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Key Digital Marketing Channels
October 25, 2021 - By Hawke Media

The 9 Key Digital Marketing Channels

Spanning across an ever-growing variety of connected devices and platforms, digital marketing allows brands to get in front of their customers with engaging, relevant content. Campaigns need to come to where the audience is gathering, and the average person spends 144 minutes on social media alone per day. But what other key channels and strategies should brands explore?


Here are nine of the most effective digital marketing channels to reach customers at different stages of their buying journey. Some are paid, but many others are essentially free to deploy.


1. Lifecycle Marketing

When Ray Tomlinson sent the first ever email in 1971, it’s unlikely he envisioned lifecycle marketing becoming a $1.13 billion (USD) industry by 2020. But as enduring stalwarts go, email is hard to beat. Even if it’s now competing with mobile, video, streaming, and instant messaging, the trusty email is still the way most businesses prefer to be contacted, and how consumers are comfortable communicating with their brands. 


It’s outstandingly effective, too. Email marketing delivers $42 for every $1 spent, and that’s with an industry-standard average open rate of 21.33% and a click-through rate of 2.62%. Combined with SMS marketing as part of a lifecycle marketing strategy, brands can potentially unlock a 95% open rate and a 19% CTR in the U.S. alone. 


Advantages: The beauty of email marketing is that it’s owned, non-intrusive, offers the freedom to build a conversation in an authentic tone, and works throughout the funnel, from awareness to conversion. 


Disadvantages: Inboxing issues (11% of emails never make it to the inbox), regulatory restrictions such as GDPR and CCPA, requiring opt-in, and the pressure to adapt to change. For example, 1 in 5 campaigns are still not optimized for mobile. 


2. Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing (SEM) allows brands to get in front of customers who are looking for something specific. That can be worth the cost (SEM typically refers to pay-per-click search) if you have a niche product or service, but is less effective for generic lifestyle brands. 


The highest return on investment (ROI) with search engine marketing comes from intelligent targeting using branded keywords. That might be at the awareness stage, but the best returns are from targeting buyers with intent. SEM also allows you to retarget users on other contextual websites through the Google Partner Network, for example. That means you have several touchpoints available to grab a customer’s attention and influence a decision. SEM improves page rank, too. The more users who click on your ads (indicating relevance), the more visible your site will be in search engine results pages (SERPs). 


Advantages: With Google and Bing, you only pay for clicks, and each one boosts your page rank. To keep your budget under control and minimize irrelevant clicks, you can also geo-target your ads, too. 


Disadvantages: If you’re competing for some of the most sought-after keywords (e.g., insurance, loans, and mortgages), the cost per click can top $50. As a result, click fraud is not unheard of, with competitors or bots draining your budget. In total, it is estimated that 14% of all clicks are from non-genuine traffic.


3. Product Listing Ads

Product listing ads (PLA) are becoming more and more popular in eCommerce. These are somewhat of a subset of search engine marketing but allow for richer ads that include things like product price, pictures, etc. This is great when you have individual products that can be searched for. The text for these ads is pulled directly from your site data feed and tends to be more detailed (thus compelling) than standard text ads. 


Advantages: As with PPC, you usually only pay when someone clicks, and much of the keyword and content side is automated by the search engine, so you don’t have to spend time trawling through long-tail keyword research. 


Disadvantages: Will showcase (or expose) the quality of your product attributes on your shopping pages. If your product descriptions are generic, you could be paying to show ads to people who are not interested. 


4. Retargeting

People don’t generally purchase the first time they engage with your brand. In fact, the average buyer makes 9.5 visits to a site before purchasing, and 97% of people who visit your site for the first time leave without making a purchase. Retargeting helps close this gap — when someone visits your site, a cookie, or pixel is placed on their computer, so now when they browse the web, they will see your ads wherever they go. If you can reach them over and over again, you will have a much higher chance of converting them, which is one of the reasons why retargeting can have an extremely high ROI. 


In the awareness stage, retargeting is a great strategy for alerting “warm” customers to new product launches, but typically retargeting comes into its own by convincing customers to seize the deal at the conversion stage. Just like the abandoned cart email flow triggered when a customer reaches checkout but doesn’t complete a purchase (which happens 68% of the time!), retargeting can provide that vital nudge to coax a customer into making a decision. 


Advantages: Retargeting stops your customer from disappearing over the horizon. Google Display Network reaches 90% of online users, while Facebook has more than 1.4 billion users. When done correctly, it can bypass the traditional funnel entirely, taking the user from first impression to purchase in just a few clicks. 


Disadvantages: The extent to which users are “creeped out” by retargeted ads is exaggerated. Nowadays, most online users expect it. On the flip side, it might explain why almost half of online users are now using ad blockers, which render retargeting less effective


5. Search Engine Optimization

In the short term, brands should perform an SEO audit of their existing web pages to optimize performance in search engines. Google, Bing, Yahoo, and others will prioritize pages that clearly indicate keywords in their page titles, headlines, meta descriptions, alt text and so on, although each search engine operates its own algorithm. 


In the long term, however, search engine optimization is about providing valuable, unique, relevant content. There are no shortcuts. The extent to which your pages answer the needs or queries of a user will determine how likely Google or any other search engine is to rank it above your competitors. Focus on clear, non-duplicated product descriptions and landing page content, as well as informative, shareable blog content, and other sites are likely to link to yours (improving your page rank further). 


Advantages: Organic search ranking is technically free, compared to PPC advertising, but it’s the Holy Grail of search. Get to the top of page 1 on Google, for example, and you can look forward to an average CTR of 32%. 


Disadvantages: Patience and skill are required. You will need the resources to produce quality content and the time for search engines to crawl, index and rank it higher. 


6. Facebook Advertising

More than 2.8 billion people use Facebook each month, and every single user action generates valuable data insight for marketers. Through the Facebook advertising platform, brands can access an astonishing degree of granular detail about their target audience, allowing them to serve text, photo, carousel or video ads by interest, location, demographic, and so on. The average American spends 58 minutes a day on Facebook, more than enough time for you to make them aware of your product, invite them to book a demo or consultation through instant messaging, or retarget them online using the Facebook pixel method. 


Advantages: Facebook offers powerful micro-targeting features and audience insights, and is relatively affordable compared to PPC advertising. 


Disadvantages: The platform places restrictions on some forms of advertising (e.g., CBD), and because advertising intrudes into a user’s timeline, the average CTR is below 1%


7. Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate is a commission-based form of marketing. Third-party publishers or bloggers refer their traffic to your site and charge a commission for each conversion (whether it’s a visit, click, or sale). This is great to lower your risk by only paying out when an action is taken, like someone making a purchase on your site. In some cases, the referral may be subtle, as in an established beauty blogger who recommends their top items at the end of an informative blog about skincare tips. In other cases, it’s an unambiguous hard sell with the promise of an exclusive or limited-edition deal. As a result, quality can vary enormously, so affiliate marketing requires monitoring. Nevertheless, some 80% of brands regularly use affiliate marketing. 


Advantages: Affiliate marketing provides a relatively low cost and a potentially high ROI.


Disadvantages: Your brand is in someone else’s hands and that association can backfire. As with PPC, there are also issues with bots and fraudulent clicks. 


8. Social Media Marketing

Look at the footer of any eCommerce or brand website and you’ll typically see a line of icons linking to the most popular social media platforms, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, or TikTok. That ambition is laudable, but too often clicking through to those accounts reveals that none of the content has been updated beyond the first few weeks after launch. 


Social media management takes skill, time, and resources. Above all, it needs a purpose. Many brands feel the pressure to “be on social” without setting a goal or defining a reason. That’s why it’s much better to limit yourself to just a limited number of feeds that you can commit to updating regularly — and that your customers are using!


Do you have to be on social media? In today’s “omnichannel” landscape, it’s good to have a variety of channels for connecting with your customers. Your website alone cannot do all the heavy lifting, and social media is ideal for community building, interaction with customers and sharing. But don’t bank on it for generating top-of-funnel leads. By its very nature, social media is a distraction, and attention spans are short. 


Advantages: This is a great tool for humanizing your brand, building your community, and responding to customer queries fast. Some brands are owning their social media management, too, such as KFC and Nike, with witty or authentic campaigns. 


Disadvantages: There are just as many examples of big brands getting owned, too! Pick the wrong tone or moment and there could be a backlash.   


9. Content Marketing

Last but far from least, content marketing is a through-the-funnel strategy to serve customers useful content throughout the user journey, from awareness to decision (and beyond). The goal is to anticipate and answer audience questions using insights gathered about their urgent needs, behavior, and attitudes. 


Content marketing can be as simple as a regular blog series or newsletter, or (particularly in a B2B setting) it can extend to more technical content such as eBooks, video, infographics, white papers, and webinars. The most sophisticated content marketing strategies will have collateral for each stage of the funnel:

  • Awareness: introductory blog content focused on key customer pain points 
  • Consideration: how-to or unboxing video, infographic, interactive survey
  • Decision: eBook, demo, white paper, etc. 


Advantages: Not only is content marketing fully owned by the brand (even if outsourced), but it also generates high-quality leads, drives SEO, and builds customer loyalty and trust. 


Disadvantages: A fully integrated strategy does require resources, budgeting, and time. 


Final Thoughts

While the world’s biggest brands are probably using all nine of the above digital marketing channels, it is often enough to focus on just a few and execute to the highest standard.  Most successful brands will implement a strategy that combines paid and organic content, and that shares the data collected across all marketing efforts to allow for the most effective retargeting campaigns possible. This means an uptick in performance in just one channel can deliver significant returns across the board. 

Ready to discuss what digital marketing channels will help your company meet its goals? Schedule a free consultation today.