How to Create a Paid Media Strategy That Reaches New Customers

Are you reaching every potential customer with your marketing efforts?

For many small businesses, the initial focus of their marketing will likely emphasize content like blogs and social media posts. And that makes sense. Focusing on controllable content that’s budget-friendly and straightforward to track is a cost-effective way to get started.

But there’s a catch. While valuable, these channels may not be expansive enough in their reach and diversity to connect with all potential customers.

That’s why it’s so important to have an all-encompassing marketing plan that includes:

  • Owned media (the aforementioned blogs and social media posts),
  • Earned media (customer reviews, social media mentions, and media coverage), and
  • Paid media (pay-per-click ads, social media ads, and sponsored content).

In this article, we’re going to focus specifically on developing an effective paid media strategy. Of the three different types listed above, paid media represents the trickiest to get right, costliest to get wrong, and, yet, often the most important in reaching new customers.

What is Paid Media?

Let’s start by defining what we mean by “paid media.”

In marketing terms, paid media simply refers to any external marketing efforts that involve a payment to place your brand’s message or content in front of a target audience.

importance of paid media

It can utilize a wide range of platforms like:

  • Search engines (Google Ads);
  • Social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn ads);
  • Display ads on websites;
  • Traditional print and broadcast ads;
  • Sponsored content; and
  • Influencer partnerships.

The cost for placing paid advertising is almost equally as varied, operating on various pricing models such as:

Cost-Per-Click (CPC)

  • The amount you pay each time a user clicks on your ad.

Cost-Per-Thousand Impressions (CPM)

  • The cost of your ad per 1,000 impressions, counted each time your ad is shown.

Cost-Per-Action (CPA)

  • The cost you pay when a user takes a specific action, like making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter, as a result of clicking on your ad.

While all these options might seem a bit overwhelming at first, it’s important to remember that this flexibility in platform and pricing allows businesses to choose a model that best suits their campaign goals and budget.

Benefits of Paid Media Advertising

That level of targeting is just one of the advantages of a well-implemented paid media strategy. There are several beneficial characteristics and components, including:

  • Targeting Capabilities: As mentioned, one of the biggest advantages of paid media is the ability to target specific demographics, interests, behaviours, and even locations (incredibly effective for local businesses). This precision targeting allows small businesses to reach their ideal audience more effectively.
  • Measurable Results: With digital paid media, you can track a variety of metrics such as impressions, clicks, conversions, and return on investment. This data-driven approach allows for more precise measurement of campaign effectiveness and enables real-time adjustments.
  • Immediate Impact: Owned and earned media can take time to build momentum and show results. Paid media, however, offers immediate visibility. This makes it particularly useful for time-sensitive campaigns or for quickly boosting a brand’s online presence.
  • Brand Control: Paid media gives brands control over the message, placement, and timing of their advertising, allowing for a consistent and tailored brand presentation.
  • Complementary to Other Media: Paid media works best when used in conjunction with owned and earned media, creating a synergistic effect that amplifies overall marketing efforts.

Understanding the Differences Between Paid, Owned, and Earned Media

Speaking of other media, it’s important to draw a distinction between paid, owned, and earned media. Even though this article is focusing specifically on developing a paid media strategy, the effectiveness of paid media ads is often dependent on working in unison with the other two, as part of an all-encompassing marketing plan.

Each type represents a different way of reaching and engaging with audiences, and they work best in concert. Here’s a breakdown of their differences:

Owned Media

This refers to any channel that you control and create content for, including your website, blog, social media platforms, email newsletters, and any other content that your brand produces and controls.


  • Complete control;
  • Builds direct relationships with your audience;
  • Allows for consistent messaging; and
  • Can be a long-term asset.


  • Takes time to build an audience; and
  • Can be resource-intensive to create high-quality, engaging content and maintain regular posting on a social media platform.

Earned Media

This refers to publicity or exposure you earn from methods other than paid advertising. It includes word-of-mouth, customer reviews, media coverage, social media shares, and mentions by influencers or other third parties.


  • No direct cost (but often requires effort and strategy to generate);
  • Often considered the most credible form of media by consumers; and
  • Can significantly extend reach and build trust.


  • Difficult to control and predict; and
  • Can be positive or negative.

Paid Media

Again, this refers to any media you pay to use, including traditional advertising (like TV, radio, print ads) and digital advertising (like pay-per-click ads, social media ads, and sponsored content).


  • You control the messaging, placement, and timing;
  • Immediate and wide reach;
  • Precise targeting; and
  • Easy to measure results.


  • Requires financial investment proportional to the scale and reach of the media; and
  • Audiences can be skeptical of advertising messages.

We keep coming back to the importance of a well-balanced marketing plan — even as we focus on developing a strong paid media strategy — because when you incorporate all three types, you fully leverage their unique advantages while mitigating their limitations.

The Role of Paid Media in Reaching New Audiences

For instance, one of the advantages we’ve identified for paid media is its ability to reach audiences that other content can’t. While this has a lot to do with the targeted precision that paid media channels provide — platforms like Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and others offer sophisticated targeting options based on demographics, interests, behaviours, and more — it also stems from the vast reach and varied formats these platforms offer.

Paid media breaks through the barriers of organic reach, allowing businesses to place their message in front of individuals who are completely unaware of their brand. From the eye-catching visuals of Instagram ads to the detailed targeting of LinkedIn, paid media can tap into niche markets, engage passive browsers, and even re-engage past customers.

How to Use Paid Media Channels to Expand Your Reach

Each platform offers unique advantages for connecting with different audience segments, creating opportunities for businesses to expand their reach in ways that were previously unattainable.

  • Targeted Display Ads: The most common form of paid media allows you to utilize user data to display ads to those who fit your customer profile on various websites and social media platforms.
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Place ads in search engine results based on specific keywords, targeting users actively searching for related products or services.
  • Video Ads: Leverage platforms like YouTube to present engaging video ads targeted to users based on their viewing habits and interests.
  • Retargeting Campaigns: Re-engage users who have previously interacted with your brand but did not convert, through targeted ads reminding them of your products or services.
  • Influencer Partnerships: Collaborate with influencers to reach their followers, tapping into a new and engaged audience.
  • Email Marketing Campaigns: Use paid tools to reach wider audiences through targeted and personalized email campaigns.
  • Native Advertising: Blend your ads seamlessly with an external platform’s content, offering a less intrusive experience to attract potential customers.

Paid media’s ability to target specific groups, provide immediate visibility, and offer a range of platforms and formats makes it an essential part of any comprehensive marketing plan.

Crafting a Successful Paid Media Strategy

But to reap its unique benefits, you can’t just buy an ad here or there and hope for the best. Without a paid media strategy, you risk spending your budget inefficiently, missing your target audience, and failing to achieve your desired outcomes.

This is especially true for small businesses that can’t afford to test their luck with a haphazard approach. Instead, follow this step-by-step guide to developing an effective paid media strategy that will reach new customers.

Successful Paid Media Strategy

Step 1: Set Clear Objectives

  • Determine what you want to achieve with your paid media campaign. Common goals include increasing website traffic, generating leads, or boosting sales.
  • Ensure these objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

Step 2: Understand Your Target Audience

  • Conduct market research to identify and understand your ideal customers’ demographics, interests, behaviors, and online habits.
  • Use this information to create detailed customer personas.

Step 3: Select the Right Platforms

  • Choose advertising platforms where your target audience is most active. For instance, use Facebook or Instagram for a consumer audience, LinkedIn for a professional audience, and Google Ads for broad reach.
  • Consider the nature and format of each platform to see how it aligns with your campaign goals.

Step 4: Set a Budget

  • Decide on a budget based on your objectives and the potential return on investment. Consider the costs associated with different platforms and ad formats.
  • Plan for a mix of testing different strategies and scaling what works.

Step 5: Develop Engaging and Relevant Ad Content

  • Create ad content (images, videos, text) that resonates with your target audience. Ensure it’s engaging, clear, and aligned with your brand’s voice.
  • Include compelling calls-to-action (CTAs) to encourage audience engagement.

Step 6: Design Creative and Targeted Campaigns

  • Design your campaigns based on the customer personas and selected platforms. Tailor your message and creative elements to appeal to your specific audience segments.
  • Use A/B testing to compare different versions of your ads to determine what works best.

Step 7: Implement Targeted Advertising

  • Use the targeting options provided by each platform to direct your ads to specific segments of your audience. This can include targeting by location, age, interests, behaviors, and more.
  • Consider retargeting campaigns to reach people who have previously interacted with your brand but haven’t converted.

Step 8: Launch and Monitor the Campaign

  • After setting up your campaign, launch it and start monitoring the results from day one.
  • Use analytics tools provided by the advertising platforms to track performance metrics like impressions, clicks, conversions, and cost per conversion.

Step 9: Analyze and Optimize

  • Regularly review the performance of your campaigns. Look for trends and insights that can help you optimize future campaigns.
  • Test different variables like ad copy, imagery, targeting parameters, and timing to improve campaign performance.

Step 10: Evaluate and Iterate

  • After each campaign, evaluate its performance against your initial objectives.
  • Learn from both successes and failures to refine your approach. Identify what worked and what can be improved.

Step 11: Scale and Diversify

  • Once you find a winning formula, consider increasing your budget to scale the successful elements of your campaign.
  • Explore diversifying into other platforms or ad formats to expand your reach.

Remember, two of the biggest benefits of a paid media strategy are flexibility and responsiveness to data. Use those benefits to your advantage.

Continuously testing, learning, and adapting based on campaign performance will help you fine-tune your strategy to consistently attract new customers to your small business through paid media campaigns.

How Should a Small Business Budget for Paid Media?

A large part of that fine-tuning is learning how to budget for different paid media channels.

Just as the larger paid media strategy demands a thoughtful approach, so too does this single step in the larger process. Budgeting for paid media isn’t just about allocating funds for an ad spend; it’s about understanding where your investment will have the most impact.

This requires a deep dive into both the potential costs and returns of each channel, considering factors like audience reach, platform engagement, and expected conversion rates.

To effectively budget for paid media, small businesses should:

Understand Your Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC):

  • Calculate the cost of acquiring a new customer. This includes all marketing and sales expenses over a specific period divided by the number of new customers acquired.
  • Understanding CAC helps in setting a realistic budget and expecting a reasonable ROI.

Allocate a Percentage of Revenue:

  • A common approach is to allocate a certain percentage of your total revenue to marketing. For small businesses, this is typically between 7-12% of annual revenue, depending on the industry and growth stage.
  • Within your marketing budget, decide what portion will go to paid media. This can vary based on past experiences, industry benchmarks, and business goals.

Consider the Sales Funnel:

  • Allocate your budget according to where you need the most impact in your sales funnel. For instance, if you need more leads, invest more in lead generation campaigns.
  • The budget should reflect the customer journey, from awareness to conversion.

Research Cost of Advertising on Desired Platforms:

  • Different platforms have different costs. Research the cost of advertising on platforms where your target audience spends their time (e.g., Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn).
  • Look into the average cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-impression (CPM) on these platforms to estimate your budget needs.
Small Business Paid Media Strategy

Start Small and Test:

  • Start with a smaller budget ad spend to test which platforms and ad formats work best for your business.
  • Use this initial phase as a learning opportunity to gather data and insights.

Focus on ROI:

  • Monitor the return on investment of your campaigns closely. The goal is to generate more revenue from the ads than what you are spending.
  • Adjust your budget based on the campaigns that yield the best ROI.

Consider Additional Costs:

  • Factor in additional costs such as ad design, copywriting, and tools or software needed for campaign management and analytics.
  • These costs should be part of your overall paid media budget.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Paid Media Campaigns

Even with a well-planned budget, businesses, particularly smaller ones, can fall into traps that waste resources and diminish the impact of their campaigns. To ensure the effectiveness of your paid media strategy, be mindful of these five major pitfalls:

  1. Unclear Objectives: Without specific, measurable goals, assessing your campaign’s success becomes difficult. Set objectives that are precise, achievable, and in line with your business strategy.
  2. Poor Understanding of Your Audience: Not knowing who you’re targeting can lead to irrelevant ads and wasted spend. Conduct thorough research to understand your audience’s demographics, interests, and behaviors.
  3. Neglecting the Customer Journey: Failing to consider the customer’s stage in the buying process can lead to inappropriate messaging. Customize your ads for different phases, from awareness to decision.
  4. Ignoring Campaign Analytics: Simply setting up a campaign and not monitoring it can lead to inefficiencies. Regularly analyze campaign data and make adjustments to targeting, budget, and ad creatives as necessary.
  5. Relying Solely on Paid Media: Over-reliance on paid media while neglecting other forms of media can create an unbalanced marketing strategy, in which all potential customers aren’t being reached.

By being aware of these common mistakes and actively working to avoid them, businesses can significantly improve the effectiveness of their paid media strategies, leading to better ROI and overall marketing success.

Integrating Paid Media with Owned and Earned Media

At the bottom of the list of common mistakes to avoid, we once again come back to the significance of a holistic marketing approach that integrates paid media with owned and earned.

Integrating Paid Media

We’d be remiss if we continued to emphasize the importance of combining paid, owned, and earned media without also looking at the practical ways to achieve a unified and powerful integration.

Align Messaging:

  • Develop a unified marketing strategy ensuring that paid, owned, and earned media complement and reinforce each other, with consistent messaging and branding across all platforms.

Leverage Owned Media to Enhance Paid Media Campaigns:

  • Utilize content from your owned channels like blog posts or videos in your paid ads and direct traffic from these ads to your website or blog to boost engagement.

Utilize Earned Media to Inform and Support Paid Media Advertising Efforts:

  • Incorporate insights from earned media, such as customer feedback and reviews, to refine your paid media strategies, and use positive reviews or press mentions in your paid ads to build trust and credibility.

Data and Insights Sharing:

  • Analyze data across all media types to understand audience preferences and behaviours, using these insights to optimize and inform your strategy across all platforms, ensuring a cohesive and effective marketing approach.

Content Repurposing:

  • Repurpose high-performing owned content into formats suitable for paid advertising, such as transforming a successful blog post into a sponsored post on social media, and convert customer testimonials (earned media) into case studies or success stories for your website, highlighting them in your paid campaigns.

This approach leads to a more consistent brand message, better audience engagement, and ultimately, improved marketing performance.

Partner with Harvard Excelerate

A comprehensive paid media plan is an essential part of an overall marketing strategy. For small businesses looking to expand their reach this way, partnering with the right marketing agency can offer an unparalleled blend of expertise and customized solutions.

At Harvard Excelerate, we understand better than anyone the unique challenges and opportunities facing small businesses. We know there’s no one-size-fits all approach that works, and that’s why we create strategies that align precisely with your specific business goals.

By choosing to collaborate with Harvard Excelerate, you gain access to:

  • Tailored Campaigns: Customized digital marketing strategies that resonate with your unique audience and business objectives.
  • Advanced Analytics: Insightful campaign analytics to guide data-driven decisions, ensuring continuous optimization and maximized ROI.
  • Strategic Integration: Expert integration of paid, owned, and earned media, creating a cohesive and impactful marketing plan.

We began this article by asking if you’re reaching every potential customer with your marketing efforts. To do that, we know it takes a strong paid media strategy that gets the most out of your marketing budget.

With Harvard Excelerate, no potential customer will be left behind. Connect with us today for a free quote, and take the first step towards an all-encompassing marketing plan that reaches new customers and improves your bottom line.

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