Owned media, not ads, builds brand memories - Sonder
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Owned media, not ads, builds brand memories: Progressive brands are flipping the paid-owned-earned model on its head

By Angus Frazer – Founding Partner, Sonder

To grow, brands need to build memories in consumer minds – even the most argumentative of marketing scientists can agree on that. But ads don’t really create memories, they just trigger them. Experiences do create memories, which is why customer experience via owned channels should be first on the plan, says Sonder’s Angus Frazer.

The value of owned media is typically quantified only in financial terms. For good reason because the total size of Australia’s owned media market is estimated at nearly $4 billion in Sonder’s 2023 Owned Media Market Report. With this kind of money often being left on the table by businesses, it’s hardly surprising that Retail Media has become such a hot topic. But, what’s missing from this very large number is the less empirical, strategic value of owned media when it comes to building stronger brands.  

To appreciate the role of owned media in the marketing sense, the definition of a brand must first be established. From the marketing and psychology sciences, we know that a brand can be succinctly defined as a memory. According the neuromarketing experts, like Dr Peter Steidl, brands have memory profiles, which consist of both positive associations and negative ones. With this definition in mind, the marketer needs to:

  1. Create new positive brand memories
  2. Refine and build on existing positive memories and 
  3. Trigger the brands memories

Advertising in the paid media world is fundamentally reductive by nature, something Sean Healy and Richard Kirk outlined in a WARC report. The dark arts of the advertising creative involve taking a vast, colourful, nuanced brand story and reduce it down to a 15 second TV ad, or a banner on a webpage. These reductive communications are efficient ways to trigger an existing brand memory. Even at a non-conscious level, advertising can trigger a memory (and therefore a response). What advertising doesn’t do especially well is create memories. That is the domain of owned media.


Brand memories are the domain of owned media

The reason owned media is more effective at creating memories is down to the way memories are formed through experience. Because experiences are more likely to elicit an emotional response (positive or negative). This emotional response is what is more likely to create the memory. When a person is engaging with an owned media (for example, instore, or on the company’s website etc.), they are experiencing the business first-hand and that experience will create an emotional response. Again, could be positively or negatively. 

So, if owned media is the domain of experience and therefore memory creation, why is more focus not put on the relationship between paid, owned and earned media? The traditional paid first model looks something like this:


Traditional Marcoms Model


Paid media is invested in heavily and relied upon to drive awareness and feed people through the mythical funnel to the point they can become customer. Genuine earned media (that is generated by an independent 3rd party) is often left to chance and the owned media is merely a destination to feed people into. How many times has the promise of advertising been let down the experience a person has when they visit the store or website of the business? This disparity can be destructive to positive brand memory.

Relying on paid media can be risky, expensive, inefficient and, when it comes to brand building, ineffective. So, what’s the alternative…? 


The Inside Out model

By taking an owned media first approach to marcomms, businesses can be more efficient and effective with the media they own and control. We call it Inside Out Planning and it flips the traditional approach on its head by starting first with the owned media inside the organisation.


Inside Out Planning Model


The first thing is to ensure the owned media experience a person has when they interact with the business is as good as it can be. A thorough CX audit across all owned channels should help evaluate the experience. Then, at a campaign level, quantify the volume and value of audience derived from your owned media channels. Next, create content which genuinely earns media coverage and finally top-up your audience reach requirements with paid media. 

An advantage of this approach is that, by putting more emphasis and investment into owned media, when a person is triggered to engage with the business, they will have a better experience through the owned channels and therefore a better chance of building stronger, positive memories of your brand.  

Businesses such as CBA are focussing on the importance of content and using their owned channels such as digital screens and their magazine Brighter more strategically. KFC have long used their restaurants and digital channels to cross sell customers and understand they have more customer impacts in owned media than they buy in paid media. Optus are planning paid, owned & earned media holistically – not relying on just one to grow their business. And ANZ have realised how much their owned channels contribute to customer growth and have restructured their marketing accordingly.

We’re not advocating businesses stop investing in paid media, all the businesses referenced above are still investing in paid media. Just don’t overstate its contribution to your brand. We advocate reducing the organisational reliance on paid media and redefining how the marcomms triumvirate of paid, owned and earned can be more strategically leveraged. By recognising how advertising works as a memory trigger, the role of owned media can be better defined as the creator of memories.

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