Marketing channel

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Researched by
GrowthLoop Editorial Team
verified by
David Joosten

Key Takeaways:

  • There are several categories of marketing channels, including digital, free, offline, out-of-home, and direct.
  • Throughout the customer journey, marketers can reach their target audience and convince them to buy through the right marketing channels.
  • A strong dataset is essential for activating the right marketing channel and creating effective customer campaigns.

Table of Contents

A marketing channel is a method for marketers to reach their target audience and bring them one step closer to purchase.

What is a marketing channel?

A marketing channel is a medium that a marketing team uses to reach its ideal customers and convince them to buy its products or services. It is the delivery mechanism for a brand’s messaging.

There are several categories of marketing channels, including:

  • Digital channels, which are web-based or online ways of reaching audiences, such as search ads and written content like blog posts
  • Free channels, which include organic or non-paid social postings
  • Offline channels (also known as “traditional”), which include physical or print ads
  • Out-of-home channels, such as TV or radio advertising
  • Direct channels, which include email, SMS, and direct mail

It’s important that marketers choose the right channels for both their brand and audience. Their primary goals should be:

  • To create content for channels where the target audience will spend their time and can encounter the brand
  • To choose a mix of channels that fit within the marketing budget
  • To fit within the marketing team’s schedule and capacity 

The best marketing channel strategy will likely be a balance of channels that reach the ideal audience for the brand’s products and services, growing brand awareness, sales pipeline, and revenue. This process helps with executing a cross-channel marketing strategy, which promotes the same messaging on multiple channels to build familiarity, cohesion, and trust with buyers.

How does a marketing channel differ from strategies and tactics?

The marketing channel itself is the “delivery system” where brands share their message with their target audience — think of a physical billboard promoting a product or Facebook Ads as a delivery mechanism.  

Marketing strategies are high-level visions that match marketing activities with business objectives. If a business’s goal is to sell 1,000 units of a new product, the strategy is the plan to accomplish that goal, including the messaging, creative assets, and distribution that will help them reach it.

Marketing tactics are the specific activities brands use to promote themselves, which might involve running multiple campaigns via a marketing channel, like a Facebook ad campaign with multiple images and landing page destinations.

Why marketing channels matter

Marketing channels matter because they provide brands with a direct line to reach customers and promote their offerings. But to market effectively, they need to use channels that their audience uses regularly.

In the 1950s, marketing professor Neil Borden came up with the concept of the marketing mix which would come to be known as the “four P’s of marketing.” Marketing channels play a key role in that framework:

  1. Product. This is what a company sells and who will buy it.
  2. Price. This is what the company will charge for the product.
  3. Place. This is where and how the product will be sold.
  4. Promotion. This is how companies get the product in front of customers and convince them to buy it.

The fourth “P,” promotion, relies heavily on marketing channels because, without a way — or channel — to promote the product, customers would likely never learn that it exists.

Marketers must choose marketing channels not based on what’s convenient for them but where customers and prospects spend their time and want to engage with their brand.

Types of marketing channels

Today’s customers are quick to abandon disjointed and fragmented experiences with brands across channels. Instead, they look for omnichannel marketing that’s personalized and context-driven across every channel. As a result, marketing teams integrate with other go-to-market teams like sales, product, and customer support to streamline their efforts and activate data from every customer touchpoint.

Marketers can reach today’s customers across a variety of channels, including both traditional and digital:

  • Traditional marketing channels have been around for decades, and they typically take place offline. Now that people spend much of their time online, offline channels can stand out simply because they’re not the new digital norm. These channels include radio, TV, print or physical ads, events, and word of mouth.
  • Digital marketing channels reach audiences online via their computers or smartphones. These channels use newer technology, which often brings more trackability. Digital channels include email, social media, digital ads, SEO, and SMS marketing. 

Here are some common marketing channel examples.


Email marketing is a digital marketing channel that lets companies reach prospects or customers with promotional messaging or offers directly via email.

This channel can be effective for both B2B and B2C brands. B2B companies could email helpful industry content to ideal buyers to build trust, and the latter might send images promoting their newest offerings or discounts (think of your favorite clothing or food brand, for instance).

Email is a flexible channel that is easy to automate and personalize, but open rates have decreased in recent years, so brands need to be especially strategic about their sending frequency and audience segmentation


Events are a traditional, in-person marketing channel where brands host or attend gatherings with potential customers or distributors of their products. Events can also take place virtually, like a webinar or panel.

B2B brands might attend or sponsor an industry event for exposure and promotional value or host a virtual event with an industry expert. B2C brands can also host small “pop-up” events to introduce shoppers to their products.

Events offer a more personal forum to meet customers face-to-face, which can deepen relationships. But they can also be expensive, both in money and in the time it takes a team to put them on.

Social media

Brands can reach potential customers organically through social media platforms, like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok. The social media channel is a unique opportunity to deepen customer relationships, build awareness, and show brand personality through photos and videos.

One limitation of organic social media is that algorithms constantly change, and reach depends on the platforms themselves. This limitation often leads to the analogy, “don’t build your marketing home on rented land,” meaning marketers should prioritize channels they own and control.

Most social media marketing channels are best suited for B2C brands (like Duolingo’s huge TikTok following), although channels like LinkedIn and Twitter can be strategic for B2B brands that want to show expertise and build relationships with buyers.

Digital ads

Digital ads are an online channel where marketers can pay to promote their offerings in places like Google search results, social media feeds, or alongside online articles. If you’ve ever seen a post on Instagram from a brand you don’t follow that’s marked “Promoted,” the brand created and paid for that ad to be shown to certain audiences. Digital ads can be an effective channel for both B2B and B2C brands.

One of the pros of digital ads is that brands can carefully curate the audience and target these ads to ensure they’re relevant to the viewer. However, the cost adds up quickly, so it’s important to invest strategically to achieve a strong return on investment (ROI).


Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of making a website or digital content rank highly for certain keywords that the target audience often searches for. Ranking high on the search engine results page (SERP) helps increase brand awareness and website traffic. 

Both B2B and B2C brands should employ SEO. A B2B brand that improves product experience might optimize for a keyword like “product experience software,” and a B2C brand that makes sustainable clothing might optimize for “eco-friendly jeans.”

SEO can be a cost-effective marketing channel, but ranking for highly competitive keywords is also challenging. Plus, SEO efforts can take time and significant effort to bring ROI, especially in crowded industries.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing reaches customers via social media personalities with a following that fits the brand’s product. Influencer marketing is typically a B2C channel, using celebrities like actors or prominent Instagram and TikTok creators to promote a brand or product.

Influencer marketing creates a warm introduction from an account that potential customers trust, which can make them more likely to buy. However, finding the right influencers for a brand and ensuring strong reach can be challenging, so tracking and analytics are essential to ensure ROI.

Content marketing

Content marketing is a channel by which marketers create written (blog posts or ebooks) or multimedia content (videos or podcasts) that shows their brand’s expertise and provides educational value. Especially in B2B spaces, content marketing can expose right-fit customers to a brand for the first time, deepen their relationship, and establish the company as a leader in its space. 

Content marketing is an essential channel for building trust and brand awareness with audiences. But tracking its ROI can also be difficult because a customer’s content journey isn’t often linear. Customers may also have difficulty remembering which content they read first or which piece converted them to a customer.

Word of mouth

Word of mouth is a traditional part of marketing in which customers talk about and recommend a brand or product to each other.

While some aspects of word of mouth are trackable — like social media reshares or tags — much of word of mouth marketing happens via “dark social,” where customers talk about brands via direct messages or in person. Because of this, word of mouth is difficult to track and plan for. But brands can incentivize it through tactics like referral programs or giveaways that encourage customers to reshare or tell others about their product.

Word of mouth is essential as a B2B and B2C marketing channel. Buyers across the board tend to trust the reviews or recommendations of their friends more than brands themselves.

Traditional channels

The channels that have lasted the longest in marketing include radio, TV, and print ads — these are considered “traditional” channels. These media platforms were where people got their news and entertainment before the internet, and many continue to rely on these channels:

  • While listening to music or a radio talk show, customers might hear an ad for a local concert or show.
  • During the local news on TV, someone might see an ad for a home repair company.
  • A magazine might feature an ad for a new clothing brand.

These channels have widespread reach, so they cast a wide net to a large audience — B2C brands use these channels more heavily, although B2B brands also rely on these channels as well. One challenge of these channels is trackability — it is difficult to know which ad was someone’s first impression of a brand.

SMS and text messaging

SMS marketing promotes a brand’s offering by sending a text message to a customer’s smartphone. After a customer opts in to receive texts from a restaurant brand, they might send a message offering free delivery or promoting a new menu item. B2C brands are more likely to use this channel because people want to hear about personal purchases more than business purchases via their personal phone number.

This channel boasts high open rates and is a relatively new channel for most brands, so it’s a great way to reach customers. However, SMS has some security and media type limitations, so it’s not as flexible as other marketing channels.

Marketing channels and the customer journey

The customer journey is the various steps a customer goes through when interacting with a company, from initial brand awareness to purchase and loyalty. At each touchpoint, they encounter your brand in a specific marketing channel, all of which play a key role in sharing promotional information that helps convince them to buy. Through customer journey orchestration, you can use customer analytics to coordinate the messages, channels, and times when your prospects will have a touchpoint with your brand — enhance these touchpoints in real-time. 

Here are some of the customer journey stages and the touchpoints where audiences commonly encounter brands:

  • During the awareness stage, a potential customer learns about your product or service for the first time. They may see a digital ad on Google or social media or hear about your brand from an influencer they follow.
  • In the consideration stage, potential customers compare their options and continue researching your product, perhaps through word of mouth marketing or online review channels. If they sign up for an email or follow you on social media, they’ll encounter your content, which can also influence them toward a purchase.
  • At the decision stage, the customer purchases your product or service after they see that your offering meets their needs. After this, you can continue the relationship through channels like email, SMS, or social media, so they make future purchases, trust your brand more, and recommend your brand to others through word of mouth.

Many companies gather data from all marketing touchpoints into a cloud data warehouse or data lake to analyze each interaction and better understand the buyer journey. Some companies then activate additional touchpoints with that dataset using a composable CDP.

B2B and B2C audience journeys differ, so the right marketing channels for your brand depend on your industry and audience. For instance, B2B brands tend to have longer sales cycles — engagement with certain marketing channels can signal that a prospect is “sales-ready,” like opting into email marketing or social media engagement. For tech companies, the product itself can be a marketing channel using product-led growth strategies to convert free users to paid or upsell existing users.

How to choose the right marketing channels for your audience

The right combination of marketing channels depends on your company and your audience. Here are a few best practices for selecting the right marketing channels for a particular customer journey.

Know your audience and lean on data

To choose the right marketing channels for your audience, you need to look at your audience’s behavior and preferences — you’ll also want to interview your customers and lean on customer personas to inform your customer understanding. This information will tell you the channels and content types you should focus on.

A strong dataset is essential for activating the right marketing channel. For example, “engagement-based” targeting analyzes marketing touchpoint history for each customer and targets audiences based on the channels they’re most likely to engage with. You might identify customers who haven’t clicked an email in 90 days or more, then retarget them through paid social ads. This engagement-based approach requires robust marketing data on channel usage and engagement. Otherwise, your marketing campaigns are uninformed.

Build a customer journey map

When deciding on marketing channels, create a customer journey map to visualize the different touchpoints along the buyer journey. Talk to your customers and review customer data to build this buyer journey so you can understand the best places to reach them at each stage, from awareness to purchase and beyond.

Remember that each audience may have a unique path to purchase and encounter different channels, so you should create separate maps for each customer persona.

Compare your budget with channel ROI

You can’t (and shouldn’t) use every available marketing channel because not all of them will reach your audience — plus, your marketing budget only goes so far. Make the most of your budget by investing in channels that drive meaningful ROI and revenue.

Use data to guide your decisions. If you’re investing in a heavy-lift channel like events, but you gained lots of high-value leads, those efforts are worthwhile. But if you’re investing thousands in digital ads each month and they aren’t driving enough revenue to cover the cost of the ads, you need to adjust your strategy or invest that budget in a different channel.

Test and analyze results for the best impact

Data is a marketer’s best friend, so use it to test and adjust your channel strategy over time. Based on customer data — from your cloud data warehouse or data lake — test new channels you think might connect with your audience, trying different types of content and rigorously assessing how that content is performing. If a content type or channel isn’t performing well with your audience, you should direct your efforts somewhere else.

You should also use A/B testing (or split testing) to analyze the performance of your messaging on each channel. For instance, you might send an email with one subject line to half of your email list and use an alternate subject line for the other half of your list. Then, look at engagement with each message to see which is performing better, and use that data to inform your next campaign and messaging on other channels.

What is channel marketing?

Channel marketing often gets confused with marketing channels, but the two are distinctly different.

Channel marketing is a strategy where a company uses a third party to distribute or sell their offering to customers. For instance, a makeup or hair care brand might sell their product through a big-box retailer. These third parties can reach a larger audience more than if brands only sold directly to consumers. Other benefits include:

  • Reducing expenses by lowering the cost of acquiring new customers
  • Boosting brand recognition because the distributors have more foot traffic and wider exposure
  • Providing customer insights through third parties’ access to data on brands’ target markets
  • Building customer trust through partnerships with retailers and distributors customers already know and believe in

Published On:
February 1, 2024
Updated On:
February 1, 2024
Read Time:
5 min
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