What is a marketing channel?
A marketing channel is essentially how products or services are marketed to potential customers. It refers to the places where a business’s marketing strategies and activities take place, including those that involve external or third party partners such as wholesalers, retailers and distributors.
There are several types of marketing channels businesses use, ranging from physical locations, like stores, to digital platforms such as websites and social media. The ultimate goal of any business’s marketing strategy is to have all their marketing channels synchronized to deliver consistent messaging around their brand as they grow visibility and awareness.
Types of marketing channels
There are several types of marketing channels businesses should consider for their own marketing strategies, including:
1. Direct channels
Direct marketing channels include those that communicate to customers directly, such as mail, SMS or email marketing. Using these channels often involves sending the target audience specific and oftentimes personalized ads or campaigns.
Marketing on direct channels has the potential to reach audiences quickly and intimately. However, if the strategy isn’t crafted to match your audience’s language and mailing preferences, your messaging runs the risk of appearing too aggressive in tone or overwhelming the customer.
2. Online or digital channels
Digital channels include online platforms, such as websites, apps and social media. Online channels have grown in popularity and impact, and have the potential to reach large, diverse audiences. Although it's cost effective, marketing on digital channels like social media can also be intensive to maintain and manage—these channels require an ever evolving strategy to stay relevant.
3. Physical channels
These are more closely related to more traditional forms of marketing and advertising. Physical channels usually involve reaching customers through brick and mortar stores and retail outlets, or networking at industry events, for example. These marketing channels allow for more direct interaction, but can be limited in their reach.
4. Indirect channels
Indirect marketing channels involve strategies that range from referral marketing to working with third parties—including influencers, ad agencies or distributors—to market a product or service.
Referral marketing, for example, involves relying on customers’ social networks to help spread the word about a brand and its product. These marketing channels can be great for quality referrals and trust building, but it’s a challenge to track and implement at scale.
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The future of marketing channels
There will always be healthy debate around the future of the most effective marketing channels and how they’ll evolve. The two strategies below are worth mentioning, since we’re already seeing the impact they have on today’s marketing channels in terms of improving scalability, personalization and reach:
Increased use of artificial intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence marketing can potentially help brands plan more targeted campaigns and messaging. The technology helps with automation, and makes marketing on certain channels more personalized and capable of reaching the right audiences faster.
Video marketing has already taken off in the digital marketing sphere—both as an online marketing channel itself and as a format used in other channels. The impact of video content is increasingly significant for today’s audiences, and is expected to grow in all its forms.