We’ve all seen how profoundly the Internet has disrupted industries such as music, travel and even florists. But what’s easy to miss is that it’s not even close to finished yet. In fact, the Internet’s impact is just getting started in most other industries. And it’s also revolutionizing business practices across all industries.

One of these is marketing. Yet most companies have no idea of how big a change digital is bringing, and they certainly aren’t prepared for what’s coming.

As with any such change however, there are opportunities as well as threats. The companies that are aware of the transition and find ways to use it to their advantage will be the net beneficiaries. Those that do not are likely to slowly fade into obscurity.

No Longer the Heart of the Action

For the vast majority of us, we’ve always defined marketing as the media we buy in order to gain awareness and exposure. I may buy newspaper, radio, magazine or even paid-search ads. Alternatively, I may pay to set up a booth at a trade show. The reality is, I’m paying a fee for exposure for a finite period of time. When I stop paying, my marketing is discontinued. So, in essence, we’ve been conditioned to think of marketing in terms of campaigns with finite time spans.

But the Internet is changing all of this. And for most of us, it’s changing it for the better. Imagine marketing campaigns with an almost infinite work life—ones that never stop working for you. This is the new reality for companies that adapt to the new system, and there is a distinct advantage if you’re an early mover.

Have I piqued your interest yet? Let me explain in more detail. Think of the new world of marketing in terms of three concepts:

Paid media: This is our traditional view of media. It’s media we pay for, and when we stop paying, the ads stop.

Earned media: This is media attention that we earn, generally in the form of press coverage or word of mouth. If someone feels very strongly about the quality of our products or services, or a particular piece of content or news, they may share it. In these cases, we as as a company have “earned” the attention.

Owned media: As a result of the internet and social media, we now have our own publishing platforms that we control, such as an email list, blog, Facebook page or Twitter profile. In essence, we can build our own media and circulation by building out our owned media list. For example, if I have an email list of 100,000 (of prospects who have opted in, not a list I’ve purchased), that’s more than the circulation of many small-city newspapers. Even better, the people on this list have prequalified themselves as being interested. This was not possible just 15 years ago, unless you were willing to do direct mailings, which are terrifically expensive.

The Advantages of the New Media Mix

For most companies, the old, pre-Internet marketing mix largely consisted of paid media, with very little earned media and little or no owned media. Today, those companies that are in the know are rapidly building out their owned media circulations, by exchanging content for email addresses or Facebook and Twitter likes.

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