How Consultants Capture Paid, Owned & Earned Attention

You need eyeballs, but not all attention is the same.

People can't work with you if they don't know you exist. Still, many consultants ignore this before planning their marketing initiatives. In this post, I want to share a helpful distinction you can apply to promote your consulting business.

The Attention Challenge

I've previously written about attention here, here, and here.

For your business to thrive, you need to continually encourage new people to initiate their buying journey with you. And remain relevant for the ones that already know you. To do that, you will need their attention.

There are two ways for people to notice you:

  1. You get in front of them. You proactively engage in activities and initiatives that stand out to them, and direct their attention to you or your message.
  2. You make it as easy as possible for them to notice you. You create assets, relationships, and a reputation that people will likely come across.

Both work if done right. An effective strategy to increase your visibility depends on your positioning, offering mix, and circumstances, but will likely include a mix of them.

The key challenge to build awareness for you and your services is profitability. If you had an unlimited budget, your attention-grabbing mission would be way too easy to accomplish. Hire all online and offline advertising you can.

Is it possible NOT to notice something when it appears in front of you 50 times every day? Even when we ignore the unintended consequences of bombarding people with ads, getting in front of your buyers everywhere all the time is expensive and can't be sustained for long.

Getting Your Buyers' Attention Profitably

Getting someone's attention is costly - you pay for it with your time and/or money. Here are examples of the true cost of popular marketing initiatives:

  • You pay with your money: Paid advertising, event sponsorships, direct outreach initiatives such as cold emailing and direct mail.
  • You pay with your time: Blogging or thought leadership, hosting a podcast, networking activities, public speaking, writing a book.

It's worth noticing that this classification is not a given. If you don't have the budget to hire an agency or run ads, you can message prospects yourself. It will cost you your time, not money. But the need to balance your time and budget when choosing initiatives is not the main lesson here.

Getting someone's attention is costly, but that doesn't mean you'll need to pay for it every time. Once people know you, they can choose to voluntarily give it to you for free.

  • Signs that you command attention: You often get referrals and mentions of your brand on social media, earned industry-specific awards, or get a considerable amount of organic traffic to your website.

All of these will keep driving eyeballs to your business without any additional cost. But this takes time. You often need to pay for attention until you can command it.

Once you understand how attention can be bought and earned, we can look at the pros and cons of what we call paid, owned, and earned attention for independent consultants. This can help you plan your marketing initiatives and measure your progress.

Here's a small summary with examples and the pros and cons:

Paid attention: It refers to the attention you get by paying a third party to get in front of your target audience.

  • Examples of initiatives: Pay-per-click (PPC) and retargeting campaigns, event sponsorships, print ads, podcast ads, paid influencers, paid content promotion, boosted social posts.
  • Pros: Extremely quick to get up-and-running, can be easily scaled up and down, increases your luck surface area, and allows you to track results in detail for further optimization.
  • Cons: It's not self-sustaining, almost always has lower effectiveness than owned and earned attention (due to ad blindness), it's might not be suitable for consultants that have a small total addressable audience, it's intrusive and can reduce perceived trustworthiness due to the lack of expertise validation.

Owned attention: It refers to the attention you can draw from your marketing platforms which are under your direct control.

  • Examples of initiatives: Publishing content on your website or blog (posts, ebooks, case studies, white papers), hosting a podcast, press releases, creating print and digital collateral, newsletters and email marketing in general, running workshops or webinars for your private community.
  • Pros: Can be used to educate, nurture, and earn trust from your prospects, allows you to design and control the message and experience, is more sustainable since you own the audience and don't rely on third-party platforms.
  • Cons: It takes time to reach its full potential (growing slowly at first, but compounding and accelerating over time), overinvesting in it might lead you to neglect the importance of weak ties.

Earned attention: It refers to the attention that your audience or a third party voluntarily chooses to give to you.

  • Examples: Word-of-mouth and non-stimulated social media mentions of your brand, receiving press coverage and being recommended by third parties, earning industry-specific awards, getting backlinks from other respected websites or ranking well on search engines.
  • Pros: Gives you "free" visibility and attention, leads to a lower client acquisition cost, provides a good measure of your brand value, messages are highly credible and in some cases can go viral.
  • Cons: Earned media is unpredictable, and it's extremely difficult to grow your consulting business through word-of-mouth and referrals alone.

If these definitions created more questions than answers for you, you're not alone. Creating, implementing, and reviewing your marketing strategy is complex. Getting specialized help is the best way to do it.

If you choose to do it yourself, the trick is to keep it simple. You want your visibility-building plan to:

  • Be aligned with your goals (growth, sales, and marketing).
  • Take into consideration your context and current situation (your skills and capabilities, pipeline, marketing budget, existing relationships).
  • Leverage what you've learned from past initiatives (what worked, what didn't work, what can be tested and iterated).

If you are a specialized independent consultant you need less attention than you think. Having a clear positioning strategy, knowing who you want to get in front of, and understanding how they think and behave is a much bigger challenge.

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