deciding between marketing channels

Figuring out which marketing channels to invest in is possibly the most common challenge we hear from clients when we first start working with them. 

We’ve previously discussed how you can tell if an advertising opportunity is a good investment, and this post provides a good rundown on the methods you can use to assess options as they come up.

Some of what we wrote about there applies here, but today let’s take a step back and look at how you can use audience data to decide where you have the best opportunity to get started.

Why Do You Need to Decide?

Before we dive into how to pick which marketing channel is right for your business, you might be asking yourself why you need to do this in the first place. Can’t you just promote on as many channels as possible and hope you reach your target audience?

Here’s an imagined scenario: You’ve just been put in charge of marketing for a software company that’s ready to start really investing in marketing for the first time. Currently, you’re wrestling with how to prioritize channel options. 

There’s SEO, event marketing, direct mail, social media, traditional ads, email, cold calling — plus about a million and a half other channels. Several seem like good fits, but you don’t have enough budget to jump into all of them. 

Finally, you decide to start with exhibiting at a trade show that’s coming up later in the year. You figure this could be a strong way to kick things off, and, after all, it seems like most of your competitors are exhibiting — they must be on to something.

Fast forward through months of hard work and several thousands of dollars to the weeks after the show: your boss is looking unconvinced as you explain that there are no failures, only learning opportunities. 

Taking a strategic look at which channel is best for your business will help avoid scenarios like this and increase the odds you’re putting your investment to best use. 

Where is Your Audience Active?

Hopefully, if you’re ready to invest in marketing, then you’ve already done your research and you know all about the people you’re trying to market to.

In an ideal world, you’ve interviewed people in your target audience and have qualitative data on where they get their information and what types of content they consume. At a minimum, you should have the third-party research (i.e. from sources like government census data, labor statistics, academic surveys and reports, and insights social media and review sites) on what they look like in terms of demographics, jobs, psychographics, goals, challenges and favorite watering holes.

Using these insights, take a look at the list of potential channels that, on paper, seem like potential fits for your business. Consider the following for each one:

  • How active is your target demographic on the channel? (You can use tools like Nielson, Pew Research, Google research or, for more specific publishers, media kits to find this data)
  • How much insight do you have into how your audience is engaging with the channel?
  • How active are your competitors on this channel? Can you tell what kind of engagement they’re seeing?
  • What is the audience primarily using the channel for? (I.e. Entertainment? Education? Career advice? Social networking? Photoshopping Nicholas Cage’s face onto zoo animals?)
  • How well do your market’s interests align with the channel?

More than likely, there will be some channels for which you’ll have a hard time answering these questions and some where you’ll have a bit more clarity. 

Narrow your list down to the channels where your research gives you the most line of sight and move on to the next step.

How Well Can You Meet the Expectations of Users on the Channel?

Now it’s time to consider how well the channels fit with what you’re offering.

If you see an audience fit with a channel it can be tempting to want to jump in right away, but being strategic about how you prioritize means thinking through this part of the equation — and it takes a little honest reflection. 


  • Are there ways you can participate in the conversations happening on the channel and naturally create engagement?
  • Based on what you know about your market, is it likely that your content might feel out of place in the channel?

Once you’ve assessed the channels through this lens, rank your options based on how much applicable audience data you have and how confident you are in the fit. These are likely some of your strongest opportunities to start with.

Do You Have the Budget to Properly Test the Channels?

If you’re going to test a marketing channel, make sure you have enough budget to do a test that will at the very least provide you with some conclusive performance data.

I hear this pretty often: “We did Google Ads/direct mail/radio once and it didn’t work.” Upon further questioning, it turns out the Google test was only $100, or there was just one mailer sent out or only a handful of radio spots that aired. Of course it didn’t work — it didn’t run for nearly long enough to pick up any meaningful traction. 

How much you need to budget depends on the channel. For help figuring where to start with budgeting, I recommend reading our post on how to create your optimal marketing budget with customer lifetime value. By starting with goals in mind, you can work backward to see how much you’d realistically need to spend to see the type of results you’re looking for. 

What kind of performance would you need to see from the channels? Is this a realistic outcome or not? Consider these questions before investing. 

Getting Started

If this sounds like a lot of work, well, it is. And what I’ve laid out is just intended to provide a DIY framework to help determine a reasonably informed starting point. For a comprehensive and strategic marketing plan that ensures your investment is going to best use… you know where I’m going with this. 

Get help. Hire a great marketing agency.