We don’t talk enough about how a smart digital channel strategy can drive customer acquisition, retention, and overall satisfaction. I have probably wasted months of my life on either the wrong marketing channel or doing a poor job using one of them. And I still cry sometimes alone in my bed, thinking about it ;)
Marketing channels are how you get your message to prospects and customers. Picking the right channels and using them properly can help you find new customers, increase sales, and build your brand.
You're probably already using email marketing, social media, and maybe podcasts or video. They are many ways for you to make the same mistakes I’ve made.
Many people often waste time trying to increase their productivity per channel. It's not necessarily wrong, but your first step should be to have a coherent digital channel strategy. You can then avoid wasting time on the wrong channels.
In this post, we'll cover the top marketing channels, discuss their cost structures, and typical mistakes startups and marketers make with their channel strategy. We'll cover specifically:
Marketing channels are how you reach your audience, prospects, and customers. They include the tools and tactics you use to generate awareness, build relationships, establish credibility, influence buying decisions, and ultimately convert leads into customers.
Some growth marketers see channels as a long list of options that you can pick from: LinkedIn, Instagram, email, TikTok, video, influencer marketing, etc.
But it's not enough to pick a channel. You need to approach them the right way.
There are a lot of dumb things you can do on LinkedIn or TikTok. Just check the LinkedIn example that I found in a Contently article.
Since channels are your path to your prospects and customers, you need to select those where your target audience is. Otherwise, you’ll be choosing a road that leads to a ghost town.
Marketing channels help you reach real human beings. That means you should behave like a human, not like a creepy weirdo.
I like to group marketing channels according to the type of relationship they create between your audience and your business. Here’s what I mean.
For each of these four buckets, you can pick the channels that will make the most sense for your business, products, and approach. If you do your homework properly, you will end up with a cross-channel marketing strategy built around the objectives and relationships you want to have with your target audience.
In his book Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth, Gabriel Weinberg, Founder and CEO of Duckgogo claims that there are 19 Marketing Channels, including viral marketing, public relations, search engine marketing, social & display ads, offline advertising, seo, content marketing, etc.
I’ll cover a few critical ones below:
Your website acts as a hub for your digital marketing efforts. It’s where people go to learn more about you, your products, and your services. It’s often the first place they visit when they hear about you or are ready to buy.
A blog can be a fantastic complement to your website. It's where you can show your work and expertise and offer answers and solutions to people's questions and problems.
Publishing a blog is a medium to long-term strategy, but once it gets traction, it is a great source of “free” traffic that will considerably and consistently decrease your overall customer acquisition cost (CAC).
Pitfalls: a website and blog without traffic are like a message in a bottle far away at sea. Romantic, I admit, but pretty useless. Designing and working on your website can also suck you into another parallel dimension, where you move buttons and images, add more content, and lose sight of the real world. Set goals and measure the impact of your content.
What we’ve done: We have used our website to explain who we are and what we offer. Our blog has featured our podcast episodes, our takes on specific themes, and guest posts from our community. It has been a good “business card” and a source of leads (from potential podcast guests to prospects for our services).
Social media is a great way to listen to and reach potential customers on the platform of their choice. You can discover problems to solve (see the example tweet below). You can learn about challenges or questions your prospects have. You can build relationships with influencers, customers, and leads.
But it can be challenging too. It’s important to be authentic with your audience and show a natural extension of your brand. You don’t want to frustrate people with irrelevant content or bombard them with sales pitches at every turn!
Pitfalls: Social media can easily become a black hole sucking in all your time and energy without giving any results. You need a system to figure out where and how to spend your time. Social media can often turn into a useless gossip and opinion cafe feeding broken big, and fragile egos.
What we’ve done: We have experimented a lot with social media over the years. I’ll be honest. We’ve suffered the spaghettification of the time-sucking social media black hole.
More recently, we have concentrated our efforts mainly on LinkedIn and Twitter. LinkedIn allowed us to find some of our amazing employees. Twitter is a great source of leads, potential podcast guests, and problems to solve.
Email marketing has been around for decades and is still one of the most effective ways to reach, nurture, and convert potential customers. Some predicted the end of email marketing a few years back, but it has remained a strong marketing channel because you own your list.
Medium can go down. Twitter can ban you. Facebook can steal your data. But you own your email list and can reach people directly.
A simple, regular, and authentic newsletter can help build your relationship with your audience, provide value, and generate sales.
Pitfalls: Growing an email list is relatively easy. Keeping your subscribers engaged represents the real challenge. If you send sporadic emails without much substance, don’t be surprised to see disheartening open rates and an alarming number of unsubscribes.
What we’ve done: We use our newsletter to keep our audience in the loop of our latest pieces of content, products, and events. We know that people have lives, and are not waiting for the next piece of content that we publish. Our newsletter drives people back to our website, podcast, and social media channels. It’s another way to stay top of mind.
Podcasts show another aspect of your personality and expertise. Spotify, Apple, and Google give your potential audience another avenue to discover you. It's a great way to reach people who aren’t actively looking for your content.
Pitfalls: Producing a podcast takes hard work. Producing a podcast that people will want to listen to is even harder. You need to find your unique angle (what differentiates you from the other podcasters) and keep asking yourself: " what value am I providing that makes this episode worth listening to?"
What we’ve done: Running our own Growth Leap Podcast has enabled us to develop genuine relationships with founders, innovators, and thought leaders, such as Fabien Wesemann from Wefox, Robbie O’Connor at Notion, Arvid Kahl, and Plan A Founder and CEO Lubomila Jordanova to name a few. Having a podcast also gives you credibility when approaching prospects and potential partners.
If you want to reach people on a deeper level and build a more personal relationship with your audience, video is the way to go. It can be used in many different ways—from creating interviews with experts in your industry to creating explainer videos that show viewers how something works or why they should care about it.
Pitfalls: Just list podcasts, creating videos can entail a lot of work and a steep learning curve if you're just starting. It can also be a total waste of time if your content does not fit the platform you use, e.g. a YouTube video without a hook or a TikTok video with a long introduction. You need clear goals, a plan, and the right tools. Descript is one of them that we love to use.
What we’ve done: We’ve been a bit shy on the video channel so far.
Webinars give you the opportunity to share knowledge, actionable tips, and experience with a crowd who wants to be there. You're not broadly broadcasting a message. You get in front of your audience and answer their most pressing questions.
Pitfalls: Many Webinars have become very popular since the Covid pandemic started. Many marketers and entrepreneurs started using the "evergreen" webinar funnel strategy with pre-recorded webinars. People are used to them. And it's become very easy to just be another templated, boring, low-value webinar if you're not careful. Also, organizing and promoting webinars take time. If no one shows up, well…
What we’ve done: Webinars are a powerful way to grow your email list. We were able to gain hundreds of subscribers with webinars like How to build your startup for sustainable and scalable growth with Arvid Kahl and Alexej Habinsky and Notion and Sharpist on how to take your startup global. We promoted the webinars as LinkedIn events and invited smart people, some of whom had previously been podcast guests. Another way to deepen our relationships.
Paid advertising is another way to reach your target audience, drive them to your website, and generate sales. Ads can also help you test different messaging, headlines, and offers so you can learn what resonates best with your audience.
Pitfalls: Ads cost money! Also, putting too much emphasis on conversions can lead you to miss out on building a broader audience. There are millions of reasons why people waste money on ads, including bad creatives, bad landing pages, and bad targeting. Ultimately, you want to focus on generating an attractive ROI, which we cover just below.
What we’ve done: We have used ads for a variety of reasons and plan to do so a bit more this year. We ran ads in the past to drive people to our lead magnets. It warmed up our audience, built awareness, and generated new subscribers. We have also been running ads for some of our clients, such as Smart Game Piano always focused on optimizing the ROI based on our target CPA.
All marketing channels have distinct cost structures, reach, and ROI. This should dictate which ones you will prioritize and shape your digital channel strategy.
Let's examine each element more closely.
You should think about this both in terms of money AND time. Tweeting your life away doesn't necessarily mean taking money out of your pockets. But it's time invested that may or may not result in a return.
Take a minute each month to analyze your cost. Build a simple table with all the marketing channels that you use. Create three columns for "$ cost," "time cost," and return on investment.
Don't over engineer this. It could simply be ranked as low, medium, or high. Tally the results once a month to get a reality check and see if you are spending money and time on the right channels.
The reach of a marketing channel refers to how many people can see or interact with your ad, message, or content. Your reach on LinkedIn depends on the number of LinkedIn users in your network or whom you could potentially add. When you set up an ad on Facebook, you can see the expected reach based on the targeting criteria you selected.
The return on investment (ROI) is the amount of profit you make divided by the amount of money you spend. If you spend $1,000 on a marketing campaign and generate $2,000 in profits, your ROI would be 200% ($2,000 ÷ $1,000). This means that every dollar you spend on advertising will bring in two dollars in profits.
But since I told you to take time into account earlier, I would recommend that you track the time invested as well. A standard ROI equation considers the salaries of people involved in the effort. The amount spent on a paid campaign would include the ad spend + the team's salaries. That's why you'll often see people talk about ROAS or return on ad spend, which removes the salary component from the equation.
The first and most costly mistake is failing to have a coherent channel strategy. You don't know what channels to use, how much effort to invest in each, and how they all fit into your overall business goals.
A coherent digital channel strategy doesn't mean that you choose one channel and stick with it forever—it means that each channel has a clear purpose and direction.
There's a lot of hype around omnichannel strategy right now. Look at your channels as a transportation network instead of siloed and unconnected roads (God, that's poetic!).
Here’s an example of having a coherent strategy using B2B marketing channels:
How does your blog support your social media presence? How do you leverage your podcast on other channels? When you connect these dots, you start having a coherent marketing channel strategy designed to bring new leads and convert them into customers.
You may be tempted to create as much content as possible. You learned that you needed to be seen and produce content consistently. Many see AI-generated content as the solution. The machine can spit out thousands of social media and blog posts in a fraction of the time you used to need (I got nothing against AI. This post was supported by AI).
The danger is to create unoriginal, boring, and unremarkable content and interactions.
The wasted months of my life I told you about at the beginning of this article taught me one thing. It is very easy to add your content to the sea of noisy and unremarkable content that is on the internet. It's now even easier with AI-generated content.
But adding content won't change a thing if there's not a certain level of quality and value in it. Invest time in creating something worth creating. And then consistently create.
Unless you have mastered the art of content planning and automation, using too many channels will most likely hurt you. It will lead you to create poor content, interactions, and relationships. You’ll spread yourself too thin.
It’s tempting to jump on the next trending channel. Remember Clubhouse? While there are benefits to being an early adopter on a new platform, you can easily lose focus. It’s better to focus on one or two channels and leverage them well instead of having a weak presence everywhere.
In a recent podcast episode, Leadballer Agency CEO Jimmy Coleman shared with me his LinkedIn strategy to generate 7-figure leads. He explained that although he approached this channel with a salesperson mindset, he emphasized the importance of developing authentic relationships with his leads. He advised us to stand out of the crowd by not avoiding what everybody else was doing, namely, to be so transactional.
Growth advisor and angel investor Alexej Habinski offered similar advice in a different episode. He explained that each campaign should be designed as if you were talking to one individual. If you cannot convince someone face-to-face with your message, you will probably fail with other digital marketing channels.
In other words, stay human, no matter which channel you pick.
Now. Please. Buy. My Product. 🙂
We’ll also be working on our own digital channel strategy. We’re not the type of folks who tell people what to do without looking at themselves in the mirror. We do what we preach (how virtuous 🙂).
Here’s our own marketing channel strategy example.
We will focus on quality and differentiation in our content and interaction. I’ve been guilty myself of adding mǎmǎhūhū content to the internet without the level of quality that I would have liked. We have run a few experiments over the past few months. Now is the time to take it up a notch.
Concretely, we will improve the value-per-word of our blog posts and make sure we provide a unique angle. We have enough experience, credibility, and personality to give you articles that are insightful, original, actionable, and fun.
We’ll invest in more in-depth content pieces like this post and offer densely valuable and actionable content like our curated guide with 25 Overlooked Tactics to Grow Your Audience and Customer Base.
We have also revamped our own, cross-channel marketing strategy. Although we will continue to focus heavily on LinkedIn, our blog, and podcast, we want to tighten how these channels build on and reinforce each other. We will add YouTube and increase the frequency of our newsletter.
Our blog will be at the center of our content and channel strategy. We want to create in-depth, long-form articles that provide high value-per-word, concrete examples and actionable tips. Instead of just being one-sided, we want to add the perspective of experts in some articles. These posts will be the starting point of what happens on our other channels.
We will improve our communication with our subscribers by sharing our blog posts, podcast episodes, and special offers, as well as asking for feedback. I want our audience to be the first to know about our new articles, tools, and podcast episodes. I also want to deepen our relationships with our subscribers by getting more input from them, e.g., what challenges they have, topics they’d like us to cover, and feedback and ideas they want to share.
We will continue to use LinkedIn to build relationships and amplify the distribution of our content. We share bitesize repurposed content from our blog and podcast. We believe in sharing the work of other great companies. Our sustainability startup features have been a great way to build relationships with inspiring and innovative startups. Plus, these posts have performed quite well.
We will be adding YouTube to our marketing channel list in 2023. While we don’t have the bandwidth to create YouTube-specific content, we want to start by repurposing content for that channel.
YouTube remains one of the biggest search engines in the world. It’s a fun, accessible, and versatile platform. We decided to give it a try and leverage the content that we create via our online courses or podcast.
Finally, we have adopted a more structured content strategy and content creation process. Our team grew last year and should continue to grow in 2023. This requires more structure and efficient processes.
We put together each step of our process on a notion page. It’s relatively light (read, not too bureaucratic) but explains what needs to be done, which tools to use, where to file the documents, etc. This will help us accelerate our production time, increase the quality of our work, and use the full distribution potential of each channel.
Being intentional with your digital channel strategy will boost all your awareness, acquisition, and retention initiatives. Since you don’t have unlimited resources, it's critical to focus on one or two main channels. You can still rely on others as content amplification channels or more specifically to build relationships and engage with your audience. Keep in mind to set goals and measure what you do. You don't need to nail everything you try, but you should learn from all your experiments. If you don't, you'll find yourself crying alone in your bed ;)