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Earned Media Earns Its Rightful, Beautiful Place

Contact Author Candace Lee
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The numbers are familiar: $11.6 billion in online media spend for Q1 of 2014 alone, according to the Interactive Advertising Burea, and Internet analytics company comScore tells us that 5.3 trillion ad impressions were delivered in the U.S. alone. And Pew reports that 56% of U.S. adults are smartphone users. That’s an awful lot of ads following us around and telling us what we need, what’s better for us and where we should spend our money.

Meanwhile, Nielsen’s 2013 Global Trust in Media report indicates that peer recommendations—whether from friends and family or unfamiliar sources—are the lead influencers of purchase decisions. This is something the beauty industry, with particularly heavy investment in social media over the past several years, has taken to heart. Cosmetics, skin care, fine fragrance, personal care and hair care brands know that consumers are primed to create and consult earned media to inform their decisions about what brands to buy.

Beauty marketers are well aware of the consumer’s circuitous, sometimes unpredictable path to purchase—especially in a market flooded with brands ranging from high-end luxury to budget lines, with more brands entering the space every year. There is also heightened awareness around the rate of failure of new products, with research from Ernst & Young and AccuPoll stating that as many as 95% flop annually. And according to the Marketing Corporation of America, reasons for the failure of new products include the fact that “awareness and trial [for the product] is not generated by marketing.”

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So it is more crucial than ever that beauty brands focus their media investment on the consumer’s journey and decision-making process, but media plans still largely focus on paid and owned efforts that align to support the brand’s objectives.

There’s clearly still value in the awareness and reach created by traditional mass channels. That said, it’s time that earned media and a consumer-led approach play a larger role in the integrated media plan. Many beauty brands can struggle with this, as it can be challenging for marketers to plan for something that seems to be solely in the hands of consumers.

Let’s remember that earned media takes place both on and offline. So how can marketers in the beauty space make smart investments to plan and maximize that potential?

Know Your Consumers

Planning for earned media should be informed by how your consumers travel along the path to purchase (and repurchase) with a specific focus on what role peer influence plays along that journey. Brand and media teams should make friends with their customer relationship management (CRM) counterparts to understand segmentation and the impact those segments can have on informing earned media strategy and investment choices. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Who are your most valuable consumer groups?
  • Which consumer groups show the most potential?
  • What messages and content types does each consumer group research prior to purchase?
  • What messages and content types does each consumer group create post purchase?
  • Where is each consumer group engaging with your brand and category?
  • What digital and social media platforms and devices are they using to access or even create this content?

Plan Beyond the Channel

Oftentimes we hear that beauty brands don’t “need” earned media programs because they “already have a Facebook presence.” But the channels are not the strategy in and of themselves. They play a crucial part in delivering messages in a targeted and/or scalable way. But these channels rely on consumers to make and share content to create that earned media. This kind of earned media relies upon a strong network, both of consumers and platforms, to share messaging to the most valuable consumer groups.

To activate earned media, beauty brands should:

  • Harness organic, positive experiences. Look to all touch points consumers have with your brand. Identify experiences that can catalyze organic, opportunistic sharing both on and offline. While not historically the domain of media planning, experiences like package design and customer service interactions are now leaders in contributing to positive earned media (or avoiding negative ones!). Consumers regularly validate purchase decisions by consulting reviews and creating their own content. Media planning should extend into upstream and post-purchase worlds.

    You may want to consider what one brand has done in pursuing an earned media “credibility building” strategy. This is designed to bridge downstream new product development with pre-launch media via e-commerce product reviews in advance of full distribution. When the brand fully launches the product with its integrated media plan, consumers can access the reviews when they check on the product online. This brand cites the presence of online reviews as essential to driving increased sales for their products. It is their assertion that the review-based interest strategy helps to optimize product sales from the get-go.
     
  • Activate consumers through managed earned media. Advocate platforms are turnkey ways to add the voice of consumers to support product launches, fend off competitive advances, and generally help grow a brand over time. Managed earned media has traditionally relied on networks of experienced influencers, who are experts at getting out the word about products and brands. Marketers should also explore opportunities to turn their loyal customers into brand advocates via CRM.

    One brand has a multi-year, multi-product strategy to drive consideration and purchase through advocacy, as well as build the relevancy of its brand overall through consistent social presence. Through 20+ programs, they have created more than 67 million impressions.
     
  • Empower sharing through access to tools and messages. Many brands leverage their social communities and paid social promotions to bring earned media content creation with a brand’s owned media. Beauty brands should continue to explore ways to give consumers access to messages, content and sharing tools.

Always On

The lifespan of earned media varies. The reach and awareness generating types (Facebook posts, Instagram photos, Tweets) are fleeting by nature. There’s always new news being posted that trumps what was posted yesterday. The more targeted types (reviews, blog posts, Pinterest Pins, YouTube videos) can last longer to influence over time and drive referred traffic to your owned properties, therefor driving deeper engagement and consideration.

Because there’s always someone embarking on their own brand journey, it’s important for marketers to manage a regular, always-on-cadence message for earned media. The relative lower cost of these efforts (in comparison to traditional mass media) makes it easier to do this while keeping within budget. Some brands activate earned media to coincide with two key buying seasons, so that as consumers are considering the product (or encounter their own need for it),  they will come across recommendations, new online reviews, and mentions across digital and social media to inform their purchase decisions.

Relying on sharp insights derived from smart data, marketers can put themselves in consumers’ shoes and maximize earned media along the path to purchase. But it is only by developing media thinking and planning that addresses business objectives in line with consumers’ desire to both seek and create product recommendations that beauty brands can yield the benefits of truly holistic media planning.

As vice president of client solutions for dunnhumbyUSA, Candace Lee consults with clients on aligning objectives with best practice execution and measurement, and has aided in building the functions of emerging client service by developing and strategizing opportunity areas in the word of mouth and social media marketing realms. She also identifies opportunities to create new ways to measure and value earned media. Lee assumed her current role when dunnhumby acquired social marketing firm BzzAgent, where she worked for seven years. Prior to that, Lee worked at Interbrand, where she spent four years developing brand strategy and corporate identity programs, and at Bozell, where she focused on new product development and product launches for consumer packaged goods clients.

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