By Aaron Lyles

Paid media and inbound marketing are often considered at odds or even opposite approaches to marketing. The reality is they couldn’t be more complementary. In fact, no intelligent inbound marketing plan is truly complete without the right paid media ad strategy.

To develop an effective paid media strategy, we need to understand what paid media is, what our paid media priorities are, and what tactics we have available to us.

What Is Paid Media Advertising?

Paid media advertising is any media placement or series of placements that are paid for. Paid media campaigns may include any combination of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, display advertising, social media advertising, search engine marketing (SEM), and so on. While paid media is often considered an outbound marketing approach, it is actually a powerful inbound marketing tool.

Paid Media versus Free Media

While paid media is an extremely effective and efficient marketing tool when properly managed, unfortunately, it’s often misunderstood. Many people differentiate paid media from “free media.” This is a mistake.

Paid media is one of the key three (not two) discrete media types. The other media types are earned media (e.g., magazine articles) and owned media (e.g., a company newsletter). Note, that paid media only refers to the cost to place a specific message in a specific place, at a specific time. While the remaining two media types don’t involve paid placement, they’re far from free.

Paid Media Benefits

All three media types have their own unique set of costs and benefits. Paid media’s biggest benefit is probably speed. Paid media can get your marketing message in front of your target market almost instantly at the scale you desire and, thanks to digital media platforms, you can start seeing results within days or even hours. When you need results at scale fast, nothing beats paid media.

Under the right circumstances, effective paid media management can even help reduce customer acquisition cost (CAC) by putting your message in front of the right people at the time.

Paid Media Effectiveness

Paid media effectiveness ultimately depends on deploying the right paid media strategy for the right priorities. That said, paid media cost is a common variable of paid media effectiveness. As with any cost driver in business, it’s important to not be myopic about it.

Paid Media Tactics

It’s just as important to not be myopic about your tactics. Rather than trying to find the best paid media tactic or channel, your focus should be on finding the right strategic paid media mix. To do that, however, we need to know our options.

Paid Media Tactic 1: Paid Search Engine Advertising

Paid search, also known as search advertising and SEM, is a form of PPC that involves the placement of ads on search engine result pages (SERPs). Marketers configure automatic bidding parameters for the opportunity to have their ad displayed on the SERP for specific target keywords.

The most popular platform for search engine advertising is Google Ads because it’s by far the most popular search engine in the world. That said, Microsoft Ads can play an important role in your paid media strategy due to Microsoft’s search engine (Bing) being the default search engine for many demographic and firmographic profiles. For example, the IT policies of many large enterprises set Bing as a default browser page.

Although Bing may only account for a fraction of the search volume that Google does, that also means ad costs on Bing tend to be much lower for greater reach. That means you can greatly reduce what you would otherwise pay for an effective search marketing strategy.

Paid Media Tactic 2: Display Advertising

Display advertising, sometimes called banner advertising, is paid media using text, image, animation (rich media), or video that is not on a SERP triggered by a search. However, a person’s previous search behavior and web browsing can determine which ads they are shown.

Because display ads can simultaneously display on various third-party sites, display advertising is often a great paid media tool for driving awareness. Another benefit of display ads is that while they can cost far more per impression, they can still significantly reduce your average cost per click (CPC).

Display advertising utilizes three primary pricing models; Pay-per-click (PPC) is when you pay for each time your ad is clicked. Pay-per-impression (PPI) is when you pay for each unique time your ad is displayed. PPM (per-per-mille) is when you pre-pay for ad impressions by the 1,000. (A common misconception is that the “M” in PPM stands for impression. It actually stands for mille, which is Latin for 1,000. The roman numeral for 1,000 is “M.” PPM is a term originating pre-internet.)

Paid Media Tactic 3: Social Media Advertising

Social media advertising has become a vital pillar of an effective paid media strategy. In contrast to search advertising, social media advertising offers us many more platforms to choose from and, with that, many more ad types, formats, placement, and pricing options.

Social media advertising technically utilizes a form of display advertising. But for planning purposes, we treat social media advertising as its own category because social media ads only display on their respective platforms, and each platform has its own unique formats, rules, and pricing models.

Which social media platform is best to advertise on?

The most important factor to consider when evaluating which social media channels to advertise on is whether your market is present or not.

TikTok might be all the rage for 18-29 year olds, but if you’re targeting senior citizens, it’s important to know that less than 3.5 percent of TikTok’s audience is over 55 years old. Likewise, if you’re a B2B marketer, it’s worth noting that 50.9 percent of B2B decision makers turn to YouTube when researching new purchases. This contrasts with Facebook (48.5 percent) and LinkedIn (33 percent).

Paid Media Tactic 4: Retargeting

Retargeting advertising, also called remarketing, is a type of display advertising that targets people (visitors and contacts) who have previously visited your website. Retargeting is a powerful tool for reducing CAC.

The majority of website sessions end without the visitor taking a conversion action (e.g., making a purchase or becoming a contact). Rather than forever losing the opportunity to convert those visitors, you can remind them after they leave that they were on your site in the first place or what they missed while they were there. Retargeting campaigns can account for the specific pages visitors viewed and can even be configured to target contacts on a compiled list.

Paid Media Priorities and Strategies: Digital Media Mix

Most digital advertising strategies require a mix of channels and tactics rather than a single blanket approach. Your paid media ad strategy needs to align with your strategic priorities while also accommodating your unique situation.

The Paid Media Calculator from SmartBug® is a great tool to use in your paid media planning process precisely because it incorporates your key data points to calculate your paid media budget, key performance indicators (KPIs), and return on ad spend (ROAS). It also offers spend scenarios by media type, based on marketing priorities and media mix ratios.

Common paid media priorities and their associated mix are below.

Paid Media Priority 1: Build Brand Recognition

Brand recognition is one of the two key components of brand awareness. Many people think brand recognition is synonymous with splashy logos and giant slogans. This isn’t necessarily the case. Brand recognition is about more than your company, product brand name, or logo. Brand recognition is about your product or company being recognized as a viable solution to a specific problem.

There’s no point in making someone recognize your “brand” before they even recognize their need. So it often makes sense to utilize different messaging and ad collateral in recognition initiatives based on whether your audience members have previously engaged with your company or not.

Paid Media Strategy to Build Brand Recognition

Paid search excels at driving brand recognition by putting you in front of your target market at the exact moment people are actively searching for information about their problems and possible solutions.

Display advertising is a great tool for enticing people even earlier in the decision-making process to learn more about what problems they might have and how to solve them.

Paid social media and retargeting can then focus on reinforcing recognition of your solutions for those who have previously come in contact with your brand.

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Paid media spend scenario example 1: Build Brand Recognition

Paid Media Priority 2: Build Brand Recall

The second key component of brand awareness is brand recall. While brand recognition initiatives focus on ensuring your brand elements are recognized and associated with your company when seen or heard, brand recall initiatives focus on reminding your market of your unique value proposition so that you are top of mind when they think of the problems you solve or the benefits you deliver.

In other words, brand recognition is being recognized by people when they are prompted with your brand elements, and brand recall is being recognized by people when they are prompted with the products you provide or the value you deliver without being reminded of your brand. Brand recognition is a necessary prerequisite of brand recall, but brand recall is what we want to achieve in the marketplace. Ideally, we want to be the and only brand recalled in our category.

Paid Media Strategy to Build Brand Recall

Display advertising and paid social are exceptionally powerful tools for building brand recall. Both can be hyper-targeted to very specific audiences not yet familiar with their problem, let alone your solution or brand.

Branded paid search ads can reinforce the legitimacy of your brand when people search online to learn more. That’s right: Display and social advertising can drive searches of your brand name. Of course, you’ll want to show up when those searches happen. Paid search ads can also keep competitors from dominating the paid search results for your brand and solution names. Likewise, it's a common tactic bid on competitor brands as a way of introducing your brand as a potential alternative.

The key to developing recall is frequency. Retargeting ads remain a very efficient way to maintain frequency and stay top of mind with those who have shown some degree of interest in your company.

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Paid media spend scenario example 2: Build Brand Recall

Paid Media Priority 3: Amplify Social Media Following

Social media is a powerful tool for reengaging those who are aware of your brand while gaining exposure to people who have never heard of you. Unfortunately, many marketers invest too much time in producing organic (“free”) social media content with little to show for their results beyond the vague hope of going viral if they just keep at it.

Paid Media Strategy to Amplify Social Media Following

One of the most reliable ways to grow an established social media following is through paid social media. Social media platforms offer the ability to reach more potential buyers through hyper-targeted messaging. They also empower you to re-engage with those who were exposed to your brand on social media but have not yet followed you or completed a conversion action.

Paid social media can even be paired with display and paid search advertising in a variety of ways. One way is to incentivize social media engagement on landing pages tied to other paid media channels. Consider that many people find social media engagement a much lower bar than sharing contact information.

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Paid media spend scenario example 3: Amplify Social Media Following

Paid Media Priority 4: Convert Qualified Visitors

Just as one of the most effective and efficient ways to grow a business is to sell more to existing customers, one of the most effective and efficient ways to increase leads is to market more to those who have already demonstrated interest in your company and the value you deliver. Thus, a common paid media objective is to get contacts and visitors to convert so that visitors become contacts and contacts become customers.

Paid Media Strategy to Convert Qualified Visitors

Retargeting is a powerful tactic for reengaging visitors and contacts. Not only does retargeting empower you to engage visitors and contacts wherever they are online, but it also does so for pennies on the dollar of what you would otherwise pay in other paid channels.

This means that retargeting pairs very well with other paid media channels. Paid search, paid social, and display can help to drive problem and brand awareness, while retargeting can be used to economically remind those non-converting visitors what you can do for them. Paid social can further reengage (retarget) the same and different people.

Display advertising is a great tool for enticing people even earlier in the decision-making process to learn more about what problems they may have and how to solve them.

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Paid media spend scenario example 4: Convert Qualified Visitors

Paid Media Is Key to Intelligent Inbound® Marketing

Rather than conflict, paid media and inbound marketing complement each other well. Blog posts, pillar pages, and gated content all pair nicely with all types of paid media. Display ads, paid social, and paid search are all great ways to promote quality content. Retargeting can bring organic visitors back for more of the same content that attracted them to your site in the first place. A comprehensive paid media strategy ensures you’re top of mind throughout the buyer’s journey, wherever they are.

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Aaron Lyles

About the author

Aaron Lyles Aaron Lyles is a Marketing Strategist for SmartBug Media. He is goal-driven, profit-focused, and data-oriented. Aaron has over 18 years of marketing experience across a range of industries including technology, SaaS, publishing, and distribution. He has led enterprise scale data projects and prior to SmartBug he led sales and marketing for 5 years at an SME. Aaron holds degrees in marketing analytics and information management systems and is author of a forthcoming book on sales funnel engineering. Read more articles by Aaron Lyles.

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