make programmatic advertising a particularly effective choice for many brands.

Seamlessly Marry Creative and Media

The most successful paid media campaigns are impactful, relevant, and creative. They require the marriage of the creativity traditionally associated with brand media and the data analysis of performance media. Boring campaigns produce boring results. You may be able to improve the performance a bit through optimization, but you’ll never reach the level of results that come from a campaign that makes people stop and smile, ponder, or laugh. Success with paid media requires left and right brain thinking.

Retain Flexibility and Agility

The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to become agile and pivot between various paid media strategies and channels in response to ever changing conditions and to keep up with quickly evolving consumer behavior. Many companies plan to retain this new-found agility. For example, according to Catalyst and Xaxis’ latest omnichannel media and marketing research, 4 out of 5 companies plan to retain the agility in planning and budgeting that they discovered during the pandemic.[7] Additionally, more than three in four marketers (79%) say the shift they’ve made to ecommerce is permanent, and an even higher percentage (83%) say the same about their shift of budget to digital channels more broadly.

Catalyst and Xaxis Closing the Gap Research Thumbnail

Closing The Gap | Original Omnichannel Research

Explore “Closing the Gap: Adopting Omnichannel Strategies for Stronger Brand-Consumer Connections”, a comprehensive report exploring where consumers are spending their time and where advertisers are investing their media budgets, revealing opportunities for marketers to close the gap to their consumers using omnichannel strategies.

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And though we are slowly returning to normal, this agility remains extremely important for successful paid media activations and is critical for testing into new platforms and channels based on how the consumer journey continues to evolve. Currently, only 32% of marketers strongly agree with the statement “we set aside budget for emerging marketing channels even where the likely ROI is unknown.”[8]

However, as new paid media channels and platforms emerge, the most successful brands will not only invest in rigorously and testing the platforms and channels that make sense for their audience, but will also collaborate across departments to create both persuasion and precision campaigns that are tied closely to overall business objectives. If the data shows that a change is needed, whether in a channel, messaging, or some other element, they will leverage their collective expertise and pivot in a more profitable direction.









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