Communication field guide: How does marcomm work?
In practice, marketing communication covers a broad range of elements and approaches.
Branding is an element that unifies marketing communication. When we refer to branding, we are talking about a process in which an organisation decides what it stands for (i.e. brand values), and how it is going to express this (i.e. brand identity). Elements of brand identity can include logo design, corporate colours, mood boards, collateral design (stationery, business cards, etc), space design, tone of voice guidelines, taglines, and so on. These are usually put together in set of brand guidelines or a style guide. This can include information about brochure/website layout, the types of images that can be used, writing style, and so on. The brand guidelines usually influence how marketing communication works for a particular organisation.
ATL and BTL
Marketing communication also used to be divided into two main elements, and they are still used today from time to time. These two categories are: Above the Line (ATL) and Below the Line (BTL). ATL was considered ‘mass marketing’ – where your message was visible by the general public. This included advertising in a newspaper, a TV or radio commercial at a national or regional level, or Out Of Home (OOH) advertising such as bus ads, billboard ads, a guy wearing a signboard, etc. BTL was considered more targeted, for example, a real estate agent sending flyers for a new condo to home owners in condos, a sales brochure for potential customers, or in-store promotions such as a sign saying, “20% off if you buy three pieces,” and so on.
Digital Marketing: Owned, Earned, and Paid Media
When marketing went digital, many of these functions simply moved online. The equivalent of ATL in the internet was a banner ad on a website. The equivalent of BTL may be email promotions or product information on your website. But the problem with this approach is, on the internet, we don’t just step out into the world open to every message. We’ll go to a certain website, or access a certain social platform. This means there’s more potential for target messages.
A more useful way of looking at marketing communication in its current state is based on the type of media that’s used: owned, earned, or paid media.
Owned media is anything you can create and distribute by yourself. It can be your website, your Facebook page, brochures, an app, etc. Nobody else needs to spread the word on your behalf: you can publish this information yourself, and you’re not paying anything except for the cost of production or the cost of the server. Creative agencies such as ad agencies or brand agencies usually help support this function by creating content such as logos, brochures, advertisements, videos, etc.
Earned media is when people talk about you for free. This can be a share on social media, or a review on a hotel website. This could be a word of mouth recommendation. As long as you’re ‘earning’ it for free, it’s earned media.
Paid media is anything you need to pay for in order for the content to exist. This includes advertising in a newspaper or magazine: you need to pay for ad space. It could be buying three minutes of commercial time on TV. It could be paying Google to boost your page. It could be paying Instagram to sponsor your post. Or it could be paying an influencer to blog about your product. Paid media involves the content creation, but also paying for the space where the content exists. The part of the industry which handles buying space (e.g. buying ad space on a bus, or TV commercial space), is called media buying. Media buying agencies can help to formulate a media strategy – i.e. where to buy media space, who you’ll reach, how long you should pay for that space, what the potential return is, etc.