Forrester Research recently published a report on defining earned, owned and paid media. This concept has been in circulation for some time now, but what Forrester released, at least from Sean Corcoran’s blog post, made for a lucid explanation.

While I haven’t read the entire, $500 report, what I think would add value to this is to also talk about the kind of brands that are appropriate for each of this media. This piece in Social Media Today started to address this, without the earned/ paid/ owned media framework, but took another route mid-way.

Specifically, I’m referring to low involvement and high involvement brands/ products. Now, how would you describe low/ high involvement brands?

Beyond instinctive definitions, I’d define high involvement products as those for which the consumer/ prospective buyer is willing to invest  time during pre/ post purchase, in evaluating the product/ brand.

As for low involvement products, they are products that are typically bought more frequently and with limited thought about the decision of the choice of brand.

A few examples.

Soap, is typically a low involvement product category, but if you have a skin condition that demands a specialized soap, that particular brand of soap would be high involvement.

Flight tickets too are low involvement, from a category perspective – the objective is to get you from point A to point B. But, if you know that a particular airline has more legroom, you’d try to get that flight’s ticket first, before looking at other options – so the choice of brand here is high involvement.

There are caveats and corollaries too – most famously, from a pre-sale point of view, Scott M. Davis and Michael Dunn, in their book, ‘Building the Brand-Driven Business: Operationalize Your Brand to Drive Profitable Growth‘ argue that the decision making cycle for both are same and that it merely happens, comparatively faster, with a lesser degree of consciousness! Even Philip Kotler’s basic tenet has a single decision making process – need realization, research on options, assimilate the information and decide. But again, these are from the perspective of purchase decisions alone.

The next possible question is about B2B and B2C products. Not all B2C products are low involvement (Cars, laptops etc. are examples of high involvement products), but are all B2B products high involvement? To some extent, that is true, given that most organizations are usually required to get competing quotes for all purchases – so most purchases do involve longer, detailed decision making processes. Exceptions, of course, include, for instance, office supplies!

Other possible angles include brand loyalty and services. In case of the former, merely spending time so that you get only the brand that you seem to like does not make it high involvement. I may prefer only Diet Coke, may be willing to search for it and not settle for an alternative brand – but the decision has been made already. So, the time spent is in procurement, not brand choice…hence, low involvement. Services – by default, I’d presume most services to be high involvement and funnily enough, would be based on what/ how much you’re likely to lose if you made the wrong choice!

The last angle I can think of is anything to do with health – given that most of this category requires belief/ trust on an authority (doctor), I’d categorize them as low involvement. The selection of a doctor’s service, in itself, could be high involvement, given how we ask for references amongst peers.

Of course, what needs to be added here is that based on a buyer’s state, this could massively vary, but that is just an exception. For instance, if you’re madly in love, you may just enter a jewelery store and buy a diamond pendant for your girl, provided you can afford it. Similarly, if you’re bleeding, you’ll head to the doctor closest to you – no research, no decision making process!

Having set this base, how does all this apply for the media classification by Forrester? Here’s a table that explains my thought.


A few examples again.

Take a low involvement brand like Coke – you buy it for a few piddly bucks and drink it. Will you spend time writing/ talking about it online? About the product itself…may be not. About its rich history? May be – that is the indisputable USP part. The Open Happiness project fits the ‘brand being incidental to the conversation’ part. And assuming you make pencils, another low involvement product, chances are that people may not willingly talk about you – so, you create/ engage with select groups of people on something that they do with pencils, in general, not just your brand. How about talking to a group of art enthusiasts or cartoonists…about how useful a pencil is, in their profession? That’s brand-agnostic, but still fits your product category.

Coming to earned media, the same reasons above hold good, but in case of low involvement products, by nature of them not being compelling enough to spend time talking about, incentives – with complete disclosure – may be necessary.

As for high involvement products, take an example of a PC/ laptop. Lenovo’s community initiative is a great example of owned media. And, people participate because there’s so much to discuss and understand in the high involvement product category, before sale, during usage and post sale. But, to earn that, you need to make products that satisfy at least a basic set of accepted criteria – cannot expect a bad product to be spoken about positively, can you? And, if you have a killer product, people could talk about it gushingly…and that could go viral. Apple’s iPhone is a perfect example. And, Dell’s IdeaStorm is a fantastic example of using owned media for product innovation – this may not work as seamlessly with a low involvement product like say, chewing gum! The brand of chewing gum may need to showcase something more than, ‘hey, tell us ideas for a new gum’ to get people interested.

This is just a broad framework that I assume works for any example. But, as a brand/ product owner, this should help you evaluate the kind of media you could opt for and the kind of route you need to adopt.