Picking the right channel is a big part of any good marketing strategy. Channels are very different, and what works perfectly on one will totally flop on another.
There are loads of digital marketing channels. All of them have different formats, different audiences, and different aims. Some are designed to build community through image and video sharing (Instagram). Some are designed to keep friends and family in touch (Facebook). Some are designed to put people in touch directly (email), and some are explicitly designed to help you advertise your brand (PPC).
Each and every digital marketing channel deserves an in-depth exploration of its own. And that’s exactly what I’ve done in my book, ‘Marketing Strategy’. If you want to know everything about both digital and offline marketing channels, you cannot get a better guide than my book.
But, if you just want a brief primer on what each digital channel is and how you use it, here’s my quick guide to digital marketing channels:
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. If you’ve spent more than a few moments in marketing, content creation, or any related industry you will already be familiar with SEO. So I’ll try not to bore you too much with old information!
SEO isn’t so much a ‘channel’ as a tactic to engage with a channel. The aim of SEO is to tailor your content in such a way that search engines will send it to the top of results pages in response to relevant questions and keywords.
In the past, search engines relied heavily on keywords. This is still somewhat the case, but modern SEOs can’t ‘trick’ Google by stuffing content with poor-quality content stuffed out with keywords.
As search engine algorithms grow more sophisticated, they are more able to select for quality and relevance and to bypass lazily optimised content. So, a good digital marketer needs to keep up with search engine trends, and be prepared to modify their SEO strategy accordingly.
VSO – Voice Search Optimisation – is a growing subset of SEO. With the growth of voice recognition technology, people are now able to search the internet verbally as well as by typing.
This makes the web a lot more accessible for people with visual impairments, and also easier to use when (for example) someone is driving, or otherwise can’t type or look at a screen.
The problem for SEOs is that we speak and type in different ways. For example, if you wanted to know the capital of Mexico you might type something like ‘Capital Mexico’. However, if you were verbally asking a virtual assistant, it’s likely that you would phrase your question differently, perhaps even adding in social niceties like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – for example: ‘Alexa, can you please tell me the capital of Mexico?’
Optimising for both typed and voice searches is an emerging challenge that digital marketers should be paying attention to.
PPC stands for Pay-Per-Click. PPC involves paying search engines for your advert to appear in search results (always in either a designated ‘ad’ section or with a banner which clarifies that your ad is an advert rather than an organic search result).
Advertisers ‘bid’ for the position they would like their ad to appear in. They do this by earmarking certain keywords, each of which will cost the brand a certain amount of money if the advert is clicked. The price of each keyword depends on how likely it is to generate clicks, and the advertiser pays every time their ad receives a click.
So, if a brand picks a competitive search term like ‘best restaurant’, every click their ad gets will cost the brand more than a less competitive search term. So, to be cost-effective, the trick with PPC is to word your ad in such a way that low-cost keywords will still get you those clicks.
You can also purchase social media ads on a pay-per-click basis. However, rather than being shown in search results, these ads will typically be rolled out to specific audiences which fit criteria set by you.
Affiliate marketing involves teaming up with a third party ‘affiliate’. Typically, the affiliate will promote your product, or host your advert on their platform, and receive a reward based on performance. Usually that reward comes in the form of commission.
Let’s say, for example, that your brand makes a cooking sauce. A good affiliate to pair up with in this case would be a cookery blogger.
To promote your product, the blogger might post a recipe using your sauce. Within that blog, they would embed your ‘affiliate link’ – i.e. a link to your product with a tracking pixel. That tracking pixel will tell you how many customers came to your site from your affiliate’s post, and you can pay them accordingly.
Affiliates can be a great way to boost your organic reach and bring in entire new audiences. They also support your marketing team by creating and distributing content that promotes your brand.
Social media is a massive topic, but I’ll do my best to give an overview here!
The thing to remember about social media is that most people log into their favourite platforms for the ‘social’ part. Sure, companies like Meta encourage (and thrive off!) advertising, but the average casual scroller isn’t looking for new products. Instead, they’re getting the latest news, checking in with their friends and family, or just killing five idle minutes.
So, the challenge with social media is to grab and keep attention. The tactics you use for this is a whole new topic, and depend a lot on the platform you’re engaging with, the audience you want to reach, the nature of your product, and more.
I’ll quickly run through some social media statistics for you, so that you get an idea of who is using each major platform.
Facebook has 2.9 billion MAUs (Monthly Active Users). 67% of these log in every day. 56.8% of Facebook’s userbase are male, although this global statistic is skewed due to the fact that males have more access to the internet in some nations. In Western nations, Facebook’s gender balance is more even. The age of the average Facebook user is 31. (Kemp, S. 2022).
After Facebook, YouTube is the second most active social media platform, with 2.5 billion MAUs. Over one billion hours of video are watched on YouTube every single day. The largest share of YouTube’s advertising audience falls in the 25-34 year old demographic. (Kemp, S. 2022).
Instagram has around 1.4 billion MAUs. According to its parent company, Meta, over 18% of all adults in the world regularly use Instagram. Of these, the largest advertising share seems to be with the 18-24 age group. (Kemp, S. (2022).
TikTok has experienced rapid growth in recent years, and now has over 1 billion MAUs. The company’s figures suggest that 18.3% of all adults (i.e. people aged 18 and over) around the world use TikTok. 56.2% of TikTok users are female, and the largest age group on TikTok is 18-24. Right now, TikTok is the place to go to reach younger audiences! (Kemp, S. (2022).
B2B platform LinkedIn is a quiet giant. It is the top professional social networking platform in the world, with over 830 million MAUs. LinkedIn ads reach over 14% of the worlds’s population, and the platform as a whole is currently experiencing stellar growth. If you are a B2B brand, it’s well worth putting together a LinkedIn marketing strategy. (Shepard,J (2022).
Snapchat has nearly 620 million MAUs. Of these, 51.8% are female. The average age of a Snapchat user is between 18 and 24. (Kemp, S. (2022).
Poor, beleaguered Twitter has had a rough time in recent years. Among failed sales attempts and hate speech scandals, Twitter’s MAUs has plummeted to 486 million. Of these, a whopping 72.7% are male. (Kemp, S. (2022).
Email is my particular area of expertise, and I am a big advocate for it. It has offered the best ROI for many years running, and is one of the most popular and successful channels going.
The secret to successful email marketing is strategy.
Email is a very personal platform, which gives you the opportunity to talk directly with customers in a way that other channels can’t. But that kind of direct contact with customers comes with responsibilities. Email marketers need to be respectful of our customers’ data and privacy. We must also make it worth the customer’s while to give us privileged access to their inbox.
So, in return for customers giving us their email addresses, we must be totally transparent and trustworthy in our data policy. We must also give customers the kind of email content they want and need.
Tactics like segmentation and personalisation can work wonders for email marketing. They will make sure that your emails are relevant for your customers and that they add value to their inbox experience.
At all costs, you want to avoid annoying your customers with spammy emails. That won’t just send your subscribers running for the door, it will also turn the ISPs against you. And that’s the last thing you want as an email marketer.
I could (and have!) go on about email marketing forever. If you want to know more, flick through this blog or check out the many email sections in my book, ‘Marketing Strategy’.
Websites & ecommerce
A lot of the stuff I’ve spoken about in this article is designed to drive traffic to your website and ecommerce listings. But these things are also channels in their own right.
Think of it like a market stall. You could have the most wonderful signs and the best sales patter in the entire market, but if your physical stall looks shabby and mouldy and unappealing, you’ll struggle to make any sales.
Your website and ecommerce listings need to fulfil the promise of your marketing. They need to look high quality, trustworthy, exciting, maybe even inspirational.
Remember, what your customers see when they click through to your landing pages represents the final push. This is what will ultimately sway them into a sale. So make sure it’s good!
Content marketing is a fantastic way to engage with your customers, bring in new audiences, establish your brand identity, and position yourself as an industry authority.
Content marketing, put simply, involves the creation and distribution of ‘content’ – i.e blogs, vlogs, social media posts, infographics etc. Many brands have a dedicated blog on their website (like the one you’re reading now!) to host their own content, but a good content marketing strategy will look beyond the brand.
For example, as well as writing my own blog I also contribute articles to leading industry sites, blogs, and publications. You’ll see my byline all over the digital marketing world. Writing guest articles isn’t just an honour and a privilege, it’s also an opportunity to get myself out there, make connections, and showcase my expertise.
Good content marketing also segues into several of the other channels on this list. For example, it should be created with an eye to SEO and VSO, it can be distributed through social media and email, affiliate marketing often involves a strong content component, it will drive traffic to your website and ecommerce listings, and it may also be part of a PR campaign. Which brings me to my final digital channel…
Public Relations (PR)
PR straddles the line between digital and offline marketing, as a good PR strategy usually contains elements of both.
PR involves efforts to boost your brand’s image, recognition, and reputation with the general public. People tend to be aware of disaster PR – i.e. trying to save face and rebuild brand image after a monumental mess up – but usually PR is about brand-building rather than brand-saving.
Often brands will hire a PR firm who are experts in strategy and know exactly how to get the brand in the spotlight, get it positive publicity, and build it a positive image. However, you don’t need a specialist firm to run a good PR campaign. You can do it yourself, if you have a strong grasp of strategy and some top-notch research resources.
A good PR strategy is all about understanding the current media landscape and the current ‘zeitgeist’ (mood of the people), and inserting your brand into the middle of it. It’s about seizing opportunities for your brand to make its voice heard in positive ways.
Let’s say, for example, that a big publication is doing a feature on women in STEM. If you are a STEM brand, you could generate a lot of positive publicity by getting your own female team members into this article (if they are willing, of course!)
The advantage of a PR company is that they will often have the media connections and inside info to say “Hey! I hear you’re writing a feature about women in STEM? This brand we’re working with has some great female employees, shall we put you in touch?”
However, if you have the knowledge, research capabilities, and connections, you can do your own PR. If you’re really skilled at this kind of thing you can even create your own zeitgeist with hashtags, bold campaigns, and so on. But be wary – if you aren’t strategic about this kind of thing it can (and will!) backfire. The general public can be volatile, so make sure you know exactly what you’re doing before you light that fuse!
For a detailed run through of digital marketing channels, buy my book!
My book, ‘Marketing Strategy’, has a complete and detailed guide to digital and offline marketing channels. I go into the history of each channel, its userbase, use cases, and more. You cannot find a more comprehensive guide to marketing channels!
Order your copy here.
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