Marketing Channels: An Essential Digital Guide
As a marketer, you know that digital marketing is essential for promoting your brand and products.
But with the digital marketing landscape evolving on an ongoing basis and there being an ever-expanding list of digital marketing channels, it can be difficult to know where you should focus.
In this guide, we'll discuss seven essential digital marketing channels that you need to master to be able to construct a digital marketing strategy that achieves all your business objectives.
In this essential marketing channel guide, you’ll discover:
- Social media marketing
- Email marketing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Content marketing
- PPC/Paid search
- Display and video
- Affiliate marketing
- Word of mouth/referrals
- Choosing your marketing channels — factors to consider
- Frequently asked questions
Social media marketing.
Social media can be one of the most effective channels for digital marketing that businesses can use to maximize their reach, engage with customers and convert sales.
It's important to differentiate between how you will approach organic social media and paid social media.
Organic social is best summarised as the 'unpaid posts' that sit on your different social media profiles. It can be challenging to gain broad reach with organic social, and content is likely to only reach your followers — unless one of your posts is lucky enough to go viral.
However, this does not mean that you shouldn't invest in organic social. It doesn't eat into your marketing budget to post organically, and it can be a great approach for engaging with your audience.
An active organic social presence can also help give your brand credibility and provide potential customers with the answers they might be looking for. It's estimated that 54% of people research their product choices on social media, so keeping your organic social profiles up to date with relevant information is important.
Brands have more control over their paid social activity and can determine their audience, how many people they reach, and the marketing objective they are looking to achieve. For example, paid social can be optimized for various objectives, such as branding, engagement branding, awareness, engagement, site traffic, lead generation, conversions, or retargeting.
With the right targeting and budget behind your paid social posts, it's possible to achieve great results with social media marketing.
Some of the most common social media platforms for brands to engage with customers on are:
Facebook is part of the Meta collection of apps and technologies and is arguably the most popular social media platform.
Facebook's audience demographics are diverse, and it continues to be the best place to reach a slightly older demographic. It is estimated that over 220 million people in the USA use Facebook.
For businesses wanting to understand Facebook better and build a Facebook marketing strategy, the Facebook Blueprint page is a useful starting point.
Facebook Business Manager is a good way to manage your pages and build out an effective paid social strategy.
Instagram is another social media platform owned and operated by Meta, which is tailored more towards engaging photo and video posts.
Instagram has over 120 million active users in the USA and is popular with younger audiences.
Paid social ads on Instagram can be managed via Facebook Business Manager.
Twitter is a social media platform that allows users to post short messages called tweets. Twitter can be used for various purposes, such as promoting your business, engaging with customers, and sharing news and information.
Twitter has over 390 million active users and is popular with a wide range of audiences.
Twitter Ads' targeting capabilities are impressive, and they allow businesses to target their ads to a tailored audience. A great guide has been put together for businesses looking to achieve success on Twitter.
LinkedIn is a social networking site for professionals, and it's the world's largest business network. It is estimated that LinkedIn has over 800 million registered members in more than 200 countries and territories around the globe.
LinkedIn allows professionals and businesses to share their knowledge by publishing articles or engaging with questions that others may have.
LinkedIn offers many features that are designed to help businesses grow and connect with the right audiences, including a LinkedIn Ads solution.
Other social media platforms.
Social media is an ever-evolving area. Other social media platforms that can help deliver success as part of a broad digital marketing strategy include TikTok, Pinterest and Snapchat.
Advantages and disadvantages of social media marketing.
✓ There is a great opportunity for global reach with social, and the targeting capabilities are great.
x A lot of work and testing needs to go into your ad creative for it to deliver and capture attention in a crowded marketplace.
Social media marketing tips.
- To make life easier, consider using post scheduling software for your content. But don’t forget to be spontaneous too.
- Test different times for posting organically to see which posts get more reach.
- Include links to your social media platforms everywhere: on your website, in your emails, and employee signatures so that people can easily follow your brand.
- Tailor your social media content to each platform. What may work for Facebook might not do the trick for Instagram.
Email marketing remains one of the most important channels of digital marketing strategies.
59% of survey respondents revealed that marketing emails influence their purchase decisions, proving that this channel is an effective way to sell products and services
Email marketing involves sending emails to 'opted in' contacts via solutions like Adobe’s Marketo Engage to build relationships, convert prospects into buyers, and turn existing customers into loyal brand advocates.
As a general rule, most emails can be classified into one of four categories:
1. Prospecting. Softer informational and educational email designed to introduce the customer to your brand, your expertise, and add value.
2. Sales. Emails with the intention to prompt a site visit and a sale, often including special offers or current discounts.
3. Retargeting. Emails that are sent to customers or prospects who have left the site without purchasing or who have abandoned their basket at checkout.
4. Post-sales referral/review. Sent to customers after a purchase to get their ratings and reviews.
Advantages and disadvantages of email marketing.
✓ Email is often a low-cost part of a marketing strategy and can deliver a great ROI.
✓ With correct segmentation, email marketing can reach customers in all funnel stages.
x You're limited by the size of your opted in email list.
Email marketing tips:
- Images are blocked by default in most web email clients. Make sure your email makes sense without images.
- Test different subject lines to determine which ones lead to higher open rates and conversions.
- Be careful of things that might make your email get flagged by SPAM filters. Certain keywords in subject lines, all CAPS, etc., should be avoided.
- Keep your emails short, sweet, and to the point. Most people won’t read paragraphs upon paragraphs of text.
- Emails are particularly powerful when they are relatable — the most opened emails related to hobbies.
- They are also most effective when they are sent at the right times.
Learn more about email marketing best practices.
Search engine optimization (SEO).
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the ranking of a website on search engines. The higher the ranking, the more likely people are to find the website, and the higher your website traffic numbers from organic search.
It's estimated that 68% of online experiences begin with a search engine, so the primary goal of SEO is to bring qualified visitors to your website so that you can eventually convert them into customers.
The fact that 90.63% of website pages don’t receive any organic search traffic from Google shows just how important SEO strategy is. Regardless of your business or industry, SEO can help you thrive organically.
It's generally considered that there are three main areas of search engine optimization, which are all critically important if you're going to rank well in search engines:
- Technical. Things such as your site structure, crawlability, site speed, structured data markup.
- On-site content. Making sure your on-site content positions you as an authority, and relevant content is regularly and consistently updated.
- Off-page SEO. If others see your content and find it valuable, they may consider linking through to your page. This is seen as a vote of confidence by search engines.
Advantages and disadvantages of SEO.
✓ If you're successful with your SEO efforts, it can deliver amazing traffic with zero cost per click. You may even be able to reduce your investment in PPC if certain terms start ranking organically.
x But to do SEO right takes time. There are no quick wins. The results of the work you invest in today may not be realized for over six months.
- Many areas of digital marketing can be completed by an in-house team. For SEO (especially technical SEO) you will probably benefit from consulting with experts.
- SEO best practices are always evolving, so stay in the loop by subscribing to newsletters and reading sites like Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Land.
- Add ongoing, high-quality content on a regular basis to show search engines that you are an authoritative source that deserves high rankings.
Content marketing uses high-quality content to answer questions and help your target audience make informed decisions.
It is often less promotional and more educational than other digital marketing campaigns.
Some of the most common types of content marketing assets include:
- Blog posts
- White papers
- Case studies
If your company is solving a complex problem, expanding to a new market, or trying to prove a concept, developing a solid content marketing strategy is the way to go.
Compared to traditional marketing channels, content marketing generates 3 times more leads per dollar and costs 62% less.
Advantages and disadvantages of content marketing.
✓ Content marketing can be a great way to establish your expertise and authority in an area and provide value to your audience.
✓ Answering the questions that your audience has is a great way to move them along the purchase cycle.
x It can be quite difficult to track an accurate ROI from content marketing unless you're working with a multi-touch attribution solution available on platforms such as Marketo Engage.
Content marketing tips.
- Ensure your content is consistent with your brand voice. Your reports should not have completely different messaging than your blog post, even if the way in which you present the message (the “tone”) varies.
- Format your content creatively with headlines, bold text, and images so that it’s appealing and scannable.
- For measures of success, use data such as views, likes, retweets, and leads generated, and make tweaks as required.
Paid search (PPC).
Paid search, also known as pay-per-click (PPC), is a form of online advertising that allows businesses to have their ads displayed when someone searches for a particular keyword or product, but only pay when someone takes action on an ad.
Because of its flexibility and ability to reach users that have a clear intent, PPC advertising is often seen as one of the most important digital marketing channels.
Google and Bing are the dominant search engines, with a combined share of over 94% (91% Google, 3.5% Bing) and both have friendly and intuitive paid search management platforms in Google Ads and Bing Ads.
Both solutions offer great training courses for those new to paid search. The Google Skillshop is worth checking out even for seasoned search engine marketing pros who want to brush up on the latest developments or re-take their accreditation.
As a broad generalization, the opportunities to have your brand appear in Paid Search can be broken down into two categories:
This is where a text ad is displayed for a particular keyword or search query, with some specific messaging about the brand.
In most cases, the more general your keyword is, the more expensive the cost of your ad will be.
“Purse”, for example, will likely cost more than “cheap leather purse for women”.
The relevancy of your website and the relevancy of your ad will also help in determining where you appear in the paid search listings, and the price you pay in the auction.
From a messaging perspective, automation is becoming more common in paid search. Advertisers are now encouraged to provide up to 15 descriptions and up to 4 headlines per ad, with Google choosing which are shown to searchers based on what it considers most relevant to their query.
Setting up a Google Shopping campaign can be a great way to promote your products to potential customers. When someone searches for a product that you sell, your ad will appear as one of the paid search results.
To get started, you’ll need to create a Merchant Center account and connect it to your Google Ads account. You’ll also need to create product data feeds for each of the products that you want to advertise. The product data feeds will include information such as the name of the product, the price, the URL for the product page, and images of the product.
Advantages and disadvantages of paid search.
✓ You have control over which keywords, search queries, or product searches you appear on.
✓ Users generally have a level of intent (often mid or lower funnel) when searching, which means if you reach them with the right message there is a strong opportunity for conversion.
x For some products or businesses, search volume is limited — you can only show if people are searching!
x Paid search can be costly — you pay for every click to your website.
Paid search tips:
- Align your Paid Search activity with SEO. If you're ranking well organically, do you need to be there on paid search?
- Use digital marketing tools like Ahrefs or SpyFu for keyword research, and to understand the marketing efforts of your competitors.
- Continually test and evolve your paid search campaign.
- Make sure your product feed is regularly updated for accurate shopping results.
Display and video.
Display and video advertising is often sold on auction-based marketplaces.
It is possible to self-serve your display and video buys via solutions like Google Ads, but you can often access a wider range of available inventory from specific display or video networks.
Display and video are typically charged on a CPM-based (Cost Per Mille) model, where advertisers pay a fixed amount for every 1,000 impressions that are delivered.
One thing that is important to understand as an advertiser is the viewability of your ads. An 'impression' is often classed as when an ad has been served – not when it has been seen. Keep an eye on your viewable CPM and make sure it isn't too far away from what you're willing to pay.
Display and video marketing are often used for two main objectives; top of funnel awareness activity, or lower-funnel retargeting activity — showing ads to people that have been to your site but haven't yet converted.
Advantages and disadvantages of display and video.
✓ Display and video can be great ways to reach a wide audience at scale.
x From a prospecting perspective, it can be hard to tie back activity to a clear ROI unless you have a multi-touch attribution solution similar to the technology available with Marketo Engage.
x Some marketers question the value of display and video retargeting in the path to conversion.
Display and video tips.
- To get the most out of your display and video marketing activity, you need to get your audience targeting right.
- To achieve cut-through, and grab the audience's attention, your ads need to stand out.
- Make sure that videos can be understood with the sound turned off.
- Consider employing a frequency cap for retargeting activity so you don’t 'bombard' users.
Affiliate marketing is a process by which businesses encourage other websites to promote their products or services in exchange for a commission on any sales generated.
It can be a simple but effective way to increase your reach and drive more traffic to your website.
As a digital marketing channel, the affiliate channel can be incredibly cost-effective for businesses, as you only pay when someone actually buys something as a result of clicking on a link from one of your partner publishers.
Voucher code websites are commonly affiliate websites, but it's also possible to partner with high-quality content and comparison websites.
To get started in affiliate marketing an advertiser will need a network.
Affiliate networks act as the 'middle-men' between advertisers and publishers, helping ensure everything is tracked and the right commission is paid.
Advantages and disadvantages of affiliate marketing.
✓ Advertisers only pay affiliates when there is a sale, so affiliate marketing is a very low-risk online marketing channel.
x Because of this 'pay on results' model, it can be challenging for smaller or lesser-known brands to get promotion. Affiliates will prefer the safer bets of established brands.
Affiliate marketing tips:
- It's important to help affiliates understand how you want to be promoted. Share style guides, banners, visuals, etc to help them represent you the way that you want.
- Affiliates only get paid when there is a sale. For smaller or lesser-known brands, you may need to build a relationship with affiliates to encourage them to promote you.
- Make sure you understand the 'going rate' for commissions in your industry. While it is technically possible for you to launch a program paying 2% commission, if all your competitors are offering affiliates 8% it is likely to impact the coverage available.
Word of mouth/referrals.
Word of mouth marketing uses conversation to spread information or opinions about products and services from one person to another. Since over 79% of people say user-generated content plays a vital role in their purchasing decisions, word of mouth marketing is very powerful.
Content created by your customers and influencers can help you leverage word of mouth marketing. It offers free, organically generated marketing and brand awareness.
It may also help you build social proof and most importantly, increase your conversions and sales. Word of mouth marketing is ideal if you’ve been in business for quite some time and established a loyal following of satisfied customers who are willing to vouch for your brand.
Referral marketing tips.
- Create an exceptional customer experience. Go above and beyond to exceed their expectations so that they’re more likely to refer your brand to their network.
- Encourage user-generated content. To do so, create contests and quizzes on social media, offer rewards, and ask questions.
- Push ratings and reviews. Ask your customers to review their experience with you on Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, and other relevant review sites.
Choosing your marketing channels: factors to consider.
Defining your proposition.
When it comes to digital marketing, having a clear and concise proposition is essential. This is what will set your business apart from the competition and motivate customers to take action.
You should define your proposition and your audience, then ensure consistency in messaging across all digital marketing channels.
There are a few key things to keep in mind when defining your proposition.
- What is your unique selling point?
- What makes you different from everyone else?
- What are the benefits of doing business with you?
- What can customers expect if they choose to work with you?
- What are your core values?
Defining your audience and messaging.
Creating buyer personas can help you get a better understanding of who your target audience is and what their needs are. Personas are fictional representations of your target audience that include details about their demographics and psychographics.
When you know what your target audience wants, you can better position your company to serve them. And when you understand their interests and motivations, you can create content and marketing communications that resonate with them.
If you have an understanding of your proposition, and a clear persona (or personas) in mind, you can then start thinking about which messages might be right to reach your audience — and the best marketing channels to communicate them.
Remember that it's important to have a degree of consistency in messaging across channels.
Crafting a strategy.
With the following points covered, you're in a reasonable place to think about crafting or adjusting your digital marketing strategy:
- An understanding of the 8 main digital marketing channels
- A clear understanding of your proposition
- Audience personas
- Clear consistent messaging
It's likely that you're going to have a finite budget to work with, so it's important to think about which of the channels are going to be right for you and your objectives. It's unlikely you'll be able to do 'everything’.
It is often recommended to have a digital marketing strategy that covers all stages of a consumer's funnel to purchase, for example:
- Some brand awareness activity (video)
- Some top-of-funnel activity (content affiliates, content marketing)
- Some mid-funnel activity (PPC generic keywords)
- Some lower-funnel activity (display retargeting, voucher code affiliates)
Diversification and measurement.
It's possible to review the performance of each of your digital marketing channels within each of their native platforms.
But this isn't without its issues, as each channel doesn't have visibility of the others.
So, for example, if Order #1234 has had a display, PPC, and affiliate 'touchpoint' on the path to conversion and you're using native platforms to measure — you're likely to be counting the same sale three times when measuring the effectiveness of each of the individual digital marketing channels.
If your marketing activity is at a level that warrants it, look for a multi-touch attribution solution such as Marketo Engage that helps connect all touchpoints and provides accurate insight into the performance of each marketing channel.
Frequently asked questions about marketing channels.
What is a digital marketing channel?
Digital marketing channels are platforms you can use to reach your target audiences online. They might include social media, search engines or websites. Digital marketing channels give you the opportunity to sell products, build brand awareness and position yourself within a given industry.
What’s an example of a digital marketing channel?
Examples of digital marketing channels could be social media, paid search, video and display or search engines. These can all be used in different ways to sell, market and build awareness. For example, you might use Google Shopping to sell products based on search queries, or Twitter to join online conversations with your target market.
How do you choose the best digital marketing channel for your business?
No two businesses are alike — so it’s essential to have a digital marketing strategy that works for you. Before you get started, be sure to:
- Have a clear understanding of costs and pricing
- Know your objectives
- Research the market carefully
Create a robust digital marketing strategy with ease.
Regardless of your target audience, offerings, or goals, a digital marketing strategy can help you take your business to the next level.
A robust tool like Marketo Engage can help you implement a variety of channels and track your success. Use it to automate and maximize your marketing efforts at every stage.
Intrigued? Take an interactive tour today.