Marketing Channels

A channel is a way to reach a particular customer segments with your brand message. This makes things a lot easier and more effective.

Why do we have segments? Specialization. A florist, for example, may sell to hospitals, consumers, weddings and funeral homes. She reaches each of them a different way, with a specific brand message for each.

For example, wedding planners in the florist's local area may visit a particular website a lot. Or, her local hospital's buying office doesn't take calls, but there is an independent sales rep in the area that calls on that hospital.

A customer segment - hospitals, for instance - has more than one channel. If the florist decides that she wants to master the hospital market and just sell to hospitals, she has to find the places that hospitals go to find flowers. Trade shows? Magazines? Websites? None of the above?

Two key points emerge: A day of detective work = big rewards. No detective work = big losses.

Customer Segments

A segment is a category of customer. The more specific segments you have, the better - for this reason:

You have a children's shoe company. You find out that your shoes are purchased by more grandmas than moms. But the real shocker is that they buy your most expensive top-end shoes.

You are amazed to find that 72.6% of your revenue comes from grandmas. And you have no idea how they found you.

Now put your detective hat on and find out the channels to find more of those grandmas. Talk to them yourself if need be. Then craft a brand message just for them, and later on we'll plan the media in programs.

B2B Channels

B2B is an easier (and cheaper) place to start marketing than B2C: The segments are clearly understood, and the market you need to cover is smaller.

If you are marketing into a specific industry, you probably understand it already. For example, new biotech companies are almost always started by scientists or physicians. They already know their segments since they've been working with them for years. And if they don't, they certainly know someone who does.

As mentioned in channels overview, research the channels properly and start with one. Do this by asking people you know in the industry for the best channels to reach them before you try out your first programs. Do not throw money in every direction to see what works.

B2C Channels

Your task in B2C is to segment it into bite-sized, specialized chunks like B2B. This greatly speeds your success.

This ''Divide and Conquer'' method inspired the popular Product Marketing concept, which guides your products as well as your marketing. Since a product is really an answer to a customer need, designing your product around your segment guarantees success.

Since you've probably done that already, ask people who know that customer segment for the best channels to reach them. If you don't get a clear answer, keep going. Do not throw money in every direction to see what works.

Direct Channels

There are two ways customers come in: Directly to you, or via an intermediary Partner. Direct is inside your company:
  1. Sales team: One or more sales teams that you employ directly.
  2. Internet: Selling through your website.
  3. Catalog: Selling through your catalog.
  4. Events, trade shows and other programs.
They must use the same marketing materials and message everywhere. As you grow, ensure that:
  1. Everyone is saying the same thing to customers.
  2. Everybody knows what's going on; events, promotions, new products, etc.
  3. All creative materials match perfectly and are always fresh.

Channel Partners

Always try to use channel partners. They are already there in front of your customers, often selling products that are complimentary to yours. They do the hard sales slogging, with valuable customer relationships that open doors - that you can't. Examples are:
  1. Independent Reps.
  2. Wholesaler/distributor: A company that buys products in bulk from many manufacturers and then re-sells smaller volumes to resellers or retailers.
  3. Value-added resellers (VARs).
Watch and support your indirect partners just as closely as your employees. Channel partners, though helpful when they work, are notorious for flakiness and poor communication. You can lose months of sales in a territory in the time it takes to find that a sales force is underperforming, find a new one, and get them up and running.

Keep your channel partners excited by ''channel marketing'' to them with benefits, needs and calls to action - just like a customer. Offers and promotions are common, like a sales commission incentive.