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We talk a lot about owned, earned and paid channels in our blog posts… but what’s the difference between owned, earned and paid promotion and what do those differences mean when it comes to competitions?

As the names suggest, owned refers to the channels you can promote your competition on that you actually own (unsurprisingly), earned refers to channels you earn the right to promote your competition through and paid channels are (you guessed it) channels that you have to pay to promote your competition via.

This post will explain exactly what each channel is, what the differences between the promotion channels are and which channels you should leverage to promote your competition.

What is owned competition promotion?

An owned channel is one that you have unconditional access to – and can use for marketing at any time – without leveraging a relationship, negotiating access to, or paying to use.

Sometimes as marketers we also refer to data as owned, again, if you have unconditional control of and access to that data. An example would be an email list of subscribers you can contact at any time with any content or offer.

Examples of owned channels you can collect data, entries and promote your competition via include:

  • Websites
  • Content (such as blogs, self-hosted videos or podcasts)
  • Email lists
  • SMS lists or databases
  • Physical locations (such as a store or stall)
  • Events (if owned and run by your business)
Email is an example of an owned channel. Photo of an empty inbox on mobile by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash.

When running competitions for clients, typically we will leverage their owned channels in the following way:

  • Promoting the competition above the scroll on the homepage
  • Adding a link to the competition in the navigation menu
  • Creating a landing page on the website
  • Crafting content such as blogs to promote and drive traffic to the competition
  • Emailing subscribers with details of the competition and a link to enter
  • Creating promotional banners, posters, flyers etc if the business has physical stores

Owned data is arguably the most valuable data you can collect when it comes to competitions; not just because you have unrestricted access to that data to leverage for future marketing, but because generally, conversion rates to paying customer tend to be higher and the cost to collect entries tend to be much lower.

What is earned competition promotion?

Earned channels are ones that you have limited or conditional access to – for example if there’s a gatekeeper who controls access, a relationship that must be built and maintained or conditions that must be met before you can market or promote your competition via that channel.

Examples of earned channels would be pitched (not paid) PR pieces where the outlet will control and decide if it gets published or not, reviews and testimonials that depend on your customers deciding to give one or not and for me (but not for all marketers) I class social media as an earned channel. 

You may control the content you post on social media, what your banner or header contains and the call to action you’ve chosen from a limited selection, but you do not control or own the data/followers on that channel, you’re at the mercy of an algorithm that decides who and how many people see your content on the channel and your access can be revoked or removed at any time.

Unlike some marketers, we believe social media is an earned, not owned channel. Image of Facebook loaded on a mobile sitting on a table next to a computer by Photo by Tim Bennett via Unsplash

When it comes to competitions, earned channels to collect entries and promote your competition via include:

  • Other business’ owned channels (websites, content, databases, stores)
  • Social media profiles
  • Groups hosted on social media
  • Events (run and owned by other businesses)
  • Referrals, reviews and testimonials
  • User-generated content
  • Non-paid mentions/influencers in your industry
  • Unpaid PR/interviews/features
  • Organic search results
  • Online stores owned by third parties (such as eBay or Amazon)

Generally, when running competitions for clients, we’ll leverage these earned channels in the following ways:

  • Utilising partnerships with businesses that share the same target audience, asking them to share the competition (especially if you partner up to run the competition)
  • Changing the headers/bios/links/pinned posts on social media to link to the competition
  • Posting regular organic posts with links to the competition
  • Mentioning the competition in relevant social media groups and in-person events (if permitted)
  • Asking the existing audience to spread the word about the competition (remembering that tagging and sharing for entries is not permitted)
  • Leveraging any relationships with influential people in the industry who may be happy to mention the competition to their audience
  • Pitching for media coverage if there’s a newsworthy angle to the competition

Promoting our competitions via earned channels always forms part of our competition promotion strategy. Though third parties can sometimes ask for something in return or decline access to their audience and ranking highly in organic search results for a short-term competition is an overly ambitious goal (though it has happened), there are always earned channels that deliver the goods when it comes to quality entrants.

With a huge proportion of the world’s population on social media, it’s always worth planning to promote your competition via these channels – just make sure you keep in mind that owned data (as discussed above)  is going to be more valuable to you in the long term and organic social reach these days is limited to encourage businesses to pay for reach – which leads us nicely to…

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Usually, we’ll leverage paid channels in the following way during our competitions:

  • Running Facebook/Instagram ads is usually standard practice for every competition, as long as our ideal entrant can be found on these platforms
  • Ads on other social networks will depend on audience and budget
  • Remarketing/retargeting ads are used to increase conversion to entrant at a lower cost per acquisition as they’re already ‘warm’
  • If appropriate and the ROI potential is there, we’ll also consider leveraging third party owned channels such as websites

Given that we normally work with small to medium businesses and taking into account a standard timeframe for a competition, we’ll rarely consider sponsorships, paid reviews, advertorials, product placements or print/radio/TV advertising.

These days, it’s a lot easier to measure return on investment and track and tweak metrics with digital advertising than it is with more traditional advertising channels such as newspapers, radio and TV.

Which channels should I use to promote my competition?

So now that you know the difference between owned, earned and paid channels, data and competition promotion; which should you use to promote your competition?

As mentioned above, we would use a mixture of owned, earned and paid channels to collect entries and promote a competition and would recommend you do the same. The specific channels in each category of paid, owned and earned will depend on the business, the product or service being promoted, the ideal demographic we’re hoping to attract and the budget for the competition.

Whilst owned channels may be more valuable in terms of conversion and low cost of entries, if you don’t already have a large owned audience to tap into, you will most likely need to leverage earned and paid channels in addition to your owned channels to hit your competition goals and desired entry numbers.

Similarly, if you have a small following on earned social media channels and don’t have any influential contacts in your industry to leverage, the reality is that you will need to turn to paid channels to access the audience you’re hoping to reach.

So there you have it, the clear difference between paid, earned and owned promotion channels you may want to consider using for your next competition. Using a mixture of the channels will help you reach your desired audience and keep your budget in check whilst maximising your chances of conversion to paid client both during and after your competition.

If you need a hand mapping out a promotion plan for your competition, or want us to take care of your competition promotion for you, we offer both a mid-range launch and promote package and a more comprehensive competition concierge package, or you can get in touch for a tailored package or a free competition chat.