A digital channel is a marketing channel, part of a distribution strategy, helping an organization to reach its potential customers via electronic means. There are several digital marketing channels, usually divided into organic and paid channels. Some organic channels are SEO, SMO, email marketing. And some paid channels comprise SEM, SMM, and display advertising.
To build a successful distribution strategy companies need to leverage on digital channels to reach their potential customers.
However, each channel type will require an understanding of the underlying platform, the kind of incentives created for users on those platforms and how users interact.
Organic vs. paid
A first distinction is between organic vs. paid channels. Organic channels are those who do not require to pay for attention. That doesn’t mean organic channels are less expensive. Indeed, a way to grow organically is through content developemtn.
Producing great content can be quite expansive. Therefore, organic simply means that you can gain visibility and interests from potential customers without paying a third-party platform to be featured.
An example is an SEO, or search engine optimization, where a platform like Google ranks your content because it perceives it as high quality. Thus, enabling users to get through you continuously through that content.
A paid channel instead, requires a budget to enable a third-party platform to feature that content to users. When budget is over so the content will run out of visibility. An example is search engine marketing. You pay Google on a pay-per-click basis to feature your content on top of its listings.
Direct vs. indirect
A direct digital marketing channel enables potential customers to get to you without middlemen. One example is people who type directly your website name on their browser, thus coming to your site.
An indirect channel example is someone finds you through a social media post, which gets featured by Facebook’s algorithms on the users’ feed. If Facebook pushes down the reach of that same post none will find you anymore.
In the former case, potential customers get direct access to your brand. In the latter, users get to know you via a third-party platform.
Digital marketing channels
Let’s look now at some of the key digital marketing channels:
- Customer base: an existing set of customers with whom you have direct contact.
- Email list: a list of contacts built over the years which you can contact directly.
- Website direct traffic: a portion of website traffic comes from people directly young (or having your site saved as a favorite) thus bypassing search engines.
- Push notifications: in some instances websites also collect contacts by enabling push notifications. In that case, when content is out it will reach directly those contacts.
Referrals are channels used to bring visibility to your business beyond search, or social media. Some examples include:
- Affiliate, parters’ websites: you can incentivize other websites and partners to bring traffic or conversions back to your business by structuring partnerships or revenue share.
- PR campaigns: if a media website features your product you will gain traffic as a result.
- Backlinks: if your content is great, other websites might link to it, thus bringing it traffic.
This is at the core of search engine optimization activities.
Search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo primarily make money via advertising revenues. Thus, companies pay them to be featured on top of their search results (there are also other factors affecting paid rankings).
Platforms like Google Ads help with that.
In social media optimization companies curate their pages and content on social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat) to gain organic (unpaid) visibility by building a loyal audience over time.
The same social media platforms we saw above primarily make money via paid advertising. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest have built advanced advertising platform which give companies the ability to segment their audiences in many ways.
How do you decide the proper digital distribution mix?
One way to balance and create a proper distribution mix for your company is to look at two factors:
- Speed: how fast can the distribution channel you’re using grow? In short, is it a multiplicative channel? Or is it additive? For instance, if you are adding customers but they will not reference your service, or have the ability to talk to other potential customers, the channel you’re using is additive.
Instead, if there is a viral component, where existing users and customers can talk easily to each other, the channel is potentially multiplicative.
For instance, if you are selling your service one-to-one, that won’t scale, as before you gain other customers through word of mouth, it will require years. That doesn’t mean you should not do that. As we’ll see at the and of this paragraph, initially, it makes perfect sense to use this approach.
- Control: do you own that channel? Or can it be taken away from you? One example, if you have built your success on top of a platform, if that platform changes the rules, the next day your distribution has gone, even if it took years to build.
For instance, if you get traffic from Google, and you gained rankings. A change in the algorithms might affect your whole digital presence. The same applies to other platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Amazon. It takes once, for them to change the rules, and this might impact your whole distribution strategy.
For the sake of building a successful distribution strategy, then, in the short-term, if you’re starting from scratch it makes sense to be more aggressive in pursuing potential customers, thus also relying on channels that initially don’t scale (one-on-one sale) and that you do not control (SEO, SMO).
Yet over time, this mix will need to be pushed toward building alternative partnerships, distribution channels, scale the customer base, which will be your direct contact, and other direct channels.
- Digital marketing channels are electronic ways to reach potential customers.
- There are different digital channels (organic vs. paid, or direct vs. indirect) and they also change according to the ever-evolving digital landscape.
- An organic channel is usually earned through developing quality content that gets a continuous flow of traffic. Paid channels enable companies to push their products via third-party platforms.
- Direct channels enable companies to reach directly their existing or potential customers. Indirect channels instead enable an organization to reach potential customers via a third-party distribution platform.
- Some of the digital marketing channels comprise SEO, SEM, SMO, and SMM.
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