Tutorial 2: An Introduction to the Digital Marketing Channels
Welcome to day two of your Digital Marketing for Beginners Course. We started off strong yesterday, so let’s keep the enthusiasm going.
Today is all about channels. We’ll learn about the most established and most common digital marketing channels, where they typically fit into the “marketing funnel,” and then we’ll take a deeper dive into the mechanics of these channels and the kind of skills required to succeed with them.
Let’s look at what we’ll be covering today in a little more detail:
- What is the marketing funnel?
- What are the most common digital marketing channels?
- Where do these channels fit into the marketing funnel?
Ready for another day on our digital marketing adventure? Let’s go!
1. What is the marketing funnel?
Welcome to the marketing funnel. You’ll come across images similar to the one we’ve included frequently on your journey to becoming a digital marketer.
So what is the marketing funnel, and why do we need to know about it now?
Well, firstly, the marketing funnel is a very useful visualization for understanding the process of turning a potential customer—a website visitor or social media follower—into a real customer.
Marketers will typically cast a broad net in order to create awareness, and then attempt to nurture those who are aware of the product through the next steps of the funnel until they eventually purchase. Inevitably, at each step of the funnel, there will be a drop-off in the number of people as they decide they’re not interested in the product. For this reason, the funnel is funnel-shaped—there are always fewer people the further you go down it.
It’s important to remember that a user’s journey isn’t always linear, and it doesn’t always start at the awareness phase. For example, imagine someone has seen your social media post, they’ve signed up for your newsletter, they’ve browsed your online shoe shop and found a beautiful pair of sneakers.
And then they read a bad review of your service. You take too long to deliver. Amazon is faster. Suddenly, they spring back from the decision phase to the interest or consideration phase, and start browsing your competitors.
Imagine another user who knows exactly which sneakers they want to buy—but they only have five minutes to buy them before their next college lecture starts. What kind of behavior would you expect?
Your future customer would probably google frantically and click on the first result, make a quick value judgement as to whether the website looks trustworthy and the delivery times are acceptable, and then make the purchase. This customer skipped every stage from awareness to consideration and entered at the evaluation/decision phase.
The funnel is not only useful for understanding the customer’s journey—it also helps us to understand how different channels, campaigns, and even marketing roles operate at different parts of the funnel.
In the next section, we’ll turn our focus to some of these channels and the marketing roles behind them, explain how the channels work, and discussing how they fit into the marketing funnel.
2. What are the most common digital marketing channels?
You can very quickly end up lost in a rabbit hole when answering this question. Let’s take social media as an example.
If I say “social media” to you, what do you think? If you’re of a certain age, your mind might skip to MySpace, Bebo, or Facebook. If you’re of a certain other age, your mind might skip to TikTok, or ClubHouse, or something even newer and even trendier.
You might not consider YouTube as social media, even though it shares many of the same features that make platforms like Facebook “social.” You might consider YouTube something more akin to Netflix—an on-demand video platform.
So when we say “social media,” we’re really referring to a number of platforms that are geared to user-generated content and peer-to-peer communication. Each of these platforms fosters its own style of communication and attracts a certain type of user. As a consequence, one social media platform might be much more appropriate for your marketing than another.
So, if you’re marketing a new line of briefcases, would you do it on LinkedIn or TikTok?
And that’s just the first degree of complexity.
You can choose any one of tens—if not hundreds—of marketing techniques on social media. You can build up an audience organically, without investing any budget (but potentially a lot of time), by producing valuable content that people want to see. Or you could use the social media platform’s ad networks to show ads to targeted audiences. Or you could launch campaigns with influencers—those social media users who have already built a big following—who talk enthusiastically about your product, and encourage their followers to buy it. Or—even better—you could employ a combination of these techniques.
Each of these techniques has its own name; you might call the focus on audience building on social media networks “organic social,” or perhaps just “social media marketing,” and “paid social” for the use of paid ads. If you’re collaborating with influencers to talk about your product, you’re doing “influencer marketing.”
So what’s the point here? The point is that everything’s connected, and everything’s a mess, and that’s how it should be. But we should try to make sense of this mess by categorizing channels and giving people the responsibility for running them.
Here are four overarching channels. It’s very common to find these channels represented by individuals within smaller companies, and whole teams in larger companies:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Social Media Marketing (SMM)
- PPC Marketing (PPC)
- Customer Relation Management (CRM)
We’ll go into more detail on each of these channels in section four of this tutorial, but let’s prime you for that deep dive with a quick summary of what the channels entail.
SEO is the process of optimizing your website and individual webpages in order that they show high in organic search rankings. This optimization can take many forms. It can be “on-page” or “off-page,” or “technical” or “content-driven,” but the goal is always the same: to take advantage of the huge search volumes on search engines—primarily Google—to get visits to your site from people who might be interested in purchasing your product or service.
2. Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing, as we’ve touched on, is the process of growing engaged audiences on social media platforms. These audiences can not only be converted into customers, but can also be leveraged to amplify the brand across social media channels. When we’re talking about social media marketing, we’re generally referring to “organic” growth, which means we’re not actively investing advertising budget into the distribution of the content we post. If we’re advertising—even if it’s on a social media platform like Facebook—we call it “pay-per-click marketing,” “pay-per-click advertising,” or simply “PPC.” So let’s define PPC, too.
PPC is the most common form of “paid marketing,” and it’s exactly what the name suggests; you pay a certain amount for every click on your content, whether that content is an image ad, a video ad, or simply a text ad. Sounds simple, but there’s plenty of nuance within PPC too. Sometimes you pay for the click that plays the video, and sometimes you pay for a click at the end of the video which takes you to the website. And sometimes, like on YouTube ads, you pay for something in between. Google and Facebook are the giants of PPC.
CRM, as SalesForce defines it, is “the system that businesses use to manage business relationships and the data and information associated with them.” It also typically refers to the area of marketing concerned with the management of this system.
Sound a little too abstract?
Take a look at your email inbox. How many emails do you have from companies? How often do you receive those emails? What’s the content of those emails? Why are you receiving those emails?
At some point, you will have signed up for a newsletter, or entered your personal details while creating an account, or making a purchase, and some of your details will have been saved in a CRM along with any number of other data points—perhaps what you bought, or which country you live in, or an estimation, based on your on-site behavior, of how likely you are to make another purchase.
Based on this data, you will receive certain communications at certain times. It’s the job of the CRM manager to orchestrate this entire system and all its processes.
These four channels encompass the main sources of traffic for pretty much any website; search, social, ads, and email.
3. Where do these channels fit into the marketing funnel?
We have plenty of dichotomies in digital marketing; two things that are presented as being opposed to one another. This is the case with the channels. The most obvious example is the differentiation between “acquisition” and “nurture.”
So what’s an acquisition channel?
Acquisition channels are typically the channels at the top of the funnel that drive first-time visits to your website. They include SEO, social media marketing, and PPC. You’ll probably invest the most time and money in these channels, as they provide the clearest source of growth. The aim of most acquisition channels is to get the user—your potential customer—onto the site and then make a “conversion”. A conversion is any meaningful action on the site, most often signing up for something with an email address (“creating a lead”), booking a call with a sales team, or purchasing a product or service.
And what’s a nurture channel?
Email seems old hat, but it’s royalty among the nurture channels—it’s still the most effective marketing channel around. Why do you think companies are always so keen to get your email address?
It’s because email marketing works—and it’s (almost) free.
As we read a moment ago, the CRM team is responsible for communications with a company’s leads. It’s their job to try to encourage—or nurture—these leads to take the next step on their journey, whether that be booking a call with a sales team or making a purchase. In funnel terms, they want to usher people down the funnel from “awareness” and “interest” all the way through “evaluation” and “decision” to the “purchase” moment. This could be achieved in any number of ways; sending a comprehensive ebook to the leads to increase their sense of trust and credibility in the company, or offering a time-limited discount to incentivize leads to purchase before it’s too late, or sending a video testimonial of someone just like you who has benefitted from using the product. The list is only as limited as your imagination.
Again, these channels aren’t the be-all and end-all of digital marketing. Take events marketing, for example. Events are often extremely effective in nurturing leads from interest to purchase—that’s one big reason why there are conferences for just about everything. They’re money spinners, presenting marketing and sales teams with the perfect opportunity to build relationships and connections with potential customers, addressing their needs on a more personal level.
In this tutorial, we learned all about the marketing funnel, what a marketing channel is, and how all the marketing channels differ from one another. We also learned how the different channels typically fit into the marketing funnel. In the next tutorial, we’ll take a step back and discuss methods we can employ to do research in digital marketing. Looking forward to seeing you there!