If you haven’t been around digital marketing in the past, then it’s likely you feel overwhelmed with the terminology. Ask a digital marketer how he or she would explain what they do, and you’ll receive as many different responses as those you ask. And what’s more, digital marketing is changing and evolving almost on a daily basis.

Digital marketing is incredibly important for businesses with any kind of online presence. According to research done by Forrester, during nearly two-thirds of the buying cycle (early research phase), your prospects are using online search, talking to peers and reading what the experts have to say to form their opinion of you before they attempt to call you and generate a lead for your sales team.

Because of the way buyers are engaging with companies online, it’s important to know how it could work with your business. We’ve broken down digital marketing into 4 easy to remember categories. These categories are likely to remain unchanged over the next few years and they are commonly used in the industry as reference points, but the channels under each will likely continue to expand rapidly. Understanding the foundation, though, is essential in order to understand the specifics. Let’s dig into what those 4 foundations of digital marketing include:

PAID

Top Rank Blog explains Paid media like this: "Often thought of as ‘traditional’ online advertising through display ads, pay per click search ads and sponsorships. The pro for paid media is its ability to be implemented pretty much on-demand, the ability to have some degree of control and also that it scales. The growing popularity of social advertising on sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (YouTube as well) adds another option for marketers to gain presence in channels where consumers and buyers are spending their time. The appearance of brand messages and content within paid media can work together with social sharing and organic search."

What to consider when evaluating paid: While Paid Media can bring in fast results in the form of leads, clicks, and engagements, it’s important to remember that you are buying this audience. If your audience hadn’t seen your paid ad, would they have known your company existed? While Paid Media certainly has its benefits, the leads and engagements aren’t always of highest quality as you are essentially casting a wide net to garner attention.

OWNED

This is the content that your business creates, like a blog, or the free download you can get from a banner in the sidebar of your favorite website. It’s where you spend your money in SEO. "B2B marketers invest over $16 billion per year in creating content designed primarily to produce leads," according to Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council. He adds "Too many [marketers] are failing buyers with overly promotional and overly technical content that doesn’t adequately address market challenges and customer needs. B2B buyers are looking for content that’s original, consultative, and highly pertinent to where they are in their decision-making process."

What to consider when evaluating owned: Owned Media is typically the life blood of the company, but it does take time to build up. No one else is controlling the cost or the content, so you have free reign in this area to be creative and to try new things. Once your Owned Media strategy is rolling, it will typically convert your audience much faster and produce stronger leads as the audience is finding your company organically.

EARNED

Top Rank Blog explains Earned Media as, "The result of public & media relations efforts to gain coverage in publications – on and offline. Or essentially, brand presence within media without having to advertise. This definition also extends to brands that behave online in such a way that ‘customers empowered to publish’ create content on the brand’s behalf inspiring buzz and word of mouth."

What to consider when evaluating earned: Oh the power of earned media! When someone else of authority talks about your brand or company (think thought leader, columnist, reporter, or newscaster), it can create a great snowball effect of exposure. What if a reporter gives your company a shout and links back to your website in a viral post? You will instantly get exposure and will earn credibility.

SHARED

Social web participation and interaction with consumers on content on sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that results in content is "Shared Media" since it’s a result of a shared interaction. Top Rank Blog says that, "Because of the nature of social sharing and engagement on social media sites, Shared Media can propagate across an individual’s network to others, and so on and so on. It’s important to remember that Paid and Owned Media can inspire Shared Media. And Shared Media can inspire Earned Media."

Having others talk about your company or brand on social networks and through shared media can instantly help traffic to your website or brick and mortar store. Think about the power of ratings and reviews for your favorite restaurant, or a hot new co-working space opening up, or a post that has gone viral congratulating a company for hitting a new milestone. Audience participation with Shared Media is a powerful tool, and usually not one that can be created – it has to happen organically.

Does your marketing organization refer to media in these terms? Do you use different definitions? If you’re just starting out in digital marketing, what types of media do you think could work best for your audience?

Shawn Herring is chief marketing officer of Indianapolis-based Torchlite Marketing.

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