Why is integrating paid and owned channels still so hard?

It's easy for marketers to get caught up in the contours of their different channels. After all, each channel has a distinct personality, its own objectives, governance considerations and content requirements. And part marketing professionals specialization is the ability to understand what will play well on social platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, compared to search, display, and CTV among others as well as their own digital assets. 

But placing too much attention on the channels themselves often distracts marketers from their true focus: the customer. When marketers' orientation is rooted in customer knowledge and understanding, they are better equipped to reach those customers across all touchpoints and better able to compound their efforts by integrating paid media. 

Taking a unified, high-level customer view  

Many marketing teams are designed to focus on over channels rather than customers with each team having different and sometimes conflicting goals. There is an omni-channel strategy talent gap where most teams have knowledge around either paid or owned channels, not both.

This results in the need for significant process change, sometimes across multiple stakeholder groups and across agencies. Additionally, customer data for addressable versus direct targeting often doesn’t live in the same place and therefore may have conflicting sources of truth. That's a big deal because there's much to be gained from an approach that focuses on aligning efforts across teams and unifies paid and owned channel campaigns. 

Paid and owned channel integration is a worthy goal because of how it highlights a unified customer view. A customer-centric perspective is also the key to pulling it off. Integrating campaigns become more straightforward to execute when placing the customer at the center of a unified effort across paid and owned channels. 

Good stuff happens as a result:  

  • A greater focus on customer-led planning means more efficiently spent marketing dollars
  • Unified customer experience that includes consistent offers and content across channels. 
  • An expansion of personalization opportunities across the contact strategy for all channels 
  • A unified approach provides a good vantage point for cross-channel governance, ensuring coordination to track and manage customer fatigue  
  • More accurate measurement with insights into cross-channel behavior and better understanding of what is influencing customer behavior

Integrating paid and owned channel efforts: Where to start

Many teams are constructed based on a model that emphasizes channels over a unified customer view and breaking out of those silos can be challenging. We suggest a three-step process for completing the transition: 

Step One: Aim at the same target

The surest way to wreck an integration initiative is to have marketing teams row in different directions. This can happen due to poor communication (something we'll address below), but within many organizations, there's an even bigger problem: team success is measured according to channel-specific performance benchmarks.

At best, these differ across teams, and at worst, they result in outright conflicts that will undermine your integration efforts and impede collaboration across teams. For instance, if a campaign has a strong CPA (a paid KPI), but brings in poor quality customers that lead to lower activation rates (owned KPI), the paid team is seen as successful, the owned team as unsuccessful and the KPI’s conflict.

Getting past this obstacle requires a wholesale reevaluation of the primary business success metrics across marketing teams and adopting organization-wide metrics that promote collaboration and emphasize system-wide success. 

One such metric is Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), which measures the total revenue expected from an average customer relationship over the full lifetime of that relationship. It can break out by different customer segments. Other cross-channel measurement possibilities include Average Order Value and Net Promoter Score. 

This strategy doesn't necessarily mean the end of traditional paid-media measuring sticks such as impressions, reach, click-throughs and conversion rate, or owned-media engagement metrics. Those stats still have value, just as there's still value in measuring channel-specific performance. These metrics are enablers of CLV and are vital to understanding how certain campaigns are performing, but not necessarily the primary business KPI with a customer-first approach. In an integrated context, these metrics become diagnostic KPIs rather than top-level targets. 

Step Two: Integrating processes 

Redefining business success metrics means different marketing teams will share the same goals, but it doesn't ensure they'll choose complementary strategies to get there. Meaningful strategic alignment also requires frequent communication in the form of consolidated briefings and shared data. That way, different teams are in sync regarding overall direction and can operate based on the same updated insights and contextual notes. 

Yes, this adds an extra administrative layer. But done right, the result will be a substantial increase in coordination, cohesion, and overall effectiveness. 

Another key consideration applies here: this higher-level collaboration likely won't take hold unless it's someone's job to ensure it does. Consider tasking one senior marketer with ownership of omnichannel coordination efforts and assigning a member of each channel-specific marketing team to work with that person to ensure that their team works in concert with others across the marketing function.

Step Three: Address the data gaps 

In an ideal scenario, brands have a centralized clean room where first and third-party data can be analyzed in a privacy-compliant environment across existing customers and prospects. This setup enables a single source of truth for customer insights that informs and scales across all channels and business goals such as acquisition and engagement. Having a unified data-first strategy also enables the basis of marketing innovation with artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

As a less comprehensive option, teams can work together to consolidate what data is available: mapping what will be used as a source of truth across available first, second, and third-party data and how it will be used to fuel consolidated master briefs. The most important aspects to note are shared understanding of customer insights across all groups and that all stakeholders are represented in what insights are used based on what is most relevant for the program.

Step Four: Start slow—but commit

An organization's first integrated campaign isn't likely to launch flawlessly, no matter how well or long its leaders and teams prepare. Instead of aiming for perfection, pick a date that's far enough out to allow for a thoughtful, careful pilot effort but soon enough to force some urgency. 

Commit to that first campaign while embracing the fact it will likely lead to some learning opportunities. Agile methodology and scrum like processes will also be able to facilitate the transition to integrated owned and paid strategies. Once that initial effort is finished, take time for a careful recap that documents the wins, losses, and opportunities for improvement—and then try again! 

It's not easy to shift from a channel-focused marketing organization to one that takes a holistic, customer-focused approach, which is why Epsilon's strategic consulting services are here to help with industry experts that specialize in everything from digital customer experience to organization governance and acceleration of brand growth. In the end, the effort is worthwhile and will pay off in the form of coordinated, coherent, and effective campaigns across both owned and paid channels that lead to stronger business results, a more empowered marketing team and delighted customers.