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Paid Media: Everything You Need to Know

Think of this guide as your secret weapon for understanding paid media. We'll cover everything you need to know so you can start seeing results and level up your business!

Written By: 

Carl Undag


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Even the best content can get lost in overwhelming online content. To really reach your ideal customers, you need a smart marketing plan, and paid media is a powerful tool to add to your arsenal.

Paid media gets you in front of the right people at exactly the right moment. This helps people get to know your brand better and makes them more likely to try what you offer.

Think of this guide as your secret weapon for understanding paid media. We'll cover everything you need to know so you can start seeing results and level up your business!

What is Paid Media?

In paid media, you pay to get your message in front of a large audience, whether on a website, social media feed, or even old-school magazines.

This differs from your website or blog – those are channels you own and control. It's also different from when someone shares a great review of your business, or you get featured in a news article. That kind of positive buzz is amazing, but you can't directly control when it happens.

Benefits of Paid Media for Marketing Campaigns

Here's why paid media can be a game-changer:

  • Think of paid media as a way to pinpoint your ideal customer. You can target by the basics (age, location) but also get specific with interests (outdoor lovers, gadget fans) and even online actions (like searching for a solution you offer). This means your message gets seen by the people most likely to care.
  • You're not throwing money at random viewers since you can target the right people to see your ads.  This increases the chances of someone clicking your ad and potentially becoming a customer.
  • Paid media doesn't leave you guessing.  You get clear numbers on how many people saw your ads, who clicked, and so on. This lets you see what's working (and what's not) to make your campaigns stronger over time.

Comparing Paid, Owned, and Earned Media

Understanding the different types of media is key to a successful marketing strategy. But let’s learn first what owned and earned media are.

a sample of a social media account

Owned Media

Owned media serves as your digital home base. You have full control over these channels—your website, blog, social media accounts, email newsletters, and any platform where you call the shots.

What's the upside?  You decide what to say, how it looks, and when it goes live. The downside? Success is on you!  Owned media takes effort to create great content and keep it all running smoothly.

A well-maintained website with awesome content is your secret weapon for search engines (think Google).  This helps people find you organically over time, meaning more potential customers without paying for every single click.

an example of a client review

Earned Media

Earned media is like the ultimate stamp of approval. It's when people rave about your brand without you directly paying for it – think positive press coverage, glowing customer reviews, or your content going viral on social media.

When others praise your business, it means way more than anything you could say yourself. This builds trust and makes people more likely to give you a try.

You can't buy earned media outright.  It comes from having an awesome product, treating customers right, and sometimes, a bit of luck!  Focus on providing value, and the positive buzz will eventually follow.

sample of a youtube ad

Advantages of Paid Media

Paid media is not just blasting your message out to everyone and hoping for the best.  Instead, you get granular! Target people based on traditional demographics (age, location, etc.), but also zero in on their interests (think cooking fans, true-crime buffs) and even online behavior (like searching for solutions to problems you solve). This ensures your ads are seen by the people who actually care about what you offer.

Unlike hoping for a viral social post or a news article (which would be awesome!), paid media offers predictability.  You choose your audience size, and your message is guaranteed to reach them. This takes some of the uncertainty out of marketing.

Spotted a hot new trend? Need to promote a flash sale? Paid media lets you strike while the iron's hot! You can launch campaigns quickly and tweak them as you go.  Maybe one ad image is outperforming another – you can shift your budget in minutes to maximize results.

Paid media doesn't keep you in the dark. You get detailed stats - how many people saw your ads, who clicked, and what they did next. This isn't just satisfying; it's incredibly useful!  This data lets you ditch what's not working, double down on successes, and make sure you're getting the most out of every dollar spent.

Paid Media Types

You need to know the right platform for a successful ad campaign. Here's an overview of some popular options:

sample of a search engine ad

Search Engine Ads

Search engine ads pop up at the top of Google (or other search engines) when someone types in something related to your business. So if they search "vegan restaurants near me" and you run a killer vegan spot, boom! Your ad is front and center.

The power of "I need it now": People using search engines are actively looking for something to solve a problem. Your ad shows up at the perfect time, making them way more likely to click.

With search ads, you pay each time someone clicks (pay-per-click, or PPC). How much you pay depends on the search term's popularity and competition. Choosing the right keywords is key here!

Social Media Ads

sample of an instagram ads

Social media ads are designed to fit right in with the content people are already scrolling through on Facebook, Instagram, and all those other social media platforms.  You're not just interrupting their day with a random ad, you're showing them something relevant. Paid media examples for social media could be a cool image, a funny video ads, or even a quiz that grabs their attention.

The real magic of social media ads is how specific you can get. You can target by the basics (age, location, etc.) but also by interests (think travel lovers or skincare enthusiasts), behaviors (visited your website before), and more.

You've got options with social media ads. Sometimes you pay when someone clicks (pay-per-click), sometimes it's per thousand views (pay-per-impression), and sometimes you only pay when someone takes a specific action (like signing up for your newsletter).

sample of a website ad

Display Ads

Display ads are the banner ads you see on websites and apps. Their main goal is to get your name out there and familiarize people with your brand, even if they don't click right away.

The retargeting magic:  Ever notice how ads for those shoes you were browsing seem to follow you around the web? That's display retargeting at work!  It's a smart way to remind people about your business and maybe nudge them towards making a purchase.

With display ads, you often pay per thousand times your ad is shown (impressions), but sometimes you can pay per click.  Costs depend on where your ads appear (some websites get way more traffic than others) and how targeted your audience is.

Ie-commerce discovery ads

Native Advertising

Native ads are designed to blend seamlessly with the other content on a website or platform. You might see a sponsored article that looks just like a regular news piece or a product recommendation that fits right into a shopping site's listings.

The idea is to be less in-your-face than a traditional banner ad.  Since they match the surrounding content, there's a better chance people might actually read or interact with them.

With native ads, you might pay per click, per impression, or sometimes negotiate a flat sponsorship rate for bigger campaigns.

image sample of an influencer ad

Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is all about partnering with people with a loyal audience in your niche, whether that's beauty, gaming, travel, or something else to promote your brand. Imagine a travel blogger with a dedicated following of adventure-seekers making sponsored social media posts about your new line of durable backpacks.

Influencers built their following by being trustworthy and engaging. That means their recommendation of your product feels like a tip from a friend.

Influencers come in all sizes. Micro-influencers might have smaller audiences but super passionate fans.  Big celebrities have huge reach, but come with a higher price tag.  Choosing the right fit is key!

Sometimes, sending your product to a smaller influencer is enough to get a post. Bigger campaigns can involve hefty fees, commissions on sales, and all sorts of negotiations.

Paid Media Strategy Best Practices

illustration for defining goals

Define Your Goals

What do you want to achieve?  Increase website traffic?  Boost brand awareness? Drive sales?  Clarity on your goals informs all other decisions.

Goals are the compass guiding your paid media strategy. With them, you can avoid drifting aimlessly and wasting your advertising budget. Be as specific as possible when defining your goals. 

For example, instead of saying "increase website traffic,"  aim to "increase qualified website traffic by 15% within the next two months." Consider using the SMART framework to ensure your goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

illustration for target audience

Know Your Target Audience

Don't try to reach everyone.  Thoroughly understand your ideal customer's demographics, interests, pain points, and where they spend time online.

The success of your paid media campaigns hinges on your ability to identify and understand your target audience. Like fishing, you wouldn't use the same bait and cast your line in any random body of water.  

Gather detailed data to create a comprehensive picture of your ideal customer. Go beyond basic demographics (age, gender, location) and delve into their interests, online behaviors, challenges they face,  and what motivates their purchasing decisions.

illustration for ad channels

Choose the Right Channels

Where does your target audience congregate?  Select paid media platforms that align best with them and your campaign goals.

Remember that not all paid media channels are created equal. Each platform has its strengths, audience demographics, and advertising formats.  Research and carefully select the platforms that best align with where your target audience spends their time.  If you're promoting a B2B product, paid media channel like LinkedIn might be a better fit than TikTok.  Likewise, if you sell visually appealing products, focus on image-heavy social media channels like Instagram and Pinterest.

illustration for compelling ads

Craft Compelling Ad Creative

Eye-catching visuals, persuasive copy, and clear calls to action are crucial for grabbing attention and driving results. For example, Instead of a generic stock photo, a lifestyle shot of someone happily using your product in a real-world setting is far more engaging

Invest in high-quality visuals, whether it's attention-grabbing images or engaging videos.  Craft persuasive copy that speaks directly to your target audience's pain points and highlights the benefits of your product or service. For example, your social media posts could work around the phrases "Tired of struggling with this program? Our product makes it easy!"

Always include a clear call-to-action (CTA), telling the viewer exactly what you want them to do (e.g. visit your website, sign up for a newsletter, download an app).

illustration for maximizing ads

Maximize Targeting Options

Paid media's strength lies in its targeting.  Use the platform's available tools to laser-focus on the people most likely to respond.

Precision targeting is one of the most significant advantages of paid media. Most platforms offer a plethora of options to refine your audience. Go beyond the basics and leverage interests, behaviors, retargeting, and lookalike audiences. 

For instance, if you're an outdoor apparel brand, you could target people who follow hiking enthusiasts, have recently searched for "camping gear," or have visited your website but abandoned their shopping cart.

illustration for tracking ads

Track Your Results & Optimize

Analytics are your best friend! Monitor metrics like impressions, clicks, conversions, and cost-per-acquisition (CPA).  Use this data to optimize campaigns and improve performance.

Paid media is not a "set it and forget it" proposition. The beauty lies in its measurability. Closely track your analytics dashboard to identify patterns, successes, and areas for improvement. Are certain ads outperforming others? Are your campaigns reaching the desired audience? This valuable data helps you make informed optimization decisions that enhance your ROI.

When to Consider a Branding Agency for Paid Media

Paid media strategies can be tricky to master while also running your business. There are tons of resources out there, but sometimes, bringing in an expert team is the fastest way to level up your results. Here's when hiring an agency might be the right call:

  • You need specialized skills: Paid media isn't just about placing ads. Each platform (Google Ads, Facebook, etc.) has its own rules, targeting tools, and best practices. Agencies have specialists who live and breathe this stuff, saving you from costly rookie mistakes and getting the most out of your budget.
  • You need a bigger-picture strategy: Paid media shouldn't exist on an island.  A good agency sees how it fits into your overall marketing, ensuring it supports your brand's voice, vibes, and those all-important business goals.
  • You're spread too thin: Learning paid media takes time, and then there's the day-to-day management of campaigns. Agencies take this off your plate, letting you focus on the other areas of your business where your expertise is needed most.
  • It's time to go BIG. Maybe you're seeing success but want to reach more people or try new channels. Agencies have the resources and systems to scale up their efforts quickly and efficiently without sacrificing quality.

If any of this sounds familiar, it's time to level up your paid media strategy. Let's talk about how Evolv can help you! We bring a proven track record across various industries and platforms.  We don't just run ads; we become an extension of your team, focused on driving the growth and ROI your brand deserves.

Also check out our blog for more insights to trends in anything about digital advertising, marketing, and branding.

illustration for paid media

About the Author

Carl Undag

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Evolv's dedicated copywriter, blending storytelling prowess with business acumen for impactful results.

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