Americans view anywhere between 3,000 and 20,000 commercial messages every day. These communications come not just in the form of billboards, television spots and printed materials, but can include product placement, branded clothing and guerilla marketing tactics.

Recent studies suggest we only process about 250 of those messages, however, which should be a good indication of just how crowded the marketplace has become. Brands across industries have a roughly 8% chance of communicating with their target audiences on any given day. 

Wanted: Exposure

The constant need to stand out has driven communications practices into some surprising arenas and changed the way many businesses think about marketing disciplines. Where we used to be primarily focused on print and broadcast, marketing communications today fall into three categories-owned, paid and earned-which unfurl across a much broader spectrum of media opportunities including online, mobile, social and more.

The basic breakdown is as follows: Owned media is when a brand has complete control over a distribution channel-such as a website or blog. While the company has the final say in what gets produced and published, there is no guarantee that viewers will find and connect with the content the company is creating.

Paid media is when a company pays to leverage an existing channel-traditional advertising and digital ad buys are both good examples. Companies retain some control over the content, but may be restricted by the format they've chosen. In exchange, they expand their audience to some segment of the consumer population that watches TV, listens to the radio, visits a website or uses a search engine.

Earned media is when individuals become the distribution channel-when customers, prospects, the media and other third-party sources pick up a company's content and distribute it on their own, of-ten with unique commentary or analysis. According to Forrester Research, earned media is the most credible of the three-since it is a level of brand awareness voluntarily given and shared by those who don't "own" the brand.

To understand how to put owned, paid and earned media into practice, fund companies need look no further than Chipotle Mexican Grill. The fast casual restaurant has been producing engaging animated videos as part of its "Cultivate" campaign, and generating significant buzz not only for their cause of sustainable farming, but for the brand and their burritos too.

In 2012, Chipotle began producing a series of animated videos to drive awareness of an online game that doubles as a customer rewards program. The journey to the point of sale is relatively straightfor-ward: people see the video, download the game and start playing to earn buy-one-get-one burrito offers as levels are unlocked.

Chipotle primarily distributed the videos-the latest of which, "The Scarecrow," was released in mid-September-on its website and social channels, though it also used more traditional media buys. Finally, Chipotle put its PR muscle behind the campaign to generate views, and ultimately, customers.

The videos themselves, and their placement on the Chipotle website, are owned media. The company retains creative control and chooses how and when to distribute the series. The media buys-including distribution in movie theaters and during high-profile TV events-are paid media.

But the real thrust of the campaign was earned media. With a PR push and a community of engaged users, Chipotle was able to generate more than 5 million YouTube views in a matter of days for its latest production. The Scarecrow game download has more than 1,000 four-star plus reviews in the App Store. And the series has been talked about in The New York Times, USA Today, on pop culture websites and personal blogs.

This multi-pronged communications approach isn't only for consumer brands. The financial industry has adopted video, social channels and PR to drive engagement with key stakeholders-but firms must find ways to make these efforts work together.

Word of Mouth Works Wonders

Companies increasingly want "viral" or "buzz-worthy" communications and for good reason. Eighty-four percent of consumers around the world say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family, including online recommendations, according to a recent study from Nielsen.

But this kind of earned media can't exist in a silo. Owned media feeds community-driven distribution. Without something to share, a brand's followers may move on to more content-driven companies.

Owned media on its own is also gaining trust. As consumers become accustomed to getting information from brands, they are more likely to trust what they read or watch on a company's website. Nielsen reported that owned media is the second-most trusted communications source, with 69% of global respondents saying they trust companies to give them quality information.

In order to engage investors and prospects, fund firms must be content creators, publishers, pushers and sellers. Only through an integrated marketing approach can they hope to cut through the thousands of commercial messages their prospects hear every day to be one of the 250 messages that is actually received.

Jennifer Connelly is CEO of Jennifer Connelly Public Relations.

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