The art and science of marketing channel strategy

Published Feb 7 2023 8 minute read Last updated May 23 2024
channel strategy
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  • Thomas Frenkiel
    Written by Thomas Frenkiel

    Thomas has over 10 years of marketing experience. After working in media and SEO agencies for 8 years, he joined Funnel in 2022.

Navigating the digital marketing landscape? Make sure your marketing channel strategy is on point. The right strategy can steer your campaign toward success, hitting your target audience at the right time and place.

Whether you're a veteran marketer refining your tactics or a marketing student mastering the ropes, this blog post is your guide. We'll explore the anatomy of an effective marketing channel strategy, and how to tailor it to your unique business needs.
Let's take a deep dive into the fascinating world of channel marketing, and explore how you can make it work for you.

Understanding the basics of a channel strategy in marketing

A channel strategy is the process of choosing certain marketing channels to reach your target audience. These channels can include online platforms, retail stores, TV advertisements, and more.

Let's stick with our TV channel analogy for a minute. In marketing, a channel strategy refers to what channels your audience is currently watching. This knowledge can inform where you place your ads so that your audience sees them.

Some channels (like retail stores or certain social media platforms) may be high-value places to advertise your business. Other channels may be less useful. Just as a commercial on daytime television reaches a certain segment of your audience, an email marketing blast might reach a specific marketing persona that your TikTok ads won't.

A good marketing channel strategy isn't just about where you're putting ads, though. It's also about when you're advertising to specific customers and how often. By maximizing the marketing channels where you're already performing well, you can begin to branch out and create more consistent brand messaging.

Elements of a good marketing channel strategy

A good channel strategy should have the following elements:

  • A clearly defined target market (including preferences and demographics)
  • Identified channels to reach that audience
  • Defined ad spend budget, per channel
  • What tactics you'll use to implement the plan (such as promotions or targeted display ads)

Additionally, it's always a good idea to add a phase for evaluation. Understanding which metrics you’re tracking (and which KPIs are important) can help you iterate on your strategy in the future.

How does channel strategy relate to marketing strategy?

Channel strategy is an important component of your marketing strategy. However, it is just a fraction of the activities that make up your marketing efforts.

While a multi-channel strategy with many channels can become complex, a marketing strategy contains dozens of other elements, including things like:

  • Insights from market research
  • Market segmentation
  • Targeting (what target audiences will you focus on)
  • Product development
  • Pricing and price setting
  • Positioning 
  • Messaging

Think of your marketing strategy as a broad umbrella of marketing activities while your channel strategy is a more focused look at what channels you will use. Keep in mind that you may perform different advertising or content marketing on different marketing channels.

About the term 'multi-channel'

While we've discussed multi-channel strategy in the context of marketing communication, it's worth noting that this term also applies to distribution strategies. For instance, a company selling products through their own website, physical stores, and resellers is employing a multi-channel distribution strategy. Although our focus here is on marketing communication, understanding this broader application of 'multi-channel' can enrich our perspective on how companies reach and serve their customers.

Know your target audience

In order to create an effective channel strategy, you need to be active on the channels where your customers are. Do you know which magazines your audience read? What websites they visit online? And if you know, have you done research to make sure you got it right?

Many times, people want to hop on the latest trends when it comes to social media marketing. While digital channels like TikTok can be great for some brands, if your prospective customers aren't on TikTok regularly, it might not be worth including it in your channel strategy.

Deciding what new channel to test

Consider the case of an interior design firm that sought to attract consumers interested in redecorating. They realized that their potential customers often turned to Pinterest to gather ideas and create mood boards. Recognizing this behavior, they strategically decided to run their ads on Pinterest. This channel strategy effectively put their services in front of the right eyes, at the right time, precisely when consumers were actively thinking about interior design and seeking inspiration.

Alternatively, consider a tech company seeking to hire more developers. Instead of Pinterest, they found their target audience - ambitious students and self-taught individuals - on Reddit. So Reddit became an important part of their multi channel strategy.

Ultimately, certain segments of your target market are going to be active on different platforms. That’s why it's important to consider whether to be present and how present to be. Your channel strategy may include ads, organic content, or a mixture of both. It's best to design this around how active your audience is on the channel in question.

Know the difference between your business target audience and marketing target audience

As you develop your channel strategy and determine who it is you want to reach, it's important to recognize the difference between your business target audience and your marketing target audience.

In some cases, these will be the same. If you sell cribs, for example, your business and marketing are likely both going to be focused on expecting parents.

While there are corner cases where a family member may wind up purchasing a crib for their grandchild, generally speaking, they will know what crib the parents want, thanks in part to your marketing.

Some products and businesses allow for more variety, which means you may have to make more decisions when it comes to your channel strategy.

For example, if you're a company that sells plant-based meat alternatives, you have a few different markets you could appeal to. Marketing to vegans makes sense, since these prospective customers are likely already on the hunt for plant-based meal options.

On the other hand, you could also try to expand your market with direct marketing appeals to meat eaters. Whether you develop a channel marketing campaign that appeals to meat eaters using health or environmental reasons could change which channels you choose for paid advertising. 

In fact, you may not even spend as much time or energy on channel partners where vegans are already active, since your business objectives may already be met by their existing demand.

For some business-to-business markets, it may be helpful to take a broader approach to your marketing channel strategy — even if you only sell to a specific group.

For example, if you sell appointment software for use in physician's offices, it may be the administrators who make the final call on whether or not the business adopts your product. Even so, serving some ads to doctors, receptionists, and nurses (in addition to administrators) could increase brand awareness for your product. If a nurse proposes your solution to a decision maker due to your broader channel marketing plan, that may effectively bring you more sales in the long-run.

Ultimately, your marketing objectives may be focused on finding ways to reach customers in a more specific way

Defining your marketing channel strategy

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you work to build a customer journey, aiming to serve relevant content to the right customers in the right places.

Marketing channels to consider

There are many channels you might consider when building a marketing channel strategy. Here is just a partial list to get your brainstorming started:

  • Advertising on social media 
  • Search engine marketing 
  • Flyers or displays in brick-and-mortar stores
  • Direct mail pieces
  • Print ads in newspapers or magazines
  • Organic or sponsored website content
  • Affiliate marketing, brand ambassadors, or influencers

When weighing the pros and cons of any of the above advertising options for your marketing channel strategy, remember that it's important to match customer experience with the channel you're using. A few tips to help you achieve a good match are:

  • Look at data showing where your audience spends time online: Facebook is still quite popular with millennials and older demographics, whereas Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok skew younger.
  • Keep in mind that different markets value certain channels differently: In the United States, many jobseekers use Glassdoor to research companies. In Europe, Glassdoor is much less popular.
  • Analyze current customer data if customer retention is a priority: If you're trying to retain existing clients or customers, you can analyze engagement on your existing channels to see if one channel may be best to reach this segment.

Spend some time using the above list to brainstorm other channels with the rest of your marketing team. Just because an idea gets tossed out doesn't mean that it's going to be something you want to use in your channel strategy. However, if you have a broader list to work from, you may find that attracting new customers is easier than you think.

If you're struggling to come up with an exhaustive list of channels to consider, try reverse-engineering your list by first considering specific buyer personas or audiences. Thinking of a category like "gamers" may make you think about advertising on Reddit or mobile device ads for mobile games. A category like "commuters" may spark ideas of reaching a large audience by purchasing a billboard ad on a busy expressway or taking out radio ads during popular commute times.

What is possible within your marketing budget?

Of course, not every small business is able to spend money to be everywhere their customers are all the time. Even companies trying to reach a large audience would do well to focus on a smaller amount of channels as they scale up their channel marketing efforts.

If you can't afford to be visible on YouTube, TikTok, Google, and Instagram year-round, determine if there are specific products and channels that make sense to pair together each quarter.

Repurpose your content in a smart way

If you can create a piece of content like a video, and double dip in multiple channels, you can stretch your marketing budget. For example, a three-minute video could be uploaded to YouTube and put in an email that you send to your audience. That same video can also be edited down to shorter clips and served on Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat as an ad.

Focus on one thing first, do it well, then move onto more channels

Most marketing strategies are multifaceted, but in order to find the right channel partners, it's best to start small. Direct mail might be great for reaching certain target audiences with your business, but it can be costly to go all-in while also running weekly social ads. Starting small before scaling ensures you are collecting and measuring sound data to inform future marketing efforts.

Take, for example, Funnel. We were focused on optimizing ad performance, which we achieved this one step at a time. At first, we focused only on search engines. Once we had achieved sustained success on that channel, we moved on to social media.

From there, we were able to start including things like content marketing and partner marketing in our channel strategy. By growing organically, we ensured that our growth was sustainable and that we were giving each channel our best effort before moving on to the next.

Building blocks for a successful channel strategy

Before we wrap up this deep dive into the world of channel strategy, let's take a moment to reflect on the underlying principles that should guide all our digital marketing efforts. A strong, effective channel strategy is not developed in isolation. It's the product of a rigorous, systematic approach that includes these essential steps:

  1. Market Research: Comprehensive understanding of the market is the starting point. It involves studying the industry, consumer trends, competitors, and potential challenges.

  2. Segmentation: Once you've familiarized yourself with the market, it's time to segment it. This could be based on various factors such as geography, demographics, firmographics, or psychographics - the attitudes, opinions, and behaviors of potential customers.

  3. Targeting: Post segmentation, the focus shifts to targeting. Here, you decide which market segments to concentrate on, a decision that should be data-driven, based on the potential value and accessibility of each segment.

  4. Positioning: The final preparatory step is positioning - determining how you want your brand to be perceived. Successful positioning aligns with the 'Three Cs': it should matter to Customers, differentiate you from the Competition, and be something your Company can deliver consistently.

Only after these steps are thoroughly completed should you start crafting your channel strategy. If you leapfrog to channel strategy without this groundwork, you risk spending your advertising budget on generating traffic that doesn't convert, resulting in suboptimal returns.

By diligently following these steps, you ensure your channel strategy stands on a solid foundation. This not only optimizes your marketing investment but also enhances your chances of achieving your overall business objectives.

Wrapping up

In conclusion, the key to a successful marketing channel strategy lies in understanding your market, segmenting your audience, targeting the right segments, and positioning your brand effectively. By laying a solid foundation through market research, segmentation, targeting, and positioning, you can create a channel strategy that truly works for your business.

Remember to stay adaptable and continually refine your approach as the digital marketing landscape evolves. Start small, learn from your experiences, and grow your marketing efforts to reach your audience effectively and efficiently. With the right approach and ongoing commitment, you'll be well on your way to marketing success.

Related reading: The formula for a winning full funnel marketing strategy


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