The Complete List Of Marketing Channels And When To Use Them

While there are too many marketing technologies and integrations to perform a deep-dive here on, and have it be useful, we can speak to ways that ideas can be ‘put to market’, which, in the end, is all marketing really is.

Marketing ChannelWhen To Use
Advertorials And Paid News PlacementsThis is, on its face, a deception or a lie. Older or less sophisticated consumers don’t know it’s not part of the content they have come to read. We don’t like it done to us, and therefore we almost never do it. 
AffiliateGreat for when there’s a shippable product – of any value – in an established, competitive or non-competitive, market. It’s low-risk (you only pay if you sell). This gets wonky with brick-and-mortar businesses or services. 
Broadcast (Radio, Film, TV)We seldom use or advise this. Use YouTube for better targeting, and produce content; don’t just highlight the thing you want money for. 
Channel PartnershipsThese can be valuable, particularly if there are two-way incentives for the partner, that would cause them to mention you to existing or new customers, and they’re not just featuring you somewhere on their website. A web design company referring people to a web marketing company – both of whom don’t practice in the others line of business – can be a win for everybody. These arrangements are often based on a handshake, and don’t need complicated contracts. We’d always start with a trial phase. We’d similarly avoid paying for traffic from ‘partners’. Just a mutual referral situation that helps everybody is good. 
Content MarketingAnywhere Internet search for content applies. Exceptions would be brick-and-mortar franchises that are not differentiated (Starbucks or Subway), where the brand is already recognized (Sears), in a vertical where a decision to purchase is based on proximity (a gas station), or an acute pain-point (like hunger – a fast food place), where at least a minimal level of quality is inferred by virtue of professional licensure or certification, and where the conversion is immediate and singular (dental emergency). A law firm would greatly benefit from content and helpful articles that appear in not just local, but regional and national search. 
Contests, Charity, Prizes, DonationsCan be used by local businesses in communities. They don’t do as well in big cities, where the business is national or very large. 
Desktop ApplicationThis is interruptive and unwelcome, most of the time. The only appeal here is that it’s cheap. 
Direct MailSaturation mailing is almost never advised. If you can target (households, household size, median income), your service offering is regional and average checkout costs show a possible ROI (massage parlor direct mail in a wealthy area), it can make sense. We would include an offer that’s not a discount or other contingent ‘value’. A ‘free’ inspection from a mechanic, or ‘free’ cleaning from a dentist’s office. Supermarket flyers are not to raise awareness; they’re direct response advertising: they lose money on the coupons or announcing discounts to get you in there. 95% of the time they’re discarded. Depends on nuanced use cases.
Display And Banner AdsManaged ads (that you put on specific websites), or keyword-matched ads that are ‘awareness’ or just announcing that you exist, are not advised. We’d put an offer of content of value in the ad, in addition to precise matching. These can be very cost-effective and even welcome. At the end of the day, while this is ‘interruption marketing’, as all paid ad placements are (nobody asked to see your ad), if you’re helping or offering value (selling your product is not offering value), they can work well. Use cautiously.
EmailGood to use when you have offers of content that have objective and not contingent value. Sales, discounts, freemiums – don’t apply. Customers should already be familiar and engaged with your brand or company if you have their email. Great if you interrupt them only to help them, never to ‘drip market’ or talk about yourself. 
Events, Forums, Seminars This is a great form of content marketing that is trying to help a segment or community with an exciting or disruptive process, product, or service offering. It’s not cheap, and displays organizational and planning investment by the company holding/staging it. Probably more appropriate for a new product/service or process, where instruction or education is useful, and where the product is expensive or sales are expected to be considerable. You wouldn’t hold a seminar on the details of cheap imported widgets, or llama-skin rugs. 
Forums, Exhibitions, Kiosks, ConventionsService providers, with or without a new product or offering, who wish to network and stay abreast of developments in their industry. Novel products that might need some explanation, or where interactive feedback from the market is valued. 
Influencers, Sponsored Mentions, EndorsementsThis amounts to asymmetrical social media and networks, a modern version version of broadcast. We’re more onboard with the other types than influencers, since influencers derive social credit precisely because they can’t be bought. If they’re transparent about being sponsored, this can be effective for some sales cycle profiles.
Loyalty or Referral ProgramWe’ve seldom seen this work. This is an inorganic ‘social currency’ form, like ‘influencer marketing’ that we’re not fans of. If your product and content offerings are good, you shouldn’t need it. If they aren’t good, it’s not that effective. The difference between this and a channel partnership is that the engagement is between professionals and more objectively beneficial. It’s easier to manage and driven by mutual benefit. There are third-party relationships with referrals that can easily lose incentive or become difficult to manage, at scale.
Mobile/Mobile App AdvertisingWe almost never advise this. It’s interruptive on an even smaller screen. Even with perfect alignment of concept or subject matter, it’s a low click-through rate (next to organic). It’s also costly. 
Offline Billboards, SignageThis is more for vanity these days, or as a validator for closing enterprise deals. If placed in Austin or the SF Bay, it can help generate hype or buzz. But It counts on people remembering what they saw hours or days later when they search. It’s broadcast and 1:10,000 are going to be in your demographic. It’s also not inexpensive.  
Organic Social MediaBecoming less effective as there’s a diaspora out of social media giants, and social media, generally, in some markets. For youth and non-disruptive ecommerce (selling imported widgets), it can be effective, especially when paired with offers. Like email, people don’t generally go to Instagram to see what businesses are doing (regarding: follows). We use social as an effective funnel top and try to create content and offers that promote people voluntarily sharing it. 
Outside Sales, Door-To-DoorThe age of the Internet has more or less killed this. It’s time-consuming, expensive, and requires personnel. Door-to-door is less effective than calling, but both are interruption marketing, and therefore not ideal. Inside sales can seem like a ‘bait and switch’, as you’re leveraging knowing a client for something else, but is sometimes appropriate. The determinative factor is whether you’re offering a solution to a known pain-point (because you know them), and coming from a buyer-centric place (with content or the product offering). “Hey you bought X, and I want to sell you Y.” is often unwelcome.
Paid Social MediaThis can work for people-as-brands, or influencer marketing (Kim Kardashian or Gwenyth Paltrow situations). People are on social media to catch up with friends, so always be respectful of that, and make it worth their while. The ‘black box’ matching algorithm on Facebook that puts your ad before people – exactly – still only produces a click-through rate of low singe-digit percentages. 
PR Stunts, Culture Jamming, ViralThis can be highly effective, especially if the product captures imagination, or the founders are ‘colorful’ and confident. This is great for launches, but can get tiresome if repeated. It also carries some risk if it’s not properly executed. 
Press Release Appropriate when you’ve actually *done* something news-worthy. Publicly-held corporations have an obligation to make announcements to shareholders and the public (depending on their size), but you can now ‘buy’ press releases nobody reads. 
Print AdvertisingVery process-involved an expensive. Note: we’re not discussing brochures, which are not really ‘marketing’, since they’re already interested in you to even read it: at your shop or on your site. Print is making a bit of a comeback as people tire of computer screens, and certainly appeal more to an older demographic than younger people who are using Instagram. Depending on cost, visibility, the offer involved, and the demographic, print can be viable marketing channel. 
Professional Networking EventsGreat for new professionals or sole proprietorships whose product is a service or who otherwise don’t or cannot scale – or when other marketing channels are not indicated. It’s time-consuming, but can result in leads. Be wary expecting results in over-saturated verticals (real estate), as this often comes down to high visibility on paid billboard advertising, paid search, or referrals. 
Relationship Marketing, Word Of MouthThis happens organically; you can’t really make it happen. When it’s not organic, people feel used and it fails. 
RemarketingThis was creepy when it first happened, and seldom works. See: banner blindness. It doesn’t cost a lot, but we still aren’t big fans. We don’t like it done to us. 
Search Engine MarketingThis can be appropriate when paired with content offers, for verticals where content applies. In other words, paid search is a ‘funnel top’ – an attention market. It’s interruptive, as all paid placements are. Make it worth people’s while. Don’t think you can ‘buy’ sales, because you can’t, but maybe 1/1000th of the time (CTR x Conversion Rate). You get favored by Google in search when you pay them, so this is not a channel to be dismissed outright, even if – too often – it comes at a cost of content that would perform better. 
SMS, Push NotificationsOften used in political campaigns, and – though these clients aren’t our wheelhouse – we have to assume this works, sometimes. Maybe. It’s hugely disruptive, and the definition of ‘interruption marketing’. 
Street Samples And Give-AwaysThis is great for brick-and-mortar, largely food service, businesses to execute at farmer markets, seasonal fairs, and other events with ample foot-traffic. The cost can be considerable. This will only go over as well as there is actual market demand/appeal for the food. Good way to get feedback on different recipes. 
Swag, T-Shirts, Hats, Stickers, MugsThis is a great adjunct to virtually any product, business or brand that takes immense pride in what they do, or that customers are excited about. There are profiles where companies and brands with only a digital presence can do this, and profiles where companies with brick-and-mortar buildings can do this – either a SaaS startup or a local law firm. Bonus points for a cool logo or brand identity. These are useful, stick around, can be shared, and are nice give-aways for events and customers alike. The rule to follow is whether it makes sense. Nobody wants a Subway mug, and that wouldn’t help with sales or company awareness. 
Website (Search, Content)Some web presence is almost always appropriate; if it’s a gas station, Google My Business or off-page SEO, is appropriate. In many cases, we’d advise both. Your website, in most cases, is where your email, content, funnel tops, messaging, contact – all converge or are most visible. It’s your space, your face. We also advise that you make your website as professional as you can afford, as the wins in marketing are not distributed evenly. 

In basic terms, marketing is the process of identifying customer needs and determining how best to meet those needs. In contrast, advertising is the exercise of promoting a company and its products or services through paid channels. In other words, advertising is a component of marketing. ~ AMA