Business owners have many choices when it comes to their marketing today, and choosing the right marketing channels to achieve your goals can be overwhelming. How do you figure out which channels are the best ones to focus on?

The answer will depend on various factors, including what your business does, the product or service you’re selling, your target market, the geographic area you serve and what your ultimate goals are. Identifying the right marketing channels should be part of an overall marketing plan.

How Do I Know Which Marketing Channels I Should Focus On?

First, explore all your options. There are many traditional and digital marketing channels available to businesses today, but here are 10 of the most commonly used:

  • Email marketing
  • Social media
  • Paid search ads
  • Internet display advertising
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Word-of-mouth
  • Your website
  • Blogging
  • Events
  • Direct mail

Small businesses generally use several marketing channels, not just one. This is smart because your customers and prospects are likely to have different needs, habits and preferences for how they engage with your business. Moreover, each channel serves a different purpose along the customer buying journey.

Display advertising, for example, can be a useful way to grow brand awareness and generate leads from another website that your prospective customers spend time on. Email marketing, on the other hand, is effective for building loyalty with people who are already familiar with your business.

Next, determine how time and money you can and should devote to each marketing channel. You may have a presence on social media, for instance, but how much of your marketing budget and time should you allocate to it? Are your resources better spent on SEO or display advertising?

Here are some questions to ask as you wade through these important decisions:

What’s your target customer demographic?

If your customers are, say, young and tech-savvy, you might devote more resources toward marketing on the social media platforms they use most frequently. If your customers are less digital-savvy, you might focus on traditional channels such as radio or direct mail.

How much time are you willing to devote?

Some channels require a bigger time commitment than others. Using search engine optimization (SEO) to try to achieve the top organic search rankings for your website can be time-consuming, even though it can greatly boost your search traffic. Buying a paid search ad, on the other hand, costs more money, but it can bolster your position in search engines faster.

What channels are most opportune for your business and industry?

Your industry and type of business might steer you toward certain marketing channels. For example, an auto mechanic might want to provide coupons to prospective customers within a five-mile radius of his shop, a goal that can be achieved using direct mail. (That said, many digital marketing platforms today can also serve up ads and coupons to customers based on their geographic location.) An accounting firm might find that focusing on SEO in its local area is the best way to engage prospects and customers.

Perform a Situation Analysis for Marketing

As you develop your marketing plan and consider which marketing channels to pursue, you should conduct market research and consider performing a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis.

This process involves—as its name suggests—evaluating what your company does well (and not so well) to find opportunities for improvement and to identify risks. This information will ultimately help you make better strategic decisions.

To perform a SWOT analysis, you answer a range of questions to uncover your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Many companies develop their own questions tailored to their business goals for the SWOT analysis, but you can find many example SWOT questions through an online search.

A SWOT analysis is a powerful way to spot problems and opportunities in your business strategy overall, but you can use the revelations to inform your marketing strategy and more effectively engage your target market.

For example, the analysis might reveal that you’re generating a lot of new business thanks to paid search ads, but that those first-time customers rarely become repeat customers. So, you might decide to bolster your customer retention efforts. In turn, you might focus on email marketing and other marketing channels that allow you to stay in touch with past customers.

A SWOT analysis can also allow you to spot gaps and opportunities in other aspects of your business beyond marketing—such as customer service or technology usage. The beauty of a SWOT analysis is it takes a holistic view of your business so that your various strategies are more intertwined and addressing your business needs.

If You Need to Create Brand Awareness, Play the Impressions Marketing Game

If your research shows that you need to grow your brand awareness online, you probably need to focus on so-called impressions marketing.

In simple terms, impressions are how many times an ad is displayed online—though not necessarily clicked on. Impressions directly affect your brand’s online reach, and you can use your impression count to measure the success of your marketing on the various digital marketing channels.

It’s important to understand the two main types of impressions: served and viewable. Served impressions are counted whenever an ad appears on a page someone visits—whether or not that person likely saw that ad based on its placement and how much time they spent on the page. Viewable impressions are the number of impressions counted when someone is likely to have seen the ad.

Digital marketing platforms generally base their impression counts on served impressions, but many are getting more transparent about the viewability of those impressions so that businesses understand the true visibility and reach of their online advertising.

Keep in mind that each channel is different in terms of gauging the success and cost of impressions. Here are a couple of examples of the different ways to measure the success of impressions:

Email Marketing

If you send an email to 10,000 email addresses, 1,000 may bounce—meaning they were never opened. Of those remaining 9,000, perhaps 1,500 were opened. That would mean your impression count is 1,500. If you spent $750 to send that email, your cost per impression was 50 cents.

Paid Search / Online Display Ads

With paid search and online display ads, there are two basic cost structures: pay-per-impression (PPI) and pay-per-click (PPC). When you pay based on impressions, you typically pay a specific fee for every 1,000 impressions—also known as cost per mille. Let’s say you pay $4 for every 1,000 impressions. If your ad gets 100,000 impressions in a month, you would then pay $400.

If You Need to Generate More Leads, Inbound Marketing Is for You

On the other hand, if your biggest concern or need isn’t brand visibility but rather generating leads, inbound marketing channels may be your best bet.

Inbound marketing is sometimes called “pull marketing” because it entails any marketing that draws in customers, rather than pushing your brand, products or services using more traditional marketing strategies like advertising. Inbound marketing strategies include SEO, blogging, content marketing, events and social media.

For example, SEO is considered inbound because you are tailoring your website and online content in order to draw more search traffic to your website that will hopefully convert into new business.

Hosting or sponsoring events can be an effective form of inbound marketing because you’re creating experiences that attract people who, in turn, may give you their contact information and become interested in doing business with you.

Likewise, content marketing involves producing compelling articles or other content that—while not meant to “sell” your products or services—will generate more trust and authority for your business and can ultimately lead people to contact you.

Branding & Marketing: Yes, They Are Different

As you build out your marketing plan, it’s important to understand the difference between branding and marketing. The two terms are often confused, and while they do intersect, they serve a different purpose.

Branding is establishing a unique identity for your small business that helps it stand out from competitors; marketing is what you do to build brand awareness.

You want a distinct brand because it tells your target audience what your company is all about—your personality and your ideals. To create a strong brand, you need:

Brand Voice

This is essentially the language and imagery you will use to communicate with your target audience. That voice should be consistent across all marketing channels, including on your website, social media and any advertising. You need to think through questions like: Is your tone casual or more formal? What feelings are you trying to convey? What words will you use to describe what your business does?

Brand Mission

This is a brief statement about your brand’s identity, vision and purpose. It can help guide your approach to marketing.

Brand Pillars

These are the specific strengths or values that set your brand apart from competitors. Your pillars could entail anything from empathy to reliability to sustainability—or whatever key traits your brand stands for.

Once you’ve fully developed your brand identity, you can use it to guide you on other important branding decisions, such as creating a logo and a tagline for your website and other marketing materials. It can also inform the colors you choose for your logo and website.

Branding is Important Across all Marketing Channels

As the “face” of your company, your brand identity needs to be consistent and clear across all of your marketing channels—whether email marketing, your website, advertising and social media.

Some channels—such as your website and display advertising—may be more heavily branded, because they will carry branding visuals such as your logo. But every channel should have elements of your brand and consistent brand messaging to ensure your branding and marketing are fully integrated.

Having a strong brand identity can help you generate more loyalty because your customers and prospective customers will better understand what your business stands for. They shouldn’t be confused or getting mixed messages about what your business is all about, because you’re continually giving them the same consistent message across all your marketing channels.

In other words, you’re simplifying your marketing efforts by being clear and consistent in your branding.

A strong brand identity allows you to focus on new customer generation instead of continually trying to retain customers. That’s because a memorable brand will naturally lead to brand loyalty. So, you may be able to focus less on customer retention-geared marketing channels, such as email, and more on lead generation-focused channels.

As you create your marketing plan, your branding and marketing need to be interconnected and feel cohesive. Your brand identity can help you determine which marketing channels are the right fit for your messaging and image—so that your brand shines through them all.

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