Every business and organization has multiple marketing channels.
Don’t believe me? How about the most iconic picture of American capitalism — the lemonade stand.
A small child sets up the cardboard and wood stand, writing “Lemonade .50¢” across the top. That’s marketing.
The basket of fresh lemons sitting on the counter at the end of a driveway, to entice people walking by to get a glass. That’s marketing, too. If the child calls out, “Fresh lemonade for sale!”… Marketing.
So, every business markets their goods and services. But it’s finding effective marketing channels that set strong businesses apart.
That’s where this guide comes into play.
There are possibly hundreds of marketing channels. But most modern business is driven through a portion of those (80/20 rule amiright?). In the following words, you’ll find more than 20 marketing channels, separated by category.
In addition to being categorized, I placed a number of “$” and “clocks”.
You may have heard the adage, “It either takes money or time” to reach success in business. Many things you can do yourself, but you’ll have to learn how. It’ll be cheaper and take more time. While other things will be more expensive, but you can hire out to do it.
The rankings aren’t scientific, but a general look at the needed investment. Enjoy!
But first, a look at some of the definitions.
What is a Marketing Channel?
A marketing channel is any known initiative or venue that an organization uses to boost:
- Brand awareness
- Product awareness
- Draw traffic
Those are broad explanations. At the top of the article, I explained the term with illustration. Many people conflate this with the term “distribution channels”. Channels are distribution are different than channel marketing.
Here’s how in two sentences.
Marketing is how you get potential customers to consider buying what you sell. Distribution channels are how you get your products in front of (or into the hands of) potential buyers.
- Example of channel marketing: Using Facebook ads to get targeted traffic to your ecommerce site.
- Example of channels of distribution: Using a fulfillment center to ship products sold from your ecommerce site.
But since a marketing channel refers to getting people to know and consider an organization, there is some cross over. (e.g. A beautiful display of actual product in a store can be part of the distribution system while also serve as marketing.)
That said, mainly marketing is how you get prospective business, compared to a channel of distribution (a supply chain) that gets your products/services to the customers.
Now that we have that out of the way, it’s time to talk a bit about the design of your marketing.
What Does the Process of Designing Marketing Channels Start With?
Good questions. Assuming that the business already exists, it begins with examining your current marketing landscape. Even if you’re a startup, you’ll have channels already running.
Map Your Current Marketing
It’s likely a good idea to do a customer experience map, which shows you every way the public sees and interacts with your brand. An experience map not only shows your current marketing venues, but can also:
- Highlight issues (like if people are talking about you on Twitter, but you’re not active there)
- Show unknown opportunities (we noticed signups coming from YouTube, leading to potential partnerships)
- A good place to start the design process
Pick Channels and Run Tests
The next step of designing your channels of marketing, would be to run tests. Choose a few channels (like the ones on this list). Then, begin using them, tracking the ROI the best you can. Sometimes ROI isn’t easy to track, but you can track improved traffic and other metrics other than revenue.
Keep and Expand On What’s Working
After your tests are complete, there will be losers and maybe winners. If the results were promising, double your efforts to make sure it’s a viable channel. Then, expand it and fully utilize it.
Repeat the process as long as you can. Over time, you’ll likely see tremendous growth through small changes.
Email Marketing Channels
Email is perhaps the least expensive and most powerful marketing channel there is (pound for pound).
Here are a few of the best avenues.
1 Email Marketing
- The Gist: Nearly every business can (and should) use email marketing. Dependent upon your list size, you can start with Gist for free.
- Cost: $
- Time: $$
- ROI: Easily Tracked
Email marketing is perhaps the most-used form of marketing there is, let alone on the internet.
Having someone’s email address is valuable. Getting those addresses can be pricey, but using them is relatively inexpensive.
There is a lot of versatility in marketing emails, too.
- Send drip campaigns to new signups and nurture them towards buying your products.
- Create behavioral emails to trigger based on certain behavior. For instance, send an email to app users who have not logged in over the last two weeks.
- Send newsletters announcing a sale or coupon for your ecommerce store.
- Automatically reach out to clients for referrals instead of having to remember.
There are so many possibilities. Once you’ve built a decent-sized list — there are no shortage of ways to use this channel.
How to Use and Improve Email Marketing
If you don’t have a list started, the answer is simple start one!
Gist has a free-forever version which gives you up to 500 contacts. Our free plan also comes with live chat, opt-in forms and a meeting scheduler. Plus, you get a free trial of everything Gist has to offer for 21 days — no credit card required.
This trial includes drip campaigns, behavioral emails and much more.
Now, if you do have a list but aren’t using things like drip campaigns or personalized email, it’s time to start.
Here’s a great guide to get you started from the Digital Marketing Institute.
2 Cold Email
- The Gist: Great for B2Bs and service-based businesses to go out and start talking to potential clients
- Cost: $$ (Depending on the cost of leads)
- Time: $$ (Depending on whether or not you prospect for leads or buy them
- ROI: 100% traceable
Cold email is reaching out to leads without them knowing about it.
You find or purchase the email address and send them an email. It’s a great way for startups to generate income in the early stages. It’s also fantastic for freelancers, consultants and marketing agencies to get some nice-sized clients.
How to Use and Improve Cold Email
The number one tip I can give you about cold email? Your offer shouldn’t be your offer.
If you sell a paid-ad service, you probably shouldn’t sell your paid ad services. Instead, try to peak their interest in some other way.
- Offer free advice
- Point out a mistake in their current ad campaign
- Invite them to a webinar
If you want to start a conversation, send a conversation starter. Don’t begin with a sales pitch.
3 Transactional Email
- The Gist: A good automation product is needed. Some cost hundreds per month. You can compare many of the top tools to Gist, right here.
- Cost: $-$$$ Depending on the tools you use
- Time: $-$$
- ROI?: Easily tracked
A transactional email is when you’re emailing a new (or soon to be) customer.
How is this marketing?
Simple, you want repeat business. A few examples of this marketing channel include:
- Post-sale coupons (e.g. 15% off your next order)
- Pre-sale upsells (Add x for $$ more, today only!)
- Referral requests (send your clients an email asking them to refer you)
How to Use and Improve Transactional Emails
The best idea here is to automate the process. It’s a pain to send out emails like this on a regular basis. And it’s impossible to do for those with lots of transactions.
With Gist, you can use either behavioral emails or our new Workflow builder to craft the perfect post-sale transactional email.
4 Email Signatures
- The Gist: Free. There are even signature generators that you can use to set things up quickly
- Cost: $
- Time: $
- ROI?: There are a few things you can do to track ROI (e.g. clicks), but largely no.
An email signature is like marketing espionage.
It’s always there, people interact with it. But they don’t know it’s got an ulterior motive. That motive is based on what you want.
- It can drive traffic to your latest piece of content
- A signature can help you book meetings by providing your Gist meeting link
- It can lead people to your LinkedIn account to see your social proof
How to Use and Improve Email Signatures
Make sure it looks good.
It’s the only thing that is on EVERY email and it has to be stylish. Check out this guide from Canva on email signature design.
Website Marketing Channels
If you have a website, you’re marketing on it. But how well? Here are some channels that you may want to use or improve and get the most out of this invaluable resource.
5 Live Chat
- The Gist: Free to hundreds of dollars per month. Gist’s live chat is free forever up to 500 contacts.
- Cost: $-$$ Depending on the chat tool you use
- Time: $-$$ Depending on site traffic
- ROI?: Somewhat trackable. You can see conversations, track their data, etc.
Live chat is one of the best ways to find and have conversations with highly-interested leads. Most everyone knows the first one to respond usually wins.
So, why wouldn’t you have live chat on your site.
There are some instances where it may not be an option. For instance, if you’re an author, speaker or another form of publisher, live chat may not be the best use of your time.
That said, most businesses can use this as a viable marketing channel.
How to Use and Improve Live Chat
Use a chat prompt.
Having the live chat icon is awesome, but having a prompt pop up and welcome guests can start a lot more conversations without being intrusive. A while back, I wrote an extensive look at what a chat prompt should include.
You can also get Gist’s Live Chat on your site in about 2 minutes. And it’s free.
6 Opt-in Forms & Lead Magnets
- The Gist: This one is tricky. You can create a quick checklist for free. But if you want a custom calculator or tool, it’s going to cost you serious time or money.
- Cost: $-$$$ Depending on the tool you use
- Time: $-$$
- ROI?: Between event tracking and tracking pixels, this one is pretty easy to see your ROI
Ok, this one kind of goes with the email section. But it also goes here. Opt-in forms are part of your site, though. So, I put it here.
And lead magnets (offering some sort of valuable resource in exchange for a name and an email) are the best way to attract attention and get the contact data.
How to Use and Improve Opt-Ins
Tailor your lead magnet to the type of content. For instance, we write about marketing, sales, content, and social media.
We have several different lead magnets based on the type of content we release. If we write something about content, we have a guide about re-releasing content to gain traffic.
Social media? We have one to keep your reach with your audience.
- The Gist: Like using email, a blog serves most businesses. But don’t do it unless you’re going to make it valuable.
- Cost: $$-$$$ If you hire out the writing
- Time: $$-$$$ If you do the writing yourself
Not going to spend a lot of time here, but couldn’t leave blogging out of the list.
It’s still a massive channel. In fact, it’s one of Gist’s biggest channels for driving traffic to our website. And even though I’ve been a content creator for closer to 10 years now, I’m still learning a ton about running an effective blog.
How to Use and Improve a Blog
Number one thing I’ve learned — intent matters.
It’s still about keywords, but it’s more about the entire subject and answering the question at hand. You have to dig deeper.
This post is a perfect example. It was riding high in like position 2-3 for “marketing channels”. Getting loads of traffic.
But it wasn’t answering the question of potential marketing channels for a business and rankings dropped (for that and other reasons). What you’re reading now is a complete rewrite of the original post.
Don’t be afraid to do the research. It’s going to take time or money.
8 Other Websites (Not Your Main Site)
- The Gist: Buying sites for their traffic, or starting related content sites to push leads to your business site
- Cost: $$-$$$$
- Time: $-$$
- ROI?: Some things can be tracked (e.g. traffic). But it can be tricky
This one is exciting and something that Gist has used to our advantage.
As with a few other channels on the list, there are a number of ways to do this one. Other companies buy popular domain names and “power” them. And many times, that domain and content is redirected.
We’ve done that with a great deal of success.
How to Use and Improve Other Websites
If you’re going to do this one, it’s both time-consuming and (potentially) costly. Find a blog covering topics close to your industry and see if they’re interested in offloading it.
9 Guest Posting
- The Gist: Writing for other notable sites is extremely valuable for multiple reasons
- Cost: $-$$$ There are paid opportunities and you may hire out to have it written
- Time: $-$$$ Outreach, writing can be time-intensive
- ROI?: There are ways to track things (dedicated landing pages), but it’s mainly a lnikbuilding play
Guest posting gets a bad wrap, but it’s truly one of the best ways to get fantastic links for the price of a good piece of content. Guest posting should be a part of anyone’s marketing strategy who has a web presence.
Writing for others is also a great way to start a conversation with potential partners.
How to Use and Improve Guest Posting
Have a decent looking site with good content on it and write good content for those who allow you to write for them.
Do this, and you’ll have as much opportunity as you need.
10 Cross-Promotion (Joint Ventures)
- The Gist: Build relationships and get in front of prominent audiences (while opening up yours, too)
- Cost: $-$$ May have software costs (webinars), writing and other things
- Time: $-$$$ You get out what you put in with many cases
- ROI?: Somewhat trackable (i.e. dedicated landing pages, coupon codes)
Cross-promotion can be a number of different things.
- You have a webinar with their audience and then one with yours
- Trade guest posts
- Send out newsletters to each others’ audience
- Put on an event together
That’s not an extensive list.
How to Use and Improve Cross-Promotion
Start small. If you email someone, even a comparable company, asking for full access to their audience, it may not go well.
Start with a link exchange. Or something small. Get to know them and let it grow organically.
- The Gist: Organic traffic based on what your customers search for in the search engines
- Cost: $-$$$$ Lots of things you can do inexpensively, but services are expensive
- Time: $-$$$$ Mirrors the money here — One or the other
- ROI?: Great analytics and tracking tools to help gauge ROI
Good old search engine optimization is still alive and kicking.
It’s a lot more complex, too. The fundamentals are still very much the same.
How to Use and Improve SEO
I can’t sum it up any better than this tweet from Cyrus Shepard:
It’s impossible to avoid social media, but so many businesses don’t really put the time or money into this as a viable marketing channel.
12 Social Profiles
- The Gist: Don’t have an active social account with an ugly profile
- Cost: $
- Time: $
- ROI?: No way to really track this, but it’s just good to do
Not your social posting, but the profile or main business page for your organization. There are a number of guides talking about what to post on Twitter. But serious inquiries can involve your profile pages.
Making your stand alone page look good is crucial here.
How to Use and Improve Social Profiles
Do something others aren’t. How about putting a video on your Facebook profile page? That’s not something even big companies are doing.
13 Paid Social Ads
- The Gist: Social media platforms have incredibly intuitive ad services to help you find a super-targeted audience
- Cost: $-$$$ Depends on your ad spend and how good you are at getting that traffic to convert
- Time: $-$$$
- ROI?: One of the most trackable types of ads you can run
Advertising on social media is still highly profitable. And, for the near future it is still quite affordable.
How to Use and Improve Paid Ads
Start small, if you’re inexperienced. You can have a few bucks a day for every ad you run. Should get your acclimated quickly.
Hire an expert if and when you’re ready to take your paid ad game to the next level.
- The Gist: Having an influencer take over your social accounts to get their audience interested
- Cost: $-$$$ Depends on the terms and price of the influencer
- Time: $-$$
- ROI?: Not really trackable. You will likely see a bump in followers, but it’s hard to track new customers from this
This one is little-used, but could be cool for a brand. It’s a form of influencer marketing where someone who has a big following “takes over” your social account (a lot of times it’s instagram).
Their followers will see what they’re up to on your account — giving you a new audience. And since the person posting is someone the audience is familiar with, you don’t have to worry about posting the wrong thing.
How to Use and Improve Take-Overs
Don’t just hand your social account over. Pre-plan, see what the influencer’s ideas are and work together to impress their audience.
15 Social Groups
- The Gist: Groups are concentrated around interests and topics, great for marketing
- Cost: $
- Time: $-$$$
- ROI?: You shouldn’t be selling here, so ROI isn’t really something worth tracking
Groups are available in Facebook, LinkedIn and even Twitter. But there’s an art for companies to use them.
Don’t just go in there with your logo on your profile. It’s better for a Founder to be active within the group. Or, an associate with the company. Like a few of us are active in Gist’s private community.
I’m also active in a few other marketing groups.
How to Use and Improve Social Groups
Don’t directly market here. Selling could get you kicked out.
The subject will naturally come up. Share a guest post you wrote, instead of EVERY single blog you write. Share exciting news when you’re excited, but don’t share a blink pitch.
16 Social Content
- The Gist: Not social posts, but video (including live) and full blogs (like on LinkedIn)
- Cost: $-$$$
- Time: $-$$$
- ROI?: Not very trackable
Again, not going to talk about regular posting.
Social platforms are much more robust than posts. Video (live or otherwise), full on blog posts with decent reach, polls and more are available. And they should be used.
How to Use and Improve Social Content
Promote and be regular. Don’t just use social content as a way to draw, but send traffic there.
Send an email to your list, letting them know you’ll be on Facebook Live answering questions.
It’ll help it grow faster.
These are more traditional ad channels, but can still be largely effective. They are especially useful when used in conjunction with other items on this list.
17 Print Advertising
- The Gist: Putting an ad in a physical magazine or newspaper
- Cost: $$$$
- Time: $$$$
- ROI?: Not trackable
Am I the only weirdo who did the scratch and sniff cologne page in a magazine?
You would scratch it and bring the whole thing right up to your nostrils just to get a whiff of a scent that you’ll likely never buy.
According to WebFX, a magazine ad could cost $250,000.
That’s just the cost of the media publishing. You also have to hire someone to look good for the pictures and someone to smear your product on that cologne ad. The same source estimates the cost to produce the ad ranges from around $400 all the way to nearly $400,000.
Newspapers can be a bit cheaper, depending on the circumstances. That said, ROI is nearly impossible to track.
How to Use and Improve Print Ads
Don’t be boring.
Visually impactful ads have a twofold benefit. They’re way more likely to grab a reader’s attention and they could be picked up by other venues (for free) — simply because they’re so awesome.
Here’s a great example. BoredPanda going over 33 great print ads.
18 Swag Bag
- The Gist: Sending items to your customers to show your appreciation
- Cost: $$-$$$$
- Time: $
- ROI?: Not really for tracking ROI, but more for building relationships with clients
You may have some swag. Apple gives out their logo stickers. Banks give out pens. SaaS companies usually do coffee mugs or t-shirts.
It’s a great way to impress clients and customers while spreading your brand. Instead of word-of-mouth, it’s like view-of-mug. You’ll want to calculate your cost on this one. If each client is worth $20, you don’t want to spend $2 per item.
On the other end, you don’t want to seem too cheap. Not sure how Apple gets away with a few pennies on a sticker when you drop thousands.
How to Use and Improve Swag
Make it different. I recently received a huge swag box from The Hoth that really impressed me. It was a decent-sized box with a t-shirt, mug, stress ball, sticker pen and mousepad. It also had a custom hot sauce (Hoth Sauce)!
Brick and Mortar Marketing Channels
Have a storefront?
This is the list of those marketing streams that you can use (and likely already use) to improve foot traffic and grow you’re revenue.
19 Receipts (and Other Inserts)
- The Gist: Using receipts or other things at the point of sale
- Cost: $
- Time: $
- ROI?: Could be trackable based on things like redemption of coupons
Catalinas have been in use since the 90’s. If you’re a Step Brothers fan, not that kind of Catalina.
Anyway, here’s a breakdown of this and a couple more ways to use receipts.
- Catalinas are coupons that print out at the same time as your receipt. If you bought fresh fruit, it may be $2 off your next produce purchase of $20+.
- Kroger also uses the back of receipts as a revenue source. Local shops will pay them to advertise on the back of the receipts (usually coupons as well).
- Surveys are huge now and a great way to get email signups from people looking for a deal.
How to Use and Improve Receipts
I know more about the Catalina Wine Mixer than I do receipt marketing. So, here’s a great post (with visual examples) to give you some ideas.
20 Loyalty Programs
- The Gist: Increasing repeat business via discounts and free merchandise
- Cost: $-$$
- Time: $
- ROI?: Yep! There are software products for this and physical cards can be kept and counted
I don’t use many loyalty programs. But the ones, scratch that, the one I use — I’m all in.
(Shoutout to Coffee Crossing. The latest member in the full loyalty card club.)
Essentially, you offer discounts or free products/services in exchange for a consistent customer.
These programs are great for brick and mortar shops (like coffee houses and restaurants) and for consumer services (hair stylists, personal trainers, etc.)
How to Use and Improve Loyalty Programs
Do the math and be consistent.
Ensure it’s profitable to offer a loyalty program and then make sure it’s valuable enough to entice customers to become regulars. Don’t aim for your current regulars, but those who are inconsistent.
What’s an offer that will get them in another time or two every week/month/etc..
21 Signs Out Front
- The Gist: Putting a sign out in front (or nearby) your business to drive traffic
- Cost: $-$$
- Time: $
- ROI?: Not easily tracked at all
I wish I would have recorded a video. But the other day, I was driving and a furniture store was having a “moving sale”.
They paid a guy to walk up and down a busy intersection with a sign.
He. Was. Earning. His money.
Sign spinners, sandwich boards, a marquis or just a menu of the day, are all types of signs businesses use to draw traffic inside.
How to Use and Improve Signage
I’d be a terrible sign spinner. But here are some tips to make your physical signs more compelling from Small Business Trends.
Direct Marketing Channels
Want to go straight to the potential customer or decision-maker? These methods are likely some you’ve considered using for that.