Why Agencies Should Abandon Advertising and Invest in Owned Media

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Dan Curran
Dan Curran


The downward spiral of traditional advertising’s effectiveness started nearly two decades ago, when marketers simply cut and pasted print ads onto their digital properties.

Today, a clever ad is no longer enough to stir up consumer interest in a brand. It’s become clear that companies desperately need to rethink their marketing strategies, focusing on owned content instead of advertising.

Consider the pitiful state of online ads. More than half of consumers feel ads are insulting to their intelligence, according to research by HubSpot and AdBlock Plus. Another 63% feel most of these ads don’t look professional. If that doesn’t convince you of the futility of online advertising, maybe this will: Just 7% of consumers find them compelling. Online ads are not just hard to like -- they’re deceptive, unimaginative, inefficient, and ineffective.

Medium’s recent abandonment of paid ads should put an exclamation point on the general consensus of online advertising’s ineffectiveness. Unfortunately, many enterprising agencies continue to waste money, time, and effort on traditional marketing pathways.

The Cost Vs. Benefit of Online Advertising

Instead of pontificating on how ineffective online ads can be, I’d rather paint a much brighter picture -- one where agencies transform into newsrooms and evolve toward a more journalistic ethos.

In my opinion, smart brands should run from antiquated paid solutions and embrace owned media. Blue ocean opportunities abound for any agency that focuses on what consumers desire: advice, information, stories, and sometimes entertainment. It’s no longer about talking at consumers but rather to them.

This shift represents a much more efficient use of funds. In 2015 alone, eMarketer found that display ads cost companies $4.6 billion in invalid traffic. Another $1.1 billion was lost to malvertising, in which attack code is hidden in legitimate online advertising to spread a virus or spyware.

Not to mention that a continued devotion to paid media wastes much more than money. It also drains agencies of precious time and resources as they scramble to understand each new technology, constantly pivot as media platforms change algorithms without notice, and scramble to justify ambiguity to tight-fisted brands.

My company recently worked with a large brand that was so disillusioned with the ambiguity tied up in paid media that it elected to pull its entire seven-figure marketing budget, discount its product, and instead sink money into channel partnerships and slotting fees.

This product wasn’t new to the market. It was an iconic staple of homes everywhere, and it had a proud advertising heritage. But its ads, both online and offline, were no longer generating any measurable value, so the brand pulled the cord. A modest owned media initiative was put into place and, after 12 months, proved to exceed the ROI of the paid efforts at 25% the investment. 

Sadly, paid media’s lack of results hasn’t precluded the majority of agencies from fighting to keep spending and efforts status quo. These agencies are simply stuck in a bygone era, and will either have to catch up (and fast) or will risk being left behind entirely.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: 3 Reasons to Focus on Owned Media

A shift in mindset from the value of paid advertising to the value of owned content can be a challenge for many brands. Content creation has its own set of trappings, and you may have the impulse to spit out as much content as possible to see what sticks.

Like paid advertising, owned media requires a strategy for the content to effectively reach and engage an audience. But once you do the legwork to understand the needs of your customers, produce the content they want, and earn their trust, the gains can’t be beat.

The upsides include:

1) More robust lead generation

Developing owned content offers the rare opportunity to practice what you preach. And if you adhere to a strict content calendar, it’ll drive new business to your door, thanks to carefully crafted calls-to-action and API connectivity to your favorite CRM.

But don’t just produce content to produce content. You must make a concerted effort to stand out from the pack.

Enlist the help of staff to create thought leadership based on their areas of expertise. Look at what consumers want in information and advice, and then develop content around those needs. Move beyond just building your business -- strive to own your category with content. With a true ethos you can start to create industry vernacular and set the tone and tenor for your peers and competitors.

2) The expertise of a delta force of specialists

Full-time employees will always be preferred when it comes to content creation, as it can be risky to hand over the voice of your brand to a complete stranger. But the publishing business model does lend itself well to leveraging contract writers and editors and building a strong team of specialists. You can task them with hyper-specific assignments -- and on an as-needed basis, no less.

To make the best use of guest writers and editors, you’ll first need to start thinking like a publisher. What will your publishing schedule look like? Will your content be short and snappy or long-form and serious? Do you need writers who can turn in super-polished prose, or do you have staff members who can elevate writers’ initial drafts?

Find professionals with experience in your subject matter. You’ll often find that they can offer unique angles on the topic at hand. With the help of contract staff, you’ll be able to curate a ton of content without ever having to pay payroll taxes. It’s a relatively risk-free way to break the old-school advertising mold, venture into the world of content, and have a team of pros at your disposal.

3) Fewer overhead costs

With proper editorial standards and protocols, a progressive agency can leverage more junior writers -- in other words, more affordable employees. Given proper direction, we’ve found the output of younger writers to be double that of more senior ones. They also have a natural inclination to drive positive company culture.

But don’t just hire anyone in an effort to save a few bucks. Look for young writers with real potential and the ambition to leave their marks. Then, team them up with your more experienced writers so they can learn the ropes. This pairing can be a lethally effective combination as far as content creation goes.

Owned content offers brands the unique opportunity to lessen their marketing load while increasing results. After all, it’s not like many consumers go around sharing or retweeting ads with their family and friends. But they will share informative, engaging content, getting your business in front of individuals who are more likely to be qualified leads.

Instead of throwing ads out there, hoping the right eyeballs will see them, create some useful content. There’s no real code to crack -- go for it.




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