What are digital marketing channels?
Digital marketing channels (sometimes called “marketing vehicles”) are where interaction between a business and humans take place – email offers, promoted posts, InMails, pre-roll video, remarketing banners, etc.
A “marketing channel” describes a type of digital marketing activity – paid search, organic search, display, affiliates, video, social media. Each marketing channel is an independent universe that also works with, influences and is influenced by all others. (Learn a bit about the interaction between marketing channels in our post “A Beginner’s Guide To Marketing Attribution.”)
This ambiguity means tactics often fit within multiple marketing channels. However, they are typically associated with one. Static newsfeed ads on Facebook are technically display banners but, because Facebook is the medium, they are classified as “social media.”
There is an endless and ever-growing list of methods and means to share marketing messages across the world. Wherever people are, a means of reaching them will be found.
The term “marketing vehicle” is sometimes substituted for “marketing channel” or can also describe second-level classifications within marketing channels. If “social media” is the marketing channel, Snap, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, etc. are its marketing vehicles.
Common marketing channels are:
PAID SEARCH (SEM/PPC)
Paid search is the art and science of matching user intent to a business’s value proposition through sponsored results in a search engine results page (SERP). “Sponsored” here means paid. Paid Search is also known as SEM (search engine marketing) and PPC (pay-per-click marketing).
Paid search channel managers (SEM/PPC) bid on keywords and optimize page content, campaigns and ad copy to try to place their ads at the top of the SERP.
Whether and where an ad appears is based on ranking factors including bid, keyword, quality score, expected click-through rate, etc. Paid search is generally the most efficient paid marketing channel.
ORGANIC SEARCH (SEO/SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION)
Organic search (SEO, search engine optimization) is the art and science of being found online organically (and paid search’s older sibling). It is the process of structuring content, markup, attributes, links and technical details to increase a page’s relevance for specific keywords.
The goal of search engine optimization (SEO) is to have pages rank highly in search engine results pages (SERPs) for searches for specific, targeted keywords. The secret, as with paid search, is aligning a user’s search query (intent) to a company’s value proposition (keyword).
As an unpaid channel, organic search is a key, strategic driver of marketing performance and, all things considered, the most efficient channel (financially speaking) in all of marketing.
If and where a page ranks in the SERP for specific keywords is determined by page rank, domain authority, technical and on-page optimizations, backlinks, onsite user behavior and more. The exact influence of each of these factors on rankings is a matter of much discussion among the SEO community, but known only to search engines themselves (Google, Bing etc).
Strategic Note: For businesses working in highly specific or new/emerging markets, organic search can be less of a traffic driver because there are fewer people in the world who know and are searching for those keywords.
The world has pivoted to video (cit.) and it is eating the marketing universe.
Two primary strategic uses of video marketing are:
- Video advertising
- Pre-roll or mid-roll videos, typically 15 or 30 seconds in length, similar in manner to traditional television commercials
- Most effective as a brand awareness tactic
- Presented to users before (or while) they watch content which limits its effectiveness in direct response marketing and conversion
- Video’s rise mirrors that of download speeds. As bandwidth increases, so does the volume of organic and professional video content produced
- Every video uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo adds more advertising inventory and increases the medium’s opportunity for advertising
- Self-generated content
- Webinars, workshops, explainer videos, product walk-throughs, ‘how-to’ videos, etc. for lead generation, engagement and conversion activities
- Self-generated content can be anything – including advertising-length video – but generally refers to longer-form, robust types of produced video content
- All self-generated video content can be repurposed to support programs and campaigns
Display marketing (also called banner advertising) is used tactically in two ways –
- Branding – Top of the funnel, awareness tactic
- Remarketing – Noted below as an independent digital marketing channel. (Though primarily associated with display marketing, remarketing is possible with any digital marketing channel.)
Display advertising banners are ubiquitous across the web as standardized boxes of sponsored messages peppered throughout websites and mobile apps.
Display banners are a great branding tool and effective in certain types of remarketing. From a performance marketing perspective, however, display banners do not typically perform well.
As a top of the funnel tactic, display banners offer sophisticated targeting options but scale (i.e. spend) is required. As budgets increase, the number of tools available for a digital marketer to use also increases.
A few targeting types of note: Keyword, contextual, intent, customer match, look-alike (similar audiences), category, etc.
Banners were historically static but, as bandwidth increased, HTML5 developed and technology moved forward, animated banners have become more prominent. Dynamic banners also perform better from a direct-response point of view.
Remarketing is a broad, catch-all term that refers to re-engaging prior visitors of a property (website, blog, store, webinar, etc.) to drive action (conversion).
Remarketing engages people familiar with a brand or product and, therefore, tends to perform well in direct-response, conversion-oriented campaigns.
Remarketing is most commonly associated with display banners (because they follow you around the web; we see those neon green Converse All Stars!). However, any digital marketing channel can employ remarketing if the infrastructure is set up and connected to network/media platforms that can facilitate it (YouTube, Facebook, Google Ads, etc.).
Some common remarketing tactics include:
- Email: Abandon cart, make your first purchase, restock
- Banners: ‘Buy Now!’ banners for products you’ve already viewed or added to an online cart
- Paid search: Increased bids on keywords if you’ve already visited the site
To illustrate, below is a screenshot of remarketing banners (display banners) highlighted by a red border. I viewed printer paper earlier which has now triggered these banners. Since HPs product feed is integrated, the specific products, prices and discounts are also displayed.
Learn more about remarketing and how to avoid some common mistakes in Firebrand’s post How To Avoid Common Mistakes In Remarketing.
Social media is a catch-all term for spaces where people congregate and communicate in multi-directional conversations.
Social media marketing leverages channels/vehicles/platforms to engage audiences, influence purchase decisions and increase awareness.
“Social media” acts as both a marketing channel and individual platform. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Quora, Snapchat and Twitter are marketing vehicles (or platforms, depending on context).
Social media platforms have large volumes of granular detail about users. They also have some of the most robust targeting options in the entire digital marketing universe. As a result, social media marketing is one of the most powerful, cost-effective digital marketing tactics. The effectiveness of any given platform, however, is determined by the target audience, scale, customer knowledge, systems in place to capture/leverage data, industry, manager skills, etc.
Email marketing is an “owned” marketing channel employed throughout marketing for:
- Product updates and features
- Marketing offers and promotions
- Driving conversion, engagement, nurturing
- Order confirmations, shipping notifications, etc.
Email lists are built over time – organically or paid – and represent customers, prospects and other interested parties who’ve specifically asked to be contacted.
- An important exception is when email marketing is used for lead generation with purchased prospecting lists from third-party data brokers.
Email marketing is high performing (open rates, click through rates, conversion and engagement) because users have specifically provided contact information and asked to receive marketing messages.
Email drives acquisition, retention and engagement regardless of business, industry, customer type. Email marketing campaigns and types include:
- Conversion campaigns – register now, sign up, buy!, etc.
- Nurture series – onboarding a user to a platform, ‘how to’ explainers for a new product, feature, functionality
- Remarketing – abandoned carts, complete your registration
- Purchase reminders – hey, you bought this 3-weeks ago and might be running out…order a replacement today!
- Registrations, sign-ups, recurring sales, re-engagement, etc.
Every element of an email marketing program is first-party except when using purchased lists to prospect for new customers.
Laws governing email are very strict and getting even more so.
- CAN-SPAM laws have governed the use of email by companies in the US for years.
- GDPR went into effect in Europe in 2018 which requires end users (recipients of emails) to specifically opt-in to receiving communication.
The greatest benefits of email marketing are:
- You own the customer interaction – all data in an email program is first-party (except if/when used as a lead gen tool with third party data brokers). The users are in your database and have raised their hand to say ‘contact me!’
- No cost for media
- It’s time-based so you can design journeys to communicate in a structured way.
- For example, when onboarding users to a complex financial product, send them step-by-step emails to keep them engaged. Or, if you want a registrant to make their first purchase, engage immediately after they sign up, again after 24 hours, another three days later and a final email after seven days after that.
- Email works
Affiliate marketing platforms are websites that drive users to other websites where they make purchases, register or otherwise convert. Often, there’s some sort of discount or points scheme for the buyer to entice the action. When a purchase is made, the referring site (the affiliate partner) earns a percentage of the sale price, a flat fee per user or similar.
Affiliate marketing is, essentially, a middleman to help drive business goals – revenue, new customers, registrations, etc. Affiliate marketing sites range in size from massive to niche. Examples of Affiliate Marketing sites include Groupon, RetailMeNot, Coupons.com, Nerd Wallet, Mommy bloggers and travel bloggers.
Affiliate marketing works best with high volume, high-velocity consumer-product situations because, at scale, margin compression (buyer offer and affiliate payout) is made up by volume. However, under the right circumstances, it can work in low volume, low-velocity situations too.
Blogs are “owned” marketing channels and vehicles for sharing content.
A blog is the most efficient means of communicating with existing, new, perspective and generally curious customers and sharing exactly what you want in exactly the format you want users to consume it.
Blogs are mostly one-directional (after the downfall of RSS readers) and require users to navigate there from somewhere else. That is, as a digital marketing channel, blogs require users to either visit directly or be pushed from other digital marketing channels.
Blog content can be redeployed across many other digital marketing channels to drive action.
Typical blog content includes thought leadership pieces, whitepapers, product release notes, industry analysis and company updates.
For marketers, if there’s an audience, there’s a marketing channel. So, new digital marketing channels are born all the time. New digital marketing channels can grow organically or be designed specifically for marketing.
A few other digital marketing channels/vehicles that deserve mention:
- Twitch – A spinoff of Justin.tv, Twitch is how passionate gamers watch others play. Shortly after its launch it became more popular than the core site and a few years after that it was bought by Amazon. Twitch is the premier live streaming video platform for gamers. Also, the perfect digital marketing channel to reach that specific audience.
- Native advertising – Sometimes called sponsored content, native advertising was designed specifically for digital marketing by publishers to 1. Increase the number of ad units and inventory available for sale 2. Improve advertiser performance. It is now an established and essential digital marketing channel where ad space sits adjacent to the publisher’s real, non-advertising content. Because native advertising blends into actual content, it performs well…either users don’t recognize it as paid advertising or, it’s so well placed contextually, users recognize its value.
- Content Syndication – Helps marketers reach potential users in a less expensive yet contextually relevant way. Content syndication allows digital marketers to repurpose content through other platforms, publishers and mediums. The most visible content syndication platforms are those of Taboola and Outbrain which place content on most high volume publisher/media platforms. Syndicated content through these marketing vehicles is usually found just after a page’s primary content with sensationalist, provocative or “shocking” headlines and images to drive clicks. For example: