What Is a Marketing Channel? 8 Types to Prioritize in 2022

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn what a marketing channel is, explore examples of marketing channels, and begin prioritizing the channels that will best help you reach your business goals.

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Marketing channel definition

A marketing channel refers to one of several different tools, platforms, and touchpoints that businesses use to communicate with a market segment and guide them along a customer journey. As we’ll explore in later sections of this article, marketing channels can include digital channels like social media and websites, as well as offline channels like networking events and word of mouth. 

When you develop a solid channel marketing strategy and optimize your methods on every channel, your business can benefit in several ways:

  • Reach new markets 

  • Deliver value to potential customers

  • Build brand equity

  • Generate leads

  • Increase sales 

  • Reduce the cost of doing business 

  • Improve customer experience 

For example, by utilizing Facebook’s lead generation ads as a channel marketing strategy, you can enable potential customers to subscribe to your business right in Facebook, without having to click to another page to enter their contact information.  

In researching marketing channels, you will likely come across similar concepts like marketing strategy and distribution channel. While these terms may be used interchangeably, it’s important to note some distinctions: 

A distribution channel refers to the route that goods take from producer to consumer and includes the people, organizations, and activities involved in this transfer. 

A marketing strategy is an overview of how a company will present its value proposition to customers. You can also think of it as a long-term vision for the company’s marketing efforts.  

In this article, we focus on marketing channels as places to communicate with potential customers. Continue reading to explore examples of marketing channels and the steps to devise a strategy to reach your target market

How to choose your marketing channels

With all the possibilities for channel marketing at your disposal, it’s important to choose the channels that align with your business goals. Follow these steps to plan your next business move: 

1. Define your marketing goals.

What do you want to achieve through marketing in the next quarter, six months, or year? Set goals that are specific and measurable for these three increments of time. 

For example, maybe you want to add email marketing to your current marketing efforts. So you’d set up a lead magnet (a landing page with a lead capture form) and an email system like Mailchimp or Constant Contact. Then your goal might include getting a certain number of people to click on the landing page, a certain number of those people to actually subscribe, and a certain number of those people to buy products or services that you promote through your email sequences. 

2. Conduct a market analysis. 

As part of a comprehensive business plan, conducting a market analysis can help you identify opportunities in your industry to reach a target market, including the marketing channels that are the best for your business.

Components of a market analysis include industry research, competitive analysis, identifying gaps, researching a target market or niche market, identifying barriers to entry, and forecasting sales.  

Read more: What is Market Analysis? Definition, Steps, & Template

3. Investigate your competition.

As part of the market analysis introduced in step two, investigating competing brands in depth can help you decide which marketing channels to use. 

  • What are brands like yours doing to reach customers in your niche market?

  • What marketing channels are competitors currently not using? 

  • What can you do to differentiate yourself from the competition and improve on their message and approach?

4. Interview existing customers.

If you already have paying customers, it’s a great idea to glean wisdom from their feedback. If possible, set up a few interviews with loyal customers with the goal of discovering the following: 

  • How they discovered your products and services

  • What inspired them to make a purchase

  • Their favorite social media platforms

  • The kinds of events they’re likely to attend

  • How they search for information and which sources of information they trust 

If interviews are not feasible, create a few survey forms that customers can fill out quickly and easily. 

5. Determine your marketing budget.

You can carry out many marketing efforts for free or at a nominal cost. These might include posting organic content to social media, building SEO content on your site that ranks high in search engine results, and networking with potential customers at professional events. You may be ready to scale your efforts by setting up paid advertising, either through digital or traditional marketing channels.  

Explore the following questions to help determine a starting budget:

  • What resources are currently available for paid ads?

  • What are your business’s operating costs? 

  • What is the typical cost of conversion on the channels you’re interested in?  

  • What are the costs of using different marketing tools, such as landing pages, customer relationship management software, and graphic design programs?

  • How much will you need to spend at first to generate data about how the ads are performing? 

  • What metrics do you need to pay attention to in order to know which of your paid ad methods work best?

  • What can you learn from interviewing ad agencies or marketing consultants who can manage ads for you? 

Once you start generating revenue from ad conversion and have more data at your disposal, you might increase your marketing budget. 

6. Market on multiple channels. 

Now it’s time to take into account the channels that are available to you and everything you’ve explored in steps one through five, and begin putting together your channel marketing strategy.  

While one channel might strike you as the most appropriate, consider an omnichannel or multi-channel marketing approach to give your business the best chance of reaching audiences and turning them into paying customers. 

Review these definitions as you select your marketing channels: 

Multi-channel marketing is when you choose two or more channels on which to market your business in hopes of meeting customers where they are likely to be. Multi-channel marketing can increase your brand’s visibility, but customer interactions are often siloed between channels, sometimes disrupting their experiences. 

Omnichannel marketing is similar in that you are marketing your business on two or more channels with the intent of increasing visibility and interacting with customers where they are likely to be. Omnichannel marketing has one main difference: It’s set up to be a seamless integration between and among channels so that customers can continue their journey with your brand, from one device or touchpoint to the next, without disruption. 

Read more: What Is Omnichannel Marketing? Definition, Examples, and Strategy

8 marketing channel examples 

The examples below include offline and online channels, as well as opportunities for both paid and organic channel strategies. Review each one to draw inspiration and consider the possibilities for your business. 

Social media 

Social media marketing leverages the power of high-value content such as instructional videos or inspirational quotes to attract audiences. When you post content related to potential customers’ interests, you can catch their attention while they are engaged in regular social media activities like scrolling their feeds or messaging contacts on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 

Read more: What Is a Social Media Marketer? And How To Become One

Email 

As a marketing channel, email offers the opportunity to deliver personalized messaging to subscribers’ inboxes, develop relationships with your audience, and convert them into customers. The emails you send can include educational material, product discounts, announcements of new offers or events, free gifts and coupons, or surveys and polls.  

Depending on the features of your email system, you can usually measure the effectiveness of email campaigns with metrics such as open rate, click-through rate, and conversion rate. By segmenting your subscriber list and automating the delivery of multiple emails, you can lead subscribers along a customer journey without having to compose every single email manually. 

Web

There are several ways to use the web as a marketing channel, as explored below: 

  • Consider a website as an online anchor and powerful marketing channel for your brand. When you are building a website and driving traffic to it, take time to optimize the site’s structure, design, content, and calls-to-action, so that visitors are encouraged to subscribe or make a purchase. 

Read more: What Is a UX Writer? Writing For The User 

  • SEO content marketing refers to content that is optimized for search engines. Develop long-form content that satisfies an internet searcher’s intent (to find information about a topic or an answer to a question, for example). Once your SEO-friendly content shows up in a search results page, internet searchers can click on the page, consume the content, and learn more about your products and services.

SEO content marketing is usually considered organic, in that the quality, structure, relevance, and meta-data of a piece of content can attract audiences online without the use of paid advertising. 

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  • Paid digital ads can help you scale your efforts beyond the reach of organic online marketing to reach new audiences. Digital ads can include search engine marketing (ads based on keywords that people are searching for online), display ads, native ads (showing audiences ads based on their online activity), and paid social media advertising (promoting posts designed to reach specific audiences). 

Events

Hosting live events such as classes, performances, or meet and greets can be a way to attract potential customers to your brand and entice them to future events or other products and services. Consider enhancing customer experience by stimulating the five senses, such as with music, lighting, and refreshments, and making sure every interaction with event staff contributes to attendees’ enjoyment.

Word of mouth 

Word-of-mouth marketing refers to consumer-to-consumer communication around a brand or a product through things like recommendations, testimonials, and referrals. 

As a form of social proof, these communications can be highly effective in driving sales, regardless of the type of business you operate. Consumers tend to emulate the behaviors and preferences of their peers and trust their endorsements of products and services.

Look for opportunities to leverage the satisfaction of loyal customers and turn them into brand ambassadors:

  • Ask for referrals and offer referral bonuses when new customers make a purchase.

  • Create an affiliate marketing program.

  • Make it easy and simple for customers to post their reviews online.

Traditional media

Traditional media such as print ads, billboards and signs, radio, and direct mail can still be effective even in the digital age, as they can reach audiences when they are not online. These media can also be effective in reaching audiences in a specific geographic location and some forms, like direct mail, may have a longer shelf life, as consumers save physical items for later use or share them with others.

Improve your marketing with Coursera

As you test new marketing channels and gauge the results of your efforts, remember the importance of building a variety of marketing skills. Consider taking a course to gain skills you can apply to your own business or when applying for marketing jobs with other companies.

Learn invaluable marketing skills like establishing a social media presence, creating engaging content, and setting up paid ad campaigns with the Facebook Social Media Marketing Professional Certificate or with Google Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate.

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