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The Battle for Attention: Paid vs Owned vs Earned Software Marketing Strategies

By Ryan Law on Mon, Jul 13, 2015

There a plethora of paid, owned and earned marketing strategies available to your business. With each strategy competing for limited resources, it's essential to make the most out of your investment, and choose the best strategy for your business.

To help you make that crucial decision, I'm looking at the pros and cons of paid, owned and earned software marketing. 

Paid Software Marketing

Strategies like pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, advertising, retargeting and event sponsorships fall under the remit of paid software marketing – where website visits are generated by paying to promote your business through third-party channels.

Historically, paid channels have formed the basis of most software marketing strategies – but with relatively high costs, high competition and an increasingly unresponsive audience, these tactics have lost some of their lustre.

Pros

  • PPC campaigns are extremely quick to get up-and-running, allowing you generate leads from day one.
  • You can easily tailor ad campaigns to reach your target audience.
  • Paid marketing scales in a linear way, and increasing your investment can often generate a proportionate increase in leads.

Cons

  • Paid marketing isn’t self-sustaining. If you want to pause or stop your campaign, your lead generation will grind to a halt.
  • We get bombarded by adverts on a daily basis, to the extent that most people ignore paid advertising (or use software tools like Ad Blocker to filter it out).
  • The few adverts that do grab our attention are likely to be greeted with suspicion.

Owned Software Marketing

An owned software marketing strategy generates leads through channels that your business controls. The most common owned marketing strategy is content creation – using your own resources to create lead-generating blog posts; guides and whitepapers; emails marketing campaigns and case studies.

There are hundreds of SaaS companies that leverage owned software marketing, thanks to its low costs and high lead-generating potential. Buffer are renowned for their blogging efforts, HubSpot are prolific creators of eGuides and eBooks, and there are dozens of creative companies leveraging email marketing.

Pros

  • Content creation offers scalable lead generation in a cost-effective way.
  • Owned marketing is self-sustaining. If you invest into content creation, it will continue to generate leads months and years down the line. As HubSpot recently noted, ‘...if the whole blogging team went on vacation for a month, we'd still generate 76% of the traffic and 92% of the leads we would've otherwise generated by also publishing new content.
  • Content can be used to nurture your leads towards a point of sales-readiness.

Cons

  • Creating effective, purposeful content requires skilled writers and informed research. Your business needs to identify its buyer personas, and create content to appeal to their pain points.
  • Owned marketing takes time to reach its full potential, creating a J-shaped growth curve – growing slowly at first, but accelerating to near exponential levels.

sie-organic-month

Source: Security Innovation Europe Case Study

Earned Software Marketing

Earned marketing refers to awareness and lead generation resulting from channels outside of your control. A decade ago, this was largely the result of press mentions and word-of-mouth, but social media is today’s primary earned marketing method.

Social media networks represent huge audiences of potential customers. If your business, product or content is lucky enough to ‘go viral’, you’ll see huge spikes in traffic and growth resulting from very little investment.

There’s also a SaaS-unique concept known as a viral coefficient. It refers to the number of new users generated  by your existing user base, through the power of referrals and recommendations. A viral coefficient of 1 or above means your user base will continue to grow without any input from your business.

Pros

  • Social media offers a cost-effective way to engage your target audience (and yes – even B2B buyers use social media in the buying process)
  • User referrals offer an extremely cost-effective way of scaling your business and reducing churn.
  • A press mention in one of the big industry-specific news outlets (like TechCrunch or Re/code in the SaaS sector) can generate huge amounts of interest and traffic.

Cons

  • Social media is unpredictable, and there are virtually no tried-and-tested ways for ensuring your business ‘goes viral’.
  • Press mentions are even more unpredictable. There a handful of huge news organisations in each industry, and competition for features is incredibly fierce. Getting a contact at each organisation to open your email is a hurdle in its own right, and it’s almost impossible to judge whether that will ever translate into a feature.
  • It’s extremely difficult to grow your business through user referrals alone, especially in B2B sectors. 

Converged Software Marketing

There are advantages and disadvantages to paid, owned and earned software marketing strategies. Each has the potential to generate engaged, relevant leads for your business – but focusing on a single strategy in isolation poses too much risk for most SaaS businesses to bear.

In order to amplify the benefits of each strategy, and offset their negatives, it’s essential to create a converged software marketing strategy.

Visitors rarely care about the provenance of a marketing message: they only care about its relevance to their problems, and the benefit it offers them. Your marketing strategy needs to deliver the right message, at the right time, through the right channels. That means using a combination of paid, owned and earned marketing strategies.

For example, earned marketing can solve the skepticism associated with paid marketing, using social proof to cultivate trust; and paid marketing can amplify owned marketing, allowing you to promote content to huge, targeted audiences.

Paid and Owned

  • Promoting a free eGuide with a LinkedIn PPC campaign, targeting people that match your buyer persona.
  • Using retargeted adverts to promote a special offer (like a discount code) to trial users that didn’t convert into paying customers.

Owned and Earned

  • Creating epic content and promoting it through social media.
  • Building a market-beating product and earning integrations (and exposure) from other SaaS business.

Paid, Owned and Earned

  • Paying to attend a tradeshow, giving away a free gift and generating word-of-mouth interest.
  • Using PCC to showcase social media testimonials promoting a free trial or download.

For help choosing the right marketing strategy for your SaaS solution, you can download our new eBook below.

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