No one can blame you for thinking “channel strategy” sounds like a subterranean military tactic for burrowing under your opponents. But for businesses who want to sell, and to sell well, they need a channel strategy to market to their customers in the specific places those customers hang out.
Channel strategy is the particular way that companies reach their target audience at specific touchpoints along their customers’ path to purchase. Channel strategy is a marketing plan. The plan’s details vary business to business, but the goal is the same: to deliver marketing messages to existing and potential customers where they are, to get them to buy, and to give them the experience that results in a positive perception of the brand.
Channels are the online and offline touchpoints where customers and companies intersect. Where do customers shop? Where do they do their market research? Get recommendations? Stumble across messaging while doing something else? Those are the places companies can sell to customers along the customer journey. As points of access, channels are also the points where third parties such as channel partners and influencers can deliver marketing on the company’s behalf.
If you find the right channels, you can engage your customers. Channel strategy is about exposure, contact, and customer experience. It’s also about precision.
As consumers, channels are all around us, even though many consumers don’t know the term. We’re in a marketing channel at the coffee shop, where print ads hang on a nearby wall and where we overhear other customers talking up other brands and businesses. We’re in a channel when we scroll Instagram while waiting for our coffee. The small signs by the register are another channel. The banner ads that pop up on our laptop screen while we work remotely are channels. So are the towering billboards we pass around town.
Specific types of channels include:
Whether physical or digital, channels constantly deliver marketing messages. But getting audiences to hear that message requires a sophisticated marketing plan that can get heard over the noise of competing channel marketers, and can speak to customers in the language customers like to hear.
So how do you develop a strong channel strategy?
To develop a channel strategy, you must first think about what you sell, what your customers want, how they speak, what they value, and where they spend time. Then ask: What do they need to have a positive customer experience? Your industry, your brand identity, your business model, and your customers’ habits determine which channels you invest in.
Tractors or lumber? Baked goods or software? Do you sell experiences such as cooking lessons or quiet calming lunch breaks? B2B companies that manufacture products or provide services will utilize different channel strategies than B2C companies.
If you sell directly to customers through ecommerce or brick and mortar stores, then you will utilize your own, often face-to-face, salesforce in direct marketing.
If you sell indirectly through a distributed network of dealers, venders, agents, and other partners, then you will need to equip the channel partners in your network with the right incentives, branded assets, and co-op program to reach customers with brand-compliant messages.
Matching your marketing efforts with your targets’ habits requires studying your customers. When you know who they are, you know where to reach them. So ask yourself some questions to locate their touchpoints:
Creating a buyer persona template helps you determine which channels to invest in, and how to position yourself in that channel in a way that feels authentic and speaks to your audience’s needs and values.
What you sell shapes the ways customers engage with your product and the way they perceive your business. In addition to selling product, a channel strategy helps deliver a particular experience. Consider your customers’ habits, their constraints such as costs, and your product’s capabilities. What will customers need to feel satisfied and appreciated?
For example, business who sell simpler products that customers can use or install by themselves can utilize direct retail and ecommerce sales for their channel strategy.
Selling complicated, sophisticated items such as software and auto insurance requires a more complex strategy. Insurance companies can’t simply have prospective customers picking an insurance policy from list on their website before buying in. As a channel strategy, having an insurance agent sell the product provides an opportunity for customers to ask questions, understand the fine print, and clarify concerns that will educate and build trust. Software and security service companies may need trained specialists to help with installation and customer support as part of their channel strategy. In both examples, having an expert help explain the product increases the likelihood of making a sale and maintaining good customer relations. In other words, that level of support boosts your channel strategy. Don’t leave customers hanging. Instead, make them happy so they’ll buy more and tell their friends how awesome you are.
Now, turn this around: Have a social media profile where customers can broadcast your brand to the world and perform your marketing for you as brand ambassadors. At a coffee shop, customers drink their drinks without oversight, and these operations can attract customers’ attention through enticing, sensory-based Instagram posts or direct marketing. But you can help them share their experience with other consumers, and make them part of your marketing strategy.
Once you’ve invested in particular channels, set measurable goals to track your strategy’s success. Each channel can have different goals, depending on its location along the customer journey, but you’ll want to gauge the number of leads generated directly, and measure the sales that your channels generated.
Email campaigns have clear click-through rates. Measure how much traffic your SEO and content marketing are driving to your website. If you used a referral program, track the volume of leads through word-of-mouth and see if you are generating enough leads through social media campaigns to invest further in an influencer program.
These analytics will help you determine your efforts’ ROI, and they will help you optimize your strategy, making adjustments to increase effectiveness and ROI, and even make the case for a larger marketing budget.
There are myriad benefits to channel marketing. The main one is marketing precision. Where channel marketers can bring national brands to hyper-local audiences in their own communities, channel strategy is a way to also pinpoint very specific points of contact between particular consumers and particular products and services. It’s all about targeting. Targeting saves companies time and money.
Remember, this is “strategy.” Being strategic means being selective, so channel strategy also involves deciding what to leave out. Not every channel is worth your time. Rather than blanketing all channels in the hopes of making some efforts stick, save resources by targeting the channels where your customers can see your product and messages. This will improve your ROI and save your budget for more effective marketing efforts.
That said, multi-channel and omni-channel marketing have benefits for certain types of businesses.
In multi-channel strategy, businesses focus simultaneously on several marketing channels to reach both potential and current customers. Multi-channel strategy involves marketing through direct channels, such as email campaigns, direct mail campaigns, digital catalogs, social media, PPC ads, and your website, to engage prospects.
Most marketing strategies involve more than one channel. But companies still need to be highly selective about which channels they invest in. It’s multi-, not everything goes. Choose the channels your targets frequent most.
Through-channel strategy is about empowering brands to scale their advertising programs across multiple channels and to drive local sales by managing brand assets and marketing resources with channel sales partners.
Seventy-five percent of world trade flows indirectly through channels, which makes alliances essential. A TCMA, or through-channel marketing automation, platform helps bridge the gap between a brand’s corporate marketing efforts and the unique needs of their local partners. TCMAs enable their local partners to create brand-compliant marketing materials and effectively manage their co-op dollars, across a distributed network that uses dealers, agents, franchisees, sales reps, and retailers, in their industry. These partners have a significant impact on the brand’s ability to sell products and services in a given local area. Because many brands have hundreds or thousands of local partners across the nation or even the world, it can be challenging to execute cohesive corporate marketing campaigns at scale without a through-channel strategy.
To ensure your channel strategy will succeed, you should:
Contact BrandMuscle to discuss creating your channel strategy or improving your existing one.