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February 02, 2020

stack of magazines and newspapers sitting on a desk.

There’s no better time to be a marketing and communications pro, am I right? New tools and technologies mean there are more ways than ever to engage with our audiences, amplify our messages and measure our results. But at the same time, the external factors working against us are stronger than ever:

  • Trust in media is at an all-time low. Only 41% of Americans trust media “a great deal” or “a fair amount,” according to Gallup.

  • Trust in social networks isn’t any better, with 88% of all people surveyed in a Pew study believing that social media has “at least some control” over the news people see and 51% calling inaccurate news a “very big problem” on social media.

Couple these trust issues with increasingly complex and cumbersome regulations like the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) that restrict how companies collect and use customer and prospect data, and it’s clear that communicators are facing an unprecedentedly complex environment.

So, what are we to do?

2020 will prove to be a turning point for communicators. To thrive in light of these challenges, to make sure our messages are heard, and to build true relationships with stakeholders, we have to take back control. We have to decrease our reliance on third-party platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and (gasp) media. We have to build up our own channels and our own audiences to safeguard our communications from these external forces.

Finding the Right Mix of Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned

No, we shouldn’t turn off our media relations and social media plans. But with decreasing trust, these third-parties don’t hold the power they once did. And with increasing regulation, the ability to target and collect information from these channels is dwindling. In 2020, third-parties should no longer make up the majority of your marketing communications mix.

It’s easy to let such platforms take over your communications strategies. Third-parties like search engines, social media sites and press already have built-in audiences. They’ve done the work to get people coming to their sites – so all you have to do is capitalize on that traffic, finding the right segments and messages that resonate.

Leveraging these channels certainly isn’t wrong. Search engines are often the top source for website traffic, and media coverage provides valuable third-party credibility (and is also often a top source for high-converting website traffic). The problem here is relying too heavily, or even solely, on these channels.

Look to Owned Media to Power your Communications Mix

It’s understandable that communications pros often de-prioritize owned media. These channels take time to strategize, build, manage and grow. However, building audiences through your own channels gives you the power to determine how, when and with what messages you reach your stakeholders, and it means you own your own data, establishing more control over how it’s used.

Which owned channels you should start with depends on the audience you are trying to reach, their communication habits and their preferred channels, but here are a few ideas:

1)    A blog. This should be a given today since 93% of online sessions start with search and that frequently updated, relevant, engaging web content is key to search performance. However, if you haven’t already, 2020 is the year to start a blog and make sure you are providing a way for visitors to subscribe so that you can alert them to new content and keep them engaged. For brands that already have a blog, make 2020 the year that it becomes a true resource hub for topics relevant to your brand by developing a content pillar strategy and building out unique voices for your subject matter experts to create your own bench of influencers.

2)    A podcast. More than half of the U.S. population has listened to a podcast – up from 44% in 2018. And 80% of people listen to all (or at least most) of an episode, meaning that a strong podcast can help bring in an engaged audience in a fast-growing media format.

3)    A Slack workspace. That’s right. The tool you use for internal messaging can also be used to engage with external audiences. With more than 10 million daily users, Slack is an especially powerful tool for B2B marketers, where they can build workspaces for customers or for audiences with a similar interest or challenge. Looking for inspiration? Check out Buffer and HubSpot’s Slack communities.

4)    An event. Despite the ease of online research, B2B buyers still spend 18% of their time researching products offline and 17% of the time meeting with suppliers. Producing your own thought leadership summits, customer conferences and roadshows can create meaningful experiences for your target audiences that can’t be replicated online.

Though effective marketing mixes will still include a combination of paid, earned, shared and owned media, 2020 is the time to take greater control with an increased emphasis on building audiences through owned channels.