Today’s businesses need to navigate an increasingly competitive market, fueled by rising digitalization and economic globalization. No matter how unique or niche a business is, new players are always entering the space and attempting to be the go-to in the market. Often, the difference between a successful and failed business lies in marketing. In today’s busy market, it is ever more important for a business to be able to reach its target audience through its marketing efforts.
What is a Marketing Channel?
A marketing channel is a technique or platform that a business uses to deliver a marketing message to its target audience. To maximize its marketing efforts, a business needs to choose the right marketing channel that matches its target audience, product/service offerings and brand tone. The channel needs to be effective at reaching the target audience and satisfy a marketing message that identifies customers’ needs and wants.
When choosing a marketing channel, a business needs to consider frequency and reach. Frequency refers to the number of times a particular marketing message is delivered to consumers and reach refers to the size of the audience.
Marketing channels can be divided into two categories: Traditional Channels and Digital Channels. Traditional Channels include traditional print media such as newspapers, journals and magazines, television, radio, billboards, marketing materials such as brochures, displays and ads and telemarketing. Digital Channels include all things digital, including websites, social media, search engine optimization (SEO) and SMS marketing.
Traditional Channels use traditional media that are all too familiar to us. Using these conventional channels, businesses leverage the four P’s of marketing: product, price, promotion and place. One of the major drawbacks of traditional channels is the higher costs: print ad campaigns, tv spots/commercials and billboard ads are often very expensive and unaffordable to small businesses.
In case of errors or lack of reach, traditional media cannot be easily updated without incurring high costs. Lastly, these channels are one-way channels that do not allow for consumer interaction or feedback. It is difficult for businesses that use these channels to track user feedback, conversion ratio and gauge consumer interest without the use of complex and often, costly, user analytics.
Digital Channels aim at solving these issues by going digital. Costs are driven down through the use of cost-friendly channels such as social media marketing, emails, search engines, and SMS messaging apps. Digital Marketing also makes it much easier to reach target audiences by tailoring marketing campaigns, tracking user feedback/other user metrics and update. Due to these reasons, digital marketing is soaring in popularity. The statistics back this: in 2019, total digital media ad spending surpassed total traditional media ad spending for the first time in the US. Digital media ad spending is only expected to increase in the coming years.
Let’s examine two popular digital marketing channels: SEO and Social Media.
Digital Marketing Channel: SEO
SEO is one of the most useful marketing channels a business should invest in in today’s day and age. Search engines such as Google, Microsoft Bing and Youtube are an essential part of searching for a business online. Recent statistics show that 68% of online experiences begin with a search engine. If consumers want to look up a particular business, brand, product or service, there is a good chance they will use a search engine to do so. With an effective SEO strategy, potential customers can search for certain keywords or relevant terms in search engines that will lead them toward a business.
Services-based businesses, small businesses and online businesses often benefit the most from SEO. Service-based businesses offer a wide array of services, including skilled trades (ex: electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc.), professional services (ex: medical practises, legal services, financial planning services, IT consulting, real estate services) and restaurants.
For example, if a customer wants to look up electrical contractors in Markham, they are likely to enter terms such as “electrical service”, “electrical contractor in Markham” and “Toronto electrical residential contractor.” Having an effective SEO strategy would allow a particular electrical contractor in the area to pop up on the first few pages of the search engine, resulting in better lead and sales generation.
Restaurants benefit particularly from SEO since consumers are likely to check search engines for restaurant reviews. An example of this is if a business owner owns a small restaurant specializing in Tex-Mex cuisine in downtown Toronto. An effective SEO strategy will place it on the first page of the search engine for searches like “TexMex downtown” “downtown Toronto Mexican” or “best chimichangas in Toronto.”
Small businesses need to use SEO since they may not have the same access to resources as their larger counterparts. They may be new or due to their size, not have the funding as large businesses to advertise their products or services. Using SEO is a cost-effective way for these businesses to gain new customers, raise brand awareness and grow their sales.
Online businesses need to use SEO since that is one of the few ways in which they draw customers. Due to the lack of physical presence, online businesses thrive on online marketing to increase brand awareness or market their products or services. These businesses may allocate most of their marketing budgets toward SEO since it is a proven marketing strategy.
Digital Marketing Channel: Social Media
Another popular marketing channel is social media. Recent estimates place the number of worldwide social network users at around 3.6 billion, with the number expected to grow to around 4.4 billion users by 2025. With such a vast number of people having online identities and using social media on a regular basis, it really is a no-brainer that companies need to use social media to market to their target audiences. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram routinely show their users digital ads, which are generated by sophisticated algorithms that track users’ internet usage and search engine results.
Certain industries thrive by using social media as a marketing channel. The epitome of this is the entertainment industry, which accounts for a majority of Facebook posts made by businesses. The entertainment industry also relies heavily on p2p marketing over social media, as users leave feedback for events and content and recommendations for friends and family.
Another industry that heavily uses social media, much like its use of SEO, is the restaurant industry. Restaurant owners often create social media profiles to interact with users, allow users a place to leave feedback, and share new places/dishes from their favourite places with friends and family.
Lastly, the fashion industry thrives on social media, especially with visual platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Small apparel business owners can post on these platforms in a matter of seconds and gain invaluable user feedback. Users often flock to these platforms to find out which styles are trendy and what their friends/followers are currently wearing.
Physical Marketing Channels
While digital marketing is here to stay, traditional channels have their place in marketing as well. Big businesses that can afford print ads (ex: billboards, magazine circulations, signs) in high traffic areas or media ads (ex: television commercials, Superbowl commercials) during prime time reap benefits of using physical marketing channels. An example of this is luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey (LVMH), which displays its products on billboards in prime locations in big cities and in magazines and other print publications. The large size and access to funding makes it easier for LVMH to reach the masses via traditional sources.
An important factor to consider when going with physical marketing channels is the age of the target audience. With older audiences more likely to access physical channels, businesses that identify an older demographic as their target audience such as pharmaceutical drug providers, antiques stores and needs services (ex: In-home care services, medical assistance and home services) can benefit from using physical marketing channels.
These are but a few marketing channels. Before selecting a particular channel, businesses need to research information on their target audience (ex: likes, preferences), their budget, performance factors, and brand consistency. A good marketing mix may use several different channels to deliver a business’s message.
Once channels have been selected and the messages have been delivered, businesses need to measure the effectiveness of their selected channels in terms of message delivery, lead/sales generation and brand awareness. Follow-through is key.