What Is Owned Media?

Updated on March 5, 2018
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Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, nonfiction book editor, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.


What I Learned About Email Marketing and Owned Media from Fat Tuesday

As I’m writing this, it’s one of my favorite days of the year: Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, if you prefer). I love it because it includes consuming my favorite treats of doughnuts, beignets, and paczkis (except the jelly ones, bleck!).

But even though I love these diet-destroying delights, there comes a point when I’ve had enough. I just can’t eat... even... one... bite... more.

It’s kind of the same situation I have with email newsletters. While I love getting them, I reach a point where I can’t envision getting or reading just one more, even though the content is delectable. I’ve unsubscribed from many, many emails sent by truly good writers and friends because I’m suffering from information overload. I've chosen to follow some of these folks in less time consuming ways, such as in my RSS feed or somewhere on social media. I’m not alone in this as a content consumer. But since I am a content creator, too, I realize that this content consuming (or anti-consuming) trend is not good news.

Yet many marketing “experts” still preach that email marketing and building opt-in, in-house email subscriber lists should be top priority. In theory, I totally agree with them because when you own an email subscriber list (an example of what’s often called a channel), you can decide when and how to send your content or marketing messages to your target audience. When you control the channel and the flow of information to it, you own the media. Contrast this with social media (non-owned media) where the platform (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) or its algorithm could decide what, how, how much, when and even if your information is shown to your followers or subscribers.

But even if you do own the media channel, you can’t control whether your subscribers will actually open and read your messages or content. In some cases, you’d have a better chance of actually getting their attention on social media, though your investment in it may be precarious.

It’s a marketing Catch-22, even though the strategy of marketing with owned media is sound.

Exactly What Is Owned Media?

Owned media is any online or offline information channel that you own and control. Examples would include:

  • Your self-hosted blog or website.
  • An email or snail mail newsletter you distribute to your opt-in subscriber list.
  • A podcast that you produce.

Note, though, that you may not be able to control all aspects of these owned channels and your results may be dependent on additional providers and actors. For example:

  • You may send your email newsletter through an email service, such as MailChimp or AWeber, which may have limitations and rules (and cost!) for content distribution via email.
  • Your podcast may be listed on iTunes which can control where your podcast appears compared to similar offerings.
  • Google or other search engines will rank and display your self-hosted blog content in search results according to an algorithm over which you have no control.
  • Email providers, Gmail in particular, could send your emails to an out of sight “Promotions” type tab if their algorithm perceives it as promotional, thus decreasing the chances that your emails will be opened, or even seen, by your subscribers.
  • One of the most important things you can’t control is when and if your audience consumes your messages or content, or acts upon it. Email marketing open rates of 20 to 40 percent are considered normal (rates vary by industry and topic). But that leaves 60 to 80 percent of your messages going to waste.
  • Plus, it may take investment in non-owned media such as advertising and social media to even get potential subscribers to notice you.

So what you really own with owned media is your mailing list (the channel) and the decision of what, when, and how information is distributed to it.

Diversifying Marketing Investment Risk

While you should always—ALWAYS!—seek to build your owned media channels and subscriber lists, be aware that only concentrating on them could be an arduous and low return investment these days. I liken it to holding your money in a low or no interest bearing bank account. It’s a safe option that builds an asset for you (your mailing or email list is an asset!). But the returns could be small and difficult to scale upward, especially now with people trying to unplug due to information overload.

However, sizable investments in social media aren’t the answer to expanding reach. These channels can be subject to frequent, chaotic, and significant changes that could wipe out your followers or visibility instantly, making it a higher risk marketing investment.

Therefore, as with financial investments, diversification of marketing investment risk is a recommended strategy. There are no exact recommended ratios of owned media to social media, as well as no best practices on how many total channels of either type should be used. So decisions need to be made by continually monitoring key metrics and trends, including:

  • Your email subscriber counts.
  • Your email open and click rates.
  • Your website, blog, or podcast traffic analytics, especially paying attention to traffic sources.
  • News about trends or changes in social media, email, online marketing in general, and your industry.

Monitor these elements at least monthly over an extended period, say several months to a year, before making major changes to your activities. This helps prevent reacting to minor fluctuations (which are inevitable) and gives a truer overall picture of what’s working and what’s not with both owned and non-owned channels.

Email Incentives May Only Attract Those Who Want Incentives

So are incentives the answer to quickly and effectively building owned media channels? While an attractive incentive to subscribe to an email list, such as a free eBook or other perk, might help you gain some subscribers, you still have to get people to your site (or signup link) to subscribe. That’s the most challenging part and it may require investments in non-owned channels such as advertising and social media.

What I’ve found over the years is that these incentives usually attract many who just want incentives, but not necessarily your regular emails. Not only is it disheartening to get a bunch of subscribers who quickly unsubscribe after they’ve received your opt-in freebie, these quick opt-out subscribers are usually not viable sales prospects or followers either.

As with everything else, experimentation and monitoring results is recommended when building an owned media channel with incentives.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2018 Heidi Thorne


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  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 weeks ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, I also have to admit that I've unsubscribed from many newsletters for those very same reasons: 1) No time; and, 2) The content has gotten off course. My favorites are the folks who are business pros who now feel they can write about health. Oh brother!

    Thanks for chiming in and have a great day!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 weeks ago from USA

    One of the recipe newsletters I follow has evidently been monitoring clicks and traffic and taken it to the extreme. A recipe for “cracked out” chicken (or something) evidently did very, very well so now every other recipe is “cracked out” this or that. It’s gotten so annoying I want to unsubscribe. Then for some reason the recipe blog is including stuff about lots of travel. And I’m like “Wait. Whaaat?” Having control of your content is great, but sometimes bloggers need someone to remind them to focus. I’m becoming less of a fan of owned content like newsletters. I just don’t have the time.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 weeks ago from Chicago Area

    Linda, glad you found it informative! Like you, I was a teacher and it seems I can't get away from the whole education thing. :) Thanks so much for your support and have a terrific day!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Like Bill, I always learn something that I didn't know before when I read your articles. I appreciate the education, Heidi.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 weeks ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Mary! I hear you! No doubt I could read from the moment I get up until the moment I go to bed and still not keep up with everything. :)

    I still would encourage you to build an email list. It is an asset of your business and can be relied upon when all the social platforms change or disappear. Just understand that it won't happen overnight.

    Thanks for chiming in and have a great day!

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 3 weeks ago from Brazil

    I know exactly what you mean about overload, I too have been unsubscribing from so many. There just isn't enough hours in the day to read everything.

    I haven't been building an email list but now wonder if it is worth it or not.

    More to ponder.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 weeks ago from Chicago Area

    Brian, you and me both! It's such a balancing act we have these days. But we hope that the really good stuff makes it through to our readers and to us.

    Thanks so much for chiming in and have a great day!

  • B. Leekley profile image

    Brian Leekley 3 weeks ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

    I also am on both sides--wanting information from me to be noticed and not wanting to miss desired information coming to me, and not doing well achieving either goal.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 weeks ago from Chicago Area

    Bill, glad you enjoy the brain share! :) Thanks for stopping by. Now get those chores done before the snow!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

    Always an educational read, and I always manage to come away with something I didn't know before. Thank you for letting me inside your brain for a few minutes.

    Snow coming this morning...gotta run!