Chances are you've had your fair-share of people offering you advice about using this marketing channel or that one. It's hard to know if what worked for someone else will work for your business or if that advice is biased -- outright or unintentionally.
For this reason, it's vital not to look at marketing channels from a purely objective standpoint. Instead, consider what your unique brand needs from a channel and how each channel can meet that need.
What Is a Marketing Channel?
A marketing channel is a pathway (a channel) a product moves through from you to your customers. It involves tools, tactics, and touchpoints that guide the target audience through the buyer's journey: Awareness > Consideration > Decision-making.
A marketing channel should not be confused with a distribution channel -- the way you logistically deliver goods -- although distribution may be incorporated into your marketing channel (e.g., retail displays or online checkout).
What Does an Effective B2B Marketing Channel Look Like?
It would be fantastic if we could say that a marketing channel is a single stand-alone path. But in reality, most marketing plans include a combination of channels working together, creating a larger pathway -- an omni-channel experience.
For example, email marketing is a highly valued marketing channel in B2B, with an estimated 36:1 ROI in 2022. But how do you build that subscriber list? Emails?
You need a channel that does what email can't. Something that helps you attract your target and convinces them of the value of signing up.
Maybe you need to offer them a case study that shows how to increase website traffic by 511%.
Social media, content marketing, and/or search engine optimization (SEO) are all channels that can help you build a subscriber list.
The two (or more) become a seamless pathway from brand awareness to becoming a delighted customer to telling others.
This doesn't, however, mean that your marketing channel has to be complex. Nor should your business try to incorporate every channel.
You want the channels you choose to be low-friction for your target audience and easy plus cost-effective for you to manage. Otherwise, it won't work.
To that end, some channels will be better for your business than others.
The best marketing channel for you allows you to deliver consistent, high-quality leads to Sales -- and having your Sales manager agree with that assessment.
Focusing on the right marketing channels is critical to developing a strategic marketing plan that meets your company's specific business goals.
At the end of the day, that's all that matters.
Types of Marketing Channels
Some popular ones you can use for B2B marketing include:
- Social media (paid and organic)
- Search advertising
- Email marketing
- Video / YouTube / Streaming
- Search engine optimization (SEO) / Website / B2B Blog
- Display advertising
- Referral / Word of mouth
- Online review management
- Webinars and virtual events
- Press releases / Public relations
- Direct mail
- In-store marketing
- Cold calls
- Retargeting ads
Each of these has its strengths and weaknesses. While you probably wouldn't use them all at once, you may choose several to build out a B2B omnichannel experience that meets your business goals.
Top Marketing Channels for B2B
Of these, the top marketing channels for B2B marketers, according to HubSpot's 2022 Industry Trends report, are:
- Social media (45%)
- SEO / Website / Blog (41%)
- Email marketing (38%)
- Content marketing (33%)
But just because other businesses are using these 4 channels most, doesn't mean they're right for you. Let's examine why so many B2B businesses have narrowed their focus to these 4.
SEO / Website
Search engine optimization helps you appear higher in search results for phrases important to your business. These phrases are the queries people type or speak into a search engine like Google or Alexa: "What Is Local SEO?"
For example, if you sell B2B bookkeeping services, you want to appear when someone searches for a "bookkeeper" or "accountant", as well as more specific searches like, "bookkeeper reviews" and more generic related searches like "how to create a business budget".
If you provide services locally, it's crucial to appear in the searches of potential customers in your area.
Local SEO helps you appear at the top of local searches, plus added visibility in Google Maps and Google My Business.
An estimated 53% of traceable traffic comes from organic search results. When thinking about buying something, 64% of people search for it on Google first.
The result in the #1 position earns around 32% of all clicks for that search. 39% say seeing a business in the search results influences their buying decision.
Yet, 91% of websites get no organic search traffic. So building a website presence through search engine optimization is critical to achieving results like these.
Under the canopy of SEO, you have your business blog. 69% of marketers say this is an essential lead-generation tool. It provides search engines with a lot more content on your website to display in search results.
About 47% of business buyers read 3-5 of a company's blog posts before talking with Sales.
Blog posts are instrumental across several marketing channels. For SEO, they can boost search visibility. For social media and email, they provide you with original content to regularly engage your audience.
And, of course, they're an important part of content marketing. They educate your potential buyers and guide them into your sales funnel.
SEO helps B2B businesses:
- Increase search engine visibility
- Get found by high-quality leads
- Build brand trust, authority, and loyalty over time
- Reduce dependence on higher-cost, lower ROI marketing channels like search or social media ads.
With all this said, SEO may not be an important marketing channel for your business. Let's look at a few others that may be before we begin to break down how you'll know.
According to Pew Research, 72% of people in the US use some form of social media. Over half of them use it every day.
And yes, social media platforms can help you connect with your B2B audience.
In B2B, Linkedin is a popular choice. People spend their business-minded time on this platform. 40% of B2B marketers say it works best for them to deliver high-quality leads.
But according to Statista data, in 2021, B2B marketers preferred:
- Facebook (40%)
- Linkedin (35%)
- Instagram (16%)
- YouTube (5%)
- Twitter (3%)
Social media is impactful when it comes to:
- Increasing brand awareness
- Engaging your target audience
- Generating leads with social media ads (in combination with the other 2)
Content marketing involves creating content that supports the decision-making process. You publish this content on your website. It becomes a lead-generating asset to share on social media and through email.
To accomplish this, you must first know who your target audience is -- your buyer persona.
The content must be findable, valuable to your leads, and clearly guide that person toward taking the next step in what an inbound marketing agency
like LAIRE calls the buyer's journey.
- Awareness - The potential lead becomes aware they have a problem or goal and wants to learn about it. What is happening? Why is this happening? How is this happening?
- Consideration - They begin considering their options both in solutions and the company that might provide that solution. How can I fix this? What do I need to do it? At this point, they become a lead, and you "capture" that lead to personalize the lead nurturing process.
- Decision-making - The lead decides on a vendor to deliver the solution. Since you captured the lead and continued to nurture them, guess who they'll probably choose?
Content marketing is helpful and non-promotional. It sees and treats buyers as real people with individual needs. These individuals can make logical choices for their business if you give them the information they need to make that decision.
By leveraging respect rather than a hard sale early in the buyer's journey, you build trust that Sales can then use to close the deal. That's what marketing-sales alignment is all about.
60% of marketers say that content marketing generates leads. 87% of businesses using content marketing say that in order to generate leads you must prioritize "helpful information" for the audience over sales goals. That sounds counter-intuitive, but in fact, when you do that, you can achieve both.
Change the ABCs of sales, Always Be Closing to Always Be Helping.
Admittedly, ABH isn't as catchy. But it represents how modern business buyers make decisions.
Why are B2B companies using content marketing?
- Create high-quality content assets they can re-purpose and re-use and distribute across marketing channels to reach people at different places on the buyer's journey
- Build trusting, respectful, mutually-beneficial relationships with potential buyers
- Provide leads with helpful information they need to make the right decision for their business
- Reduce customer acquisition costs (CAC)
Email as a Marketing Channel
Email is powerful because it allows businesses to more precisely control the timing and relevance of the message using email automation and subscriber segmentation (dividing subscribers into groups based on shared qualities and only sending the most relevant content to each segment).
People choose to stay on an email subscriber list. So, as long as you continue to deliver relevant information to their inbox, they'll stay subscribed and engaged.
A permission-based email marketing (the kind where people choose to sign up) delivers the highest ROI of any marketing channel.
Of course, the trick is getting people to sign up. That's where using more than one marketing channel comes in. Social media, blog posts, and other content marketing can help you build this list.
B2B businesses love email as a marketing channel because they can:
- Consistently nurture leads
- Stay top of mind and stay on the short list when it's time to buy
- Retain customers and increase customer lifetime value (LTV)
- Build lasting, mutually-beneficial relationships
How Do You Find the Best Marketing Channel for Your Business?
This is a very personal decision. Looking at the data and what works for others is important. But then it's time to ask how that applies to your business by answering these questions as they apply to you.
Where are your target customers?
Explore the various channels and individual social media sites to see where your customers are talking about what you do or specifically about your brand.
Where are they sharing ideas, tips, and helpful how-tos? This is probably somewhere you need to be to have a voice. You can direct this attention and engagement toward meeting business goals.
How are your customers looking for you?
Use existing customer analytics such as Google Analytics and social media analytics to find out how customers are finding you.
Google tells you both the type of channel (search, referral/social, direct) and the specific platform: Bing search, LinkedIn, Quora, a website that links you, etc.
Survey your existing customers to learn more about their journey. Some questions you might want to ask them include:
- How did they find you?
- How do they normally learn about your industry?
- Where do they go when they have a question about their business problems?
- What convinced them to sign up for your email list?
- Why did they buy it from you?
Where are your competitors?
Your successful competitors have chosen a marketing channel for a reason. If it wasn't working for them, they wouldn't be successful.
Indeed, what works for them may not for you because of differences in size, business model, etc. But discovering this can inform your decision.
How do you learn where your competitors are?
Spy on the competition, of course.
Find out where they reach customers by following the social media links on their website. Now follow them on social media to learn how they use these platforms.
Next, subscribe to their email list using a personal email to disguise the fact that you're a competitor. Pay attention to how they use email to relate to their customers.
Consume some of their content (blogs, videos, case studies, virtual events, etc.) to find out how they use content marketing. You can also use competitive analytics tools to find out what searches they target for SEO.
But keep in mind here, some successful businesses are horrible at content marketing and succeed despite it because they already have an established brand.
You may not get the same results by mimicking them. This competitor analysis can help you determine which marketing channels you need to be able to compete on --- and how you can best do that.
In many cases, you're also figuring out how you can do it better.
What are your company's goals?
What do you want to see happen in marketing this quarter, over the next year, 5 years?
Of course, you want to generate more leads. However, in the short term, you may not yet have the brand awareness or reputation to be able to do that consistently. Consider which marketing channels can help you build that awareness and trust.
In the long run, you may want higher-quality leads that move through the buyer's journey faster. Or perhaps lowering your customer acquisition costs to increase marketing ROI is paramount.
Evaluate the strengths of specific marketing channels as it relates to your goals
How/where is your sales team engaging with prospects?
Marketing to Sales can seem like a one-way trip. But you can learn a lot about how to better engage your target audience in marketing by paying attention to what Sales is doing.
Talk to the sales team about where they're communicating with leads. With a little reverse engineering, you can start engaging people in that channel earlier in the buying journey.
And you can create marketing-sales alignment by engaging with your target audience in similar ways with the same messaging.
As an example, let's say the sales team is interacting with prospects a lot on a specific social media platform. And perhaps, you find out that the customer support team also answers a lot of customer questions and complaints on that same platform. Let's not forget about them!
It's clear your target audience is on this platform and engaging with your brand. This is probably a marketing channel you need to focus more on.
Are you already driving a fair amount of quality traffic to your site from a certain channel?
If one channel is already working for you, you will probably want to keep that one active -- and maybe even double-down on it. Consider how other marketing channels may be able to complement that one.
For example, let's say Google Ads are delivering a healthy number of leads who are becoming paying customers. It would probably be unwise to stop advertising.
But you could invest more in SEO to get to the top of some searches without having to pay for every click. As a result, you can lower your customer acquisition costs to increase profits. SEO complements a channel that's already working for you.
What's your marketing budget look like?
Think about how much you're currently spending on generating leads. How much are you paying per conversion? Are those leads becoming customers? And are you able to retain those customers?
By looking at where your marketing dollars are currently being spent and what kind of ROI you're generating from that spend, you can decide on marketing channels that balance out some of the cons of what you're already spending on.
This may lead you to explore how much an omnichannel marketing plan costs?
Is your brand ready for an omnichannel experience?
As we touched on earlier, omni-channel marketing is the act of seamlessly integrating multiple channels together to create a unified experience. This allows a single potential buyer to travel along and among the channels as needed as they move through the buyer's journey.
The destination is the same. The paths may be different. That's okay! It's still seamless from the customer's point of view. This omni-channel path focuses on creating a low-friction customer experience.
This may sound incredibly hard and expensive to manage. But if you're already investing in one marketing channel or two, often you only need to spend a little more to add a third or fourth.
There's a lot of overlap in both time and money. Do an activity (or spend money on something) once and get more out of it. That's omni-channel.
At the same time, each channel is reinforcing and supporting the others. They all become more effective.
For example, if you're currently publishing a blog, it doesn't take that much more effort to also share it on one or more social media sites or in an email. The research you perform for search ads can also apply to SEO.
In both cases, you're doing just a relatively little extra work, but getting a lot more out of it.
Are you just getting started?
If you're just getting started, you may not have the budget or bandwidth to manage multiple channels at once.
But you have to start somewhere, and achieving a more omni-channel presence may be a long-term goal for you.
Once you've asked the above questions to narrow down the channels that may be best for your business, add one. Measure your progress and results. Learn from that channel so that you can adapt it to new channels.
If you don't know where to start or are struggling to incorporate new channels into your plan, just ask the team at LAIRE! This is what we do best.