The Herald Bulletin

November 6, 2013

Susan Miller: What is your owned media?

By Susan Miller
For The Herald Bulletin

---- — Have you ever heard the phrase, “Own it?” In branding parlance, “own it” typically refers to an attribute of your business that serves to define how you do business.

Some categories that businesses try to own include low cost (or high cost), local source, premier provider, and fastest. The problem with such categories is that they’re subjective and hard to claim. Even given Wal-Mart’s size, there are plenty of companies striving to be the low-cost provider. And in a world where profit margin means survival, do you really want to hang your hat on price?

In the absence of a clearly defined area of ownership, a business may feel it can’t own any category. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether a business is cognizant of it or not, it continually deals with “owned media.”

It may be easiest to compare owned media to two more widely discussed types of media. First, there is paid media, which is what you say about yourself. This is brand messaging that is paid for through advertisements. Ads in this newspaper and on its website are examples of paid media, as are TV commercials and Facebook ads.

While paid media is what you say about yourself, “earned media” refers to what others say about you. An example of earned media is an article or blog post about your company. Earned media enjoys the benefit of being perceived as more objective than a paid advertisement because it wasn’t purchased.

However, the third type of media is most powerful of all. That’s what we called owned media. While paid media is what you say and earned media is what others say about you, owned media refers to what is unspoken about your brand.

Owned media includes the condition of your parking lot, the competence of your staff and the cleanliness of your service vehicles. An HVAC technician who puts on protective shoe coverings before entering a customer’s home is sending a message that equates to earned media. A website that has erroneous or incomplete information is also owned media.

Owned media is all of the little things that come together to define your brand, including your physical facilities, your employees and your technology. A colleague recently told me about an office furniture maker that has been in business more than a century, no doubt in part because of its owned media.

This company is more expensive than its competitors, but it does some things that give it a “sparkling” edge. When its vehicles are within 10 miles of a delivery destination, the driver goes through a truck or car wash. The furniture not only arrives in good condition, but it arrives in a gleaming vehicle, reflecting the company’s commitment to quality and care.

You may not have a lucrative ad budget or an opportunity to place a story in the news every day, but there are many assets your business can “own.” Decide what unspoken attribute sets your business apart, then own it.

Susan Miller is owner of Ewing Miller Communications, an Anderson-based marketing and public relations firm. Her column runs on the first Thursday of each month. Write to her at