Over the past two decades, the way we communicate has evolved and, by extension, how businesses talk to their customers has gone through a massive shift. The great news is that small businesses’ reach has grown with internet use, and you no longer need a huge marketing budget to win your audience over. However, the increasingly crowded landscape and a plethora of options mean you do need a solid strategy when it comes to marketing.
Perhaps your marketing plan includes taking advantage of several marketing channels, or maybe you’ve restricted yourself to just two of the most popular ones. Either way, you’ve got to figure out how to make your business voice heard. When you select the right mix of marketing channels, you can work efficiently to drive customer awareness and boost your sales quickly, even with a lean budget.
Read on for my guide to understanding the pros and cons of the marketing channels out there and how to make them work for you.
What is a marketing channel?
If you’re like most people, you probably browse multiple social networking platforms and have engaged with some brands on those platforms, even purchased items from them. What was it about those experiences that helped those brands connect with you?
It’s all about selecting the right touchpoints that match your audience’s needs and habits. Each channel has its advantages, and it can be a waste of resources to create a presence on every channel out there, so you’ll need a channel strategy built on your brand identity and the habits of your target audience.
Here’s what you need to consider when you are thinking about your strategy:
- Think of a channel as a brand touchpoint that allows you to deliver a marketing message or engage with your target audience. What sort of interactions do you want to have on these channels?
- Each channel should also be a traffic driver or a conversion tool. Do they offer different ways to convince your target audience to purchase from you?
- How can you measure the impact of your marketing efforts on every channel you use.
If that sounds overwhelming, you’re not alone. It just tells us just how many mediums, formats, and channels exist, all competing for attention. With so many different options to reach consumers, you need to ensure that you utilise your marketing budget and time on the channels that will give you the best results for your efforts.
Fortunately, you don’t need to use all of the channels in your marketing strategy. You can position yourself on your audience’s favourite channels to meet them where they are.
Top marketing channels for a small business
No matter the size of your business, your goals should guide your choice and strategy. Once you understand your primary goals and objectives, you’ll be able to make the right decisions in crafting a powerful multi-channel marketing plan.
In the end, you only want to keep the channels that bring you the best return on investment.
Some of the best marketing channels to use for your business include:
- Search engine optimisation
Search engine optimisation (SEO) pushes your website to a higher ranking in search engine results pages by using keywords your customers are likely to use. When you’ve optimised for search, the search engine presents your content as the most visible option amongst search results.
According to a study conducted by HubSpot, 62% of consumers use search engines like Google when they want to learn more about a new business, product, or service. One of the most popular marketing channels on this list, SEO marketing is a technology that changes with consumers’ needs and internet habits.
Here are some guidelines for structuring your SEO marketing model:
- Crawlability: Website crawlability refers to how easy it is for a search engine to process the information on a website. A good, crawlable website means search engines can find the content on your website.
- Site Structure: A proper site structure shows search engines which pages on your site are most important. If your website is well-laid-out, easy for search engines to crawl through, and mapped out correctly, it makes it a whole lot easier for your content to be indexed. As a bonus, websites that are easy to navigate create a seamless experience for your audience.
- Keywords: You need to be able to identify and speak the language of your target market. Keywords are topics and search terms that define what your content is about. These are the phrases and words that your target audience enters into search engines.
- Backlinks: Exactly as it sounds — a backlink is a link created when one website links to another. Think of it as a testimonial from one website to another. Pages with many backlinks tend to have high organic search engine rankings as they’re seen as more reliable.
Consumers today often search and compare products, so businesses need to learn how to optimise what people find in their research process. A strong SEO strategy boosts your site presence and takes you one step closer to your target audience’s purchase decision. Try this SEO fundamentals course from Ahrefs to get you started.
- Email marketing
Have you ever met someone who didn’t have an email address? I can’t think of many, can you? The widespread use of email makes marketing a powerful way to engage with people who have shown interest in your business. Email marketing enables you to develop relationships with consumers by keeping them informed and addressing their specific needs.
The key to successful email marketing is to have an active email list. You don’t want to be branded as a spammer by the very people you’re trying to engage. You can segment your lists to create personalised campaigns and messages for different niches within your target audience.
Here are some pointers to kick start an effective email marketing campaign:
- Choose an email marketing software application like HubSpot, MailChimp or Convertkit
- Build your own email database to ensure that your subscribers are signed up to receive offers and information from your company
- Create compelling messages with an engaging subject line, and develop templates to make follow-up a breeze
- Send out your email during the best sending time for your industry
- Remember to track and measure your results!
- Social media marketing
A small business favourite, and the topic of many of my training sessions at Digital Direction, social media marketing lets you connect with consumers via platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter. It’s important to know and identify your target audience and understand which platforms they use. This will allow you to provide compelling, tailored content that responds to their specific needs and interests.
While you can build an “organic” reach by posting regularly and increasing your following on a platform, most platforms also allow you to sponsor paid posts on social media to reach people who may not have heard of your brand.
- Influencer marketing
A version of social media marketing, influencer marketing engages individuals with a dedicated social media following and are viewed as experts who often provide product reviews or product endorsements. It’s crucial the influencer you select fits your brand and espouses the same values or beliefs as a brand advocate. You can give them the freedom to create content within your brand’s parameters. When selecting an influencer, it is key to look at click-through rates and engagement rates, take a look at the number of people commenting, the quality of comments and the number of followers.
- Offline advertising
Offline advertising targets consumers through channels that are more traditional such as:
- Business cards
- Giveaways or prizes at local events or fundraisers
- Speaking engagements
- Print advertising
- Direct mail
- Marketing collateral (e.g., flyers and brochures)
- Trade shows and events
- Branded equipment and merchandise
- Cold calling
- Radio or television advertising spots
Connecting with customers in person can supplement your digital marketing efforts and you can ask your customers to subscribe to your channels in person.
- Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing
PPC is an advertising channel where you only pay when your ad is clicked on rather by the impression or purely for ad placement. There are many forms of PPC, including search engine marketing, affiliate marketing, and video ads. If you can get your targeting right, you can maximise your ad dollars and gain powerful insight into the social behaviour of your target audience.
Platforms and websites that sell advertising allow you to choose a specific audience for each ad campaign based on age, gender, location, education, and interests, using data analytics for easy metric tracking and reporting. Online advertising is often more cost-effective than traditional advertising on broadcast media or print. Try out this intro video to PPC:
- Content marketing
Not so much a channel as an approach, content marketing relies on the regular strategic publication of content to engage your audience and help them see you as an expert in your niche. If you have a digital presence, likely you’re doing it already! However, content marketing is a long-term strategic approach focused on creating and distributing content such as blog posts, videos or infographics to engage, entertain, and convert consumers online.
Not always about the hard sell, content marketing lets your audience know what you do and keeps you top-of-mind when it comes time to buy. You can use content marketing in conjunction with other digital marketing channels, such as SEO marketing, and wave in high-quality content to use those keywords.
- Partnership marketing
Partnership marketing is the collaboration between two brands whose products or services are complementary. A partnership between brands can come in many forms such as:
- Co-hosting events
- Creating co-branded content
- Affiliate marketing partnerships
- Referral partnerships
- Resell partnerships
- Product distribution partnerships, such as including a partner’s products in your giveaway bundles or packages
- Joint products
- Charitable partnerships
This form of marketing is a cost-effective way of amplifying your market reach and creating a good brand reputation by working with an organisation whose values complement yours.
- Community building
One of the most effective marketing strategies, community building is often hosted in groups on social media like Facebook and LinkedIn, where users who identify with a particular interest can gather together. Communities can provide you with actual user feedback, help you develop long-lasting connections, and build brand loyalty, resulting in user-generated content and word of mouth referrals.
To create an authentic brand community, you need to:
- Proactively engage authentically while actively listening, responding and being available and transparent.
- Create conversations with your community apart from your brand or product and encourage members to interact with one another.
Building a community takes time, effort, and patience. That’s because you’re after long-lasting connections. It would be best to put that pushy salesperson persona aside here. Engage and interact with these users, humanise your brand and create trust. Communities are about building relationships, after all.
How to select your marketing channels
Now that we’ve covered the top channels, let’s dive into selecting marketing channels for your business. Whether you’re going for organic reach with content marketing or a PPC campaign for e-commerce, your strategy will be driven by the type of product you sell or the service you provide. Here’s a helpful framework to guide your decision.
- Know your marketing goals
Before you can build your strategy, you need a clear goal. What does your business want to accomplish? Are you looking to generate more leads? Do you need more traffic to your website? Here are some of the most popular marketing goals to get you started:
- Generate high-quality leads
- Acquire new customers
- Boost brand engagement
- Establish industry authority
- Increase website traffic
- Increase brand awareness
Whatever goal you choose to work towards, know that you’ll need to set a target and measurable outcomes. Read my blog on building a marketing plan for more detailed information on how to develop and measure your goals.
2. Set your marketing budget
Having a marketing budget lets you align your marketing strategies with your business goals. The more channels you utilise, the more resources you’ll need to invest to do so effectively. This investment will likely multiply as soon as you become more functional on each channel.
There are a few different ways to develop a marketing budget. Let’s take the example of Gina, who sells handmade candles. She would have a different strategy for her regular weekly marketing versus a seasonal buying event like Christmas. While she usually relies on organic reach and collaborations, she may set a budget to venture into PPC marketing or paid social media advertising for the season when her customers are more likely to buy gifts.
The tried-and-tested way to determine your marketing budget is to review your annual revenue sheets and set a percentage aside. Some businesses may allocate up to 15% for marketing percentages, but you may need to spend more if you’re just starting out or if you want to make a splash with a new product, in which case you’ll want to move to match your goal.
In the case of Gina’s candles, she may decide to increase her budget allocation based on last year’s Christmas sales for November and December.
If you have a goal coming up, like a product launch, you can determine quantifiable goals and set a budget to help you achieve these. For instance, your goal may be to accomplish a targeted amount of conversions online through your website.
There isn’t a template for how much you should spend on marketing, which can be tricky for new businesses. Start by looking at your current status and go from there. How much time or financial commitment are you willing to assign to reach your sales target? For instance, Gina wants to market her line of holiday candles more aggressively, so she decides to invest in an influencer marketing campaign for the period.
It all boils down to the goals you set and how much you’re willing to commit to achieving these goals. You can also look at what your competitors are doing when setting an amount to spend. With time and some experimentation, you will be able to develop an understanding of how much to assign for each channel. If you’re starting out, you can always trial several channels with a low amount to see which produces the best results.
Understand your customer
We’ve gone over the marketing channels and the tactics to employ, but the most crucial element in your strategy is your customer!
Read my blog on customer personas for a deep dive into understanding who you’re selling to, and you can create customer personas that represent your ideal target markets. Within each persona you construct, you need to know three things:
- What does your customer need and care about?
- Does your business meet those needs?
- How are you different from your competitors who are also pursuing these customers?
The next step is to leverage your touchpoints to reach them with the right messaging at the right time.
Identify the customer journey and touchpoints
A customer touchpoint is any time a consumer interacts with your brand — this could be through social media, a website, an e-mail form, an advertisement, or an app. Each touchpoint is an opportunity for you to woo a browser and convert them into long-term customers.
Start at the beginning — where your customer first comes into contact with your brand. Map out the customer experience from interest to conversion. Are your potential and existing customers having a positive experience? Perhaps you spend lots of time in your Facebook group talking to customers. You can extend your presence on the platform by leveraging sponsored posts reminding your audience to buy from you while they are on other parts of the platform.
Read more about mapping your customer journey in my blog on customer personas.
Once you have a solid understanding of your marketing goals, budget, and customer behaviour, you’ll be well on your way to selecting from the list of marketing channels. Select your primary channel and add others as your business grows, don’t be afraid to experiment with them and shift focus to those that give you the best results.
I’ve got you covered if you want more strategic marketing advice tailored to your business. Book a call to discuss how we can work together.