12 Key Digital Marketing Channels (& How to Use Them)
Jun 3, 2022|Read time: 13 min.
- Digital marketing channels enable you to connect and engage with your audience efficiently and effectively.
- A major benefit of digital marketing is how trackable it is.
- Digital marketing channels help you to expand reach, drive traffic, deepen engagement, generate leads and sales, and improve marketing ROI.
There’s been a seismic shift in recent years in the way people consume content and go shopping. Approximately 87% of consumers now start their buying journey online.
It’s a digital world.
If your company wants to get in front of your target audience, then you need to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy that includes multiple digital marketing channels.
There is still a place for traditional marketing. This form of marketing is perfect to increase brand awareness or even drive in-store traffic. It’s typically not effective, though, at driving leads and conversions. In addition, it’s hard to measure tangible metrics through traditional marketing.
By contrast, a goal-oriented digital marketing strategy deployed across a mix of digital channels can generate significant marketing results aligned with measurable KPIs. You can track clicks, customer touchpoints, web traffic, lead generation, customer acquisition costs (CAC), return on investment (ROI)…the list goes on and on.
Digital marketing channels are platforms, pathways, and vehicles to reach your target audience. With many varieties of digital marketing, the possibilities for more effective brand marketing are seemingly endless.
What is digital marketing?
Here’s the simple digital marketing definition:
Digital marketing, or online marketing, refers to all marketing efforts that take place on the internet. Companies use various digital marketing channels to connect with current and prospective customers. These digital channels may include content marketing, SEO, email marketing, or others.
Digital marketing is important because it empowers brands to not only engage with audiences, but to also track and manage their marketing results. Brands can determine what to create, where it should be shown online (websites, social media, etc.), when it should be shown, who the brand should target, and what metrics to track (i.e., website traffic, organic traffic, ROI).
There are several different types of digital marketing, and each one has strengths and weaknesses, so align each channel with your marketing goals.
Let’s dive in and explore 12 effective digital marketing channels to help you achieve more with your marketing.
12 digital marketing channels
There are many different channels under the umbrella of digital marketing, including search engine marketing (SEM), social networks, mobile apps, and more. I won’t cover all digital marketing channels. Instead, I’ll explain the most important ones you need to consider when building your strategy.
1. Content marketing
Content marketing is the strategic planning, creation, publication, and distribution of valuable content to your target audience. Unlike ads, which interrupt the individual in order to try to sell something, content marketing delivers VALUE throughout the customer journey.
There are many benefits to a well-thought-out content marketing strategy. It is effective at the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel (TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU).
With relevant content, you engage in deeper communications, allowing you to showcase your brand personality and to start a relationship with your audience. Content is unique in that it helps you to build curiosity, spark emotions, and fuel brand love.
In addition, high-quality content complements other digital marketing channels such as SEO, email marketing, social media, and influencer marketing. The result is stronger overall marketing that ensures higher ROI from each content piece.
When your marketing team prioritizes content marketing, it can easily become one of the biggest drivers of business growth among your online marketing channels.
2. Search engine optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the process of increasing organic search engine rankings to build awareness, capture demand, and drive qualified traffic to your website.
To win at organic search, you need to understand many complex concepts, including keyword research, backlinks, and how Google’s algorithms treat page experience and trust signals. Search engine optimization is one of the most complicated channels you can leverage. But it’s also the most powerful.
SEO helps you reach your audience when they’re actively seeking answers, solutions, or products. In other words, you can influence your audience when they’re most receptive to your message.
Search engine optimization also ensures your brand is authentically present throughout the entire customer journey, not just at the bottom. As a result, you’ll amplify brand awareness and build trust while delivering exceptional value.
The benefits of a holistic SEO strategy go far beyond traffic.
You can use organic search to increase conversions, generate leads, protect brand reputation, increase market share, amplify word-of-mouth, and boost ecommerce sales. It’s also an excellent way to deepen customer relationships. Furthermore, organic search is one of the most cost-effective marketing channels for traffic and new customer acquisition.
Google states that the average ROI on organic search is 5.3X versus just 2X from paid search. Plus, it’s the ONLY channel that accrues value over time.
Put it all together, and you can see why SEO is one of the most effective digital marketing channels for producing exceptional marketing ROI.
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See how an investment in organic search delivers ROI that compounds over time.
3. Email marketing
Email marketing is one of the easiest ways to connect with your audience. On average, email marketing boasts a high ROI, delivering $36 for every dollar spent. Other benefits of email marketing are that it offers you a direct connection with your audience members as well as extensive segmentation options.
Once you’ve compiled your email lists, you can segment them into different categories. You may have a VIP list, a list that includes only qualified leads, a list that includes audience members in a specific geographic location, a list for those who responded to your last offer, and so on. From there, set up customized email marketing campaigns for your selected email list.
Email marketing allows you to tailor your message to a specific audience at a specific time. Furthermore, you can nurture your audiences over time through automation, deepening the relationship and fostering brand love.
4. Social media marketing
Companies use social media marketing to build brand awareness, improve branding, boost audience engagement, and nurture relationships.
Social media platforms are a critical digital marketing channel for building customer relationships because your audience naturally shares their thoughts and feelings. These networks also facilitate constructive dialogue (sometimes in real-time) between brands and their customers, or potential customers.
But should you have a presence on Instagram or Pinterest? What about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other niche platforms?
Users have certain expectations when they visit specific social media platforms, and they use each network differently. For example, they share certain types of media (images, video, etc.), or post about different topics (i.e., conversations and sharing, imagery-focused, UGC-focused, video, etc.).
Furthermore, social media platforms attract different demographics. So understand which networks your audience prefers.
5. Video marketing
86% of businesses use video as a marketing toolWyzowl
There were 1.86 billion YouTube users worldwide in 2021Statista
Users upload 720,000 hours of video to YouTube every dayTubefilter
Approximately 86% of businesses today use video marketing, up sharply from 63% in 2017. And in parallel, more and more people are turning to video content for information. There are approximately 1.86 billion YouTube users worldwide in 2021, compared with 1.47 billion in 2017. Users upload 720,000 hours of video to YouTube every day.
To capitalize on this massive opportunity, there are a variety of video marketing formats for you to choose from, including:
- Product launches
- Event videos
- Educational and how-to videos
- Brand videos
- Live videos
- Case studies
- Customer testimonials
- Expert interviews
- Documentary-style videos
- Personalized messages
Video marketing also includes video ads. Viewers are interacting with video ads in ways they are unable to with static images. Video ads allow marketers to include more dynamic content. Companies can also get incredibly creative with these ads.
When done right, video marketing can be an effective piece of your digital marketing strategy. Wyzowl research indicates that 78% of marketers using video report that video has directly increased their sales. And according to the same Wyzowl research, 87% of marketers say video has helped them general positive ROI.
6. Pay-per-click advertising (PPC)
Pay-per-click advertising, or PPC advertising, is the process of buying visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs).
With paid digital channels, advertisers bid in an auction with the aim of capturing a click. Paid search strategies typically involve campaigns, keywords, ad groupings, ad messaging, pricing bids, ad timing selections (e.g., day of week and time of day), and landing page development.
Search engine marketing (SEM) is highly data-driven, so it’s easy to track performance. In fact, that’s one of the few areas it excels when you compare SEO vs SEM.
Paid ads are useful when you need to see immediate results. Whereas content marketing and SEO may take time, paid media campaigns can be launched quickly. With this in mind, PPC is a good option for a new product launch or a short-term campaign. It’s also useful for testing purposes, as you can validate ideas quickly. However, due to the cost, PPC ads are a poor option when it comes to the top or middle of the purchase funnel.
If you combine PPC and SEO strategically, then you can dominate customer attention in Google — or Bing.
7. Affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is the process of paying third parties, such as bloggers, publishers, influencers, entrepreneurs, and other website owners, to promote your products. It’s basically a pay-for-performance marketing program through which you outsource sales promotions to a network of affiliates.
With affiliate marketing, an affiliate promotes your product to their audience typically through an affiliate link in a website, blog, email, or on social media. When someone clicks through and completes a purchase, the affiliate earns a payment from the brand based on an agreed-upon percentage. No payments are made unless actual transactions are completed. As such, affiliate marketing has tremendous upside for brands with only a limited downside.
Affiliate marketing is an effective way to expand your reach by getting in front of others’ audiences.
Because the affiliates do the work of attracting their own audience, it’s a highly efficient way to increase sales. Plus, you get to avoid the associated marketing costs of the sale. (You will, though, have the after-sale cost of the affiliate payment.)
Affiliate marketing is not without risks. Some affiliate marketers embed your program’s affiliate links in spammy websites. This can obviously damage your reputation. And any hits to reputation and brand perception can have significant ripple effects across your business.
However, if you are highly selective about partnering with the right affiliates, then affiliate marketing can be a highly profitable path for your brand.
8. Influencer marketing
In its basic form, influencer marketing is when a brand builds awareness and trust for a product among an influencer’s followers (or fans) by leveraging the influencer’s clout.
For brands, building trust with your audience is critical. With certain digital marketing channels like paid media, though, consumers can be distrustful of the ads. Influencer marketing overcomes this challenge. Getting your product or service into the hands of an influencer they already trust builds valuable brand equity among a targeted community.
Take Mercedes Benz for example:
Mercedes Benz wanted to skew younger. To do this, they knew they had to grab the attention of a younger demographic. They chose Instagram as their social media platform. Why? Because roughly 31% of global Instagram audiences are aged between 25 and 34 years old.
Mercedes hired five top Instagram photographers. They gave each one a new Mercedes CLA. These photographers were to drive the cars around for a bit. Whoever got the most likes got to keep the car.
The results included:
- 87,000,000 organic Instagram impressions
- 2,000,000 Instagram likes
- 150 new marketing assets (photos)
Clearly, influencer marketing can be very effective.
In the case that you work with celebrity influencers with millions of followers, though, influencer marketing can become pricey. With this in mind, it’s important to compare the costs to the potential value.
Another option is micro-influencer marketing. This utilizes lesser-known celebrities that are underutilized yet can be effective through deeply loyal communities.
Whether you use macro-or micro-influencers, influencer marketing is an ROI-generating digital marketing channel. On average, brands earn $5.78 for every dollar they spend.
9. Partnership marketing
Partnership marketing is two businesses working together to create a mutually beneficial marketing campaign.
With partnership marketing, it’s critical to select partners who complement your product or services. Perhaps you both have parallel target audiences but provide different products or services. Each product or service is needed by the potential customer. They are both related. Yet they each may be needed at different points or for different purposes in the customer’s experience.
An example of partnership marketing is when a running shoe brand partners with a brand that sells headphones. People like to listen to music when they run. They come up with a deal offering free headphones with the purchase of running shoes, and vice versa. Their target audience may have some overlap, but each may also tap into an audience neither had access to before.
In essence, partnership marketing enables you to quickly double your reach.
When considering partnership marketing, make sure you choose the right partner. Both brands’ goals, values, and audiences should be aligned.
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10. Referral marketing
Referral marketing is a highly valuable digital marketing channel. People listen to their friends, family, and online peers. The vast majority of consumers (93%) say online reviews impact their purchasing decisions. On average, referral marketing generates 3X–5X higher conversion rates than other channels. Consumers are 71% more likely to make a purchase when they first see a social media recommendation.
Referral marketing often comes in the form of online reviews, comments on product listings, and social media discussions.
An effective way to engage in referral marketing is to ask for referrals! You can start gathering these referrals using a number of customer marketing or referral apps that help you build an army of advocates.
11. Mobile marketing
Mobile devices have 58% of the consumer device market shareStatcounter
There are 4.67 billion mobile internet users worldwideStatista
Users spend 24 hours per month on the YouTube mobile appHootsuite
Mobile marketing connects companies with people on their mobile devices.
More people get their information from smartphones now than ever before. In fact, mobile has 58% of the device market share compared to desktop with 39%. Today, 4.67 billion mobile internet users worldwide spend 24 hours each month on the YouTube mobile app.
This means that companies need to start creating and adapting content with mobile use in mind. Ignore this advice, and risk being left behind. Mobile advertising spending worldwide reached a whopping $288 billion in 2021.
Follow these mobile marketing best practices when considering content creation specifically for mobile:
- Your messaging should be concise and relevant
- Utilize geofencing
- Use QR codes
- Align your marketing with what they are doing (Are they on their way to work? Then send them a QR code for a discount on coffee.)
- Use reminders and notifications
Mobile marketing is used to meet people at the moment they may need your company and offer relevant solutions.
12. Display advertising
Display advertising is an incredibly popular way to build brand awareness — especially at the top of the funnel. By 2023, U.S. programmatic digital advertising expenditures are expected to increase to $142 billion.
Display ads are a blend of images, text, and calls to action. However, they have an extremely low click-through rate due to banner blindness, and they’re prone to fraud and waste.
Although programmatic advertising surged in popularity through the years, it’s days are numbered due to the death of third-party cookies.
To maximize effectiveness, use display advertising in tandem with paid search (PPC), video ads, and social media advertising.
Choosing the best digital marketing channels
Each industry is different. So how do you choose the best digital marketing channels for your business? I’ll break down the top considerations.
What are your marketing goals? As we discussed earlier, this is the most important factor to consider when you make a list of your top digital marketing channels to leverage. Would you like greater brand awareness? Are you seeking to increase lead generation? Are you aiming to expand market share? Your goals should align with the marketing channels you choose.
Who are you trying to reach? Each digital channel resonates differently with different demographics.
Do your research. Older generations may tend to use email far more than other digital channels, while younger generations look to texting or Slack. Older generations may use Facebook as their social media platform of choice, while younger generations may opt for Snapchat or WhatsApp.
Align on the digital channels that your audience uses.
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Make sure you budget appropriately! Each digital channel has costs associated with it. It’s helpful to understand each channel’s individual costs so that your marketing can be managed as an effective portfolio.
One channel may charge for the number of impressions, another may charge based on the number of clicks, yet another may charge for views. With affiliate marketing, you make a payment with each new sale. On the other hand, with organic search and content marketing, you invest in the resources to improve your website and produce optimized content.
How long will you use these channels? Are you running a short-term promo? Do you plan to launch a new brand awareness campaign right before an event like Black Friday or back-to-school shopping? Or do you want to create an evergreen content hub for your audience?
Factor the timing and timeframe of your digital marketing campaigns into your planning. This will help you craft the most effective messaging for each campaign. In addition, it will help you in structuring your campaigns for greater ROI.
Enhance your online presence. Be where your audience is, and be where they go. Digital marketing channels help you to efficiently reach consumers and business buyers at scale. Use the channels to communicate and engage with them, and to successfully drive them to action.