How to Choose The Right Marketing Channels for Your Business

by Birk Schöneich

Our media landscape has changed massively over the last 10 years. There are countless channels, online and offline, and thus more and more possibilities to communicate with our audience.

So how do we choose the right channels for our business?

As always it is important have a look at our objectives: Whether it’s increasing sales, increasing visibility, manage reputation, becoming an influencer or an authority for a specific topic et cetera – different goals require different channels.

In addition, we must be clear about how much budget we have available, as nearly all channels require a budget. Please note that even though some channels may seem "free", they usually are not. For example: While search engine optimization seems "free" at first sight (“We don't have to pay for ads”) the creation or optimization of content requires a lot of time and money. Social media channels also promise to reach many people "for free" at first glance. But this is misleading: to reach a lot of people we have to buy ads.

Once we have set our goals and defined a budget, we must keep two important points in mind:

1. Find the channels of your audience

First things first: We always start with the people we want to reach. Not "everyone", but the smallest possible audience that we really want to convince of our idea. (See blog post about how you and your team get a mutual understanding of your target audience)

Once we defined who we’d like to reach out to, we need to find out which channel they use. Therefore, we have to start asking follow-up questions: Where are these people? Are they researching online? Or do they prefer reading offline magazines? Do they exchange information on social media? If so, which platforms do they use? Are they subscribed to newsletters? Do they listen to podcasts? Where do they get the information they need? If we find an answer to these questions, we are able to say what channels a person is using and where we are most likely to contact them.

2. Context is key: The channel usage of our audience must fit our message

There is a difference between “reaching out to somebody” and “reaching out to somebody with the right message in the right moment”. This means: We have to check every channel to see if our audience is using it in the way that our message resonates with them in this moment. The core question is: When our audience is using this channel, is this the right moment to tell them about our Idea?

For example: One searching for information about a new car, is this the right moment to show them an ad for a management software? Probably not. The same person might actually need a management software and is searching for one, but not in this moment on this channel. This same person might switch to a more appropriate channel after some time and search for “management”. This might be a more appropriate moment to tell them about our management software.

What we see is: Context is key. When choosing our channels, we must consider the context and the intention of the recipient using the channel. If we choose the wrong moment or the wrong way of telling our story we might even annoy our audience.

This adds up to an important insight: The channel we use to communicate and the way we communicate on this channel tell a story about us. It might even reveal more about us than what we actually say.

We have to choose the channels according. But how do we do that?

This might help:

Sort the channels according to the PESO model

Classical disciplines, such as marketing, public relations, advertising and so on, which we still often see as departments in companies, will not help us here. They no longer reflect the complexity of the modern media landscape. In 2014, Gini Dietrich, founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, therefore presented a new approach to meet modern requirements of marketing communications, and in 2020 she even gave it an update: The PESO model.

The PESO model divides the available media landscape into the four areas "Paid Media", "Earned Media", "Shared Media" and "Owned Media". Those categories help us to understand how the different channels operate and which channels offer the right context to communicate with our audience. For example, by categorizing all channels in a mind map, we get an important and helpful overview of the media landscape available to us.

Below are the characteristics according to which we categorize the channels:

Paid Media

Paid Media is characterized by the fact that we have full control over the reach of the content we want to distribute. If we increase the advertising budget, we reach more people – and vice versa. But: Advertising and product promises are being questioned much more these days than they have been a few years ago. People don’t simply trust an ad anymore. Therefore, paid advertising in particular must be much more responsive to the specific needs of the people and their satisfaction.

Earned Media

The second category of the PESO model, Earned Media, refers to the media that we "earned" by an expert evaluating our content as relevant and thus publishing it to his readers like a journalist writing a story about us published in a magazine. This raises the content to be significantly higher in terms of credibility, acceptance and trust, because an expert filtered the content for the audience. It usually also comes with the fact that those who report about us do reach a lot more people than we could ever do. It takes a lot of effort, time and good connections for someone else to report about you.

Shared media

Media with social functionality is classified as Shared Media, which includes content that can be shared, liked and commented on LinkedIn, Twitter etc. The relevance and attractiveness of our content determines how many people we reach, because the most important feature is that people share the content to their peer group. This creates a lot more trust and thus, reach. Shared media channels are especially important when entering a direct dialogue with – guess what – the people we want to reach.

Owned Media

All channels where we have full control of the content and how it is presented are considered owned media. For example, our website or flyers and brochures. Owned media usually forms a hub to which all other media lead. A company’s website, for example, is a hub in online communication because everything links to it. But: Normally we don’t reach many people by simply producing our „owned media“, unless someone actively searches specifically for us or we actively tell people to look at it.

It is important to note that the PESO model, like any other model, is subject to interpretation blurs. But it also reveals exciting intersections: For example, search engine optimization (SEO) can be located just between owned and earned media due to the fact that we optimize our website (owned) and an external expert (in this case the AI of Google) values our website as relevant and ranks it higher in the search results. Another example is the intersection of earned and paid Media, where native advertising campaigns and advertorials are located; they appear as Earned Media but work via paid mechanisms.

All in all, the PESO model serves as a symbolic compass for orientation when choosing our communication channels. It gives us an overview of the media landscape and thus also helps us to select the channels that fit our goals and budget.

How to start

Start by conducting a touchpoint analysis: Put all the channels and media formats your business already uses in a mind map sorted according to the PESO model. Then place your personas right next to this touchpoint mind map and try to prioritize the channels considering context and functionality. This way you find out which of the channels you use right now match with the channels your audience is using and you can identify quick wins.

Additionally, you can identify new channels your audience is using, and your business should choose and add them to your mindmap.

Pro Tip

Print the touchpoint analysis mind map and put it right next to your personas in a position where it is visible to the core team on a daily basis. This way, you and your team can keep the persona and the channels to reach them in mind.

With this toolset, you as a team have the foundation reach your audience on the right channels in the right context. And most important: Watch as your channel mindmap grows, changes and expands as your business grows as well!

There is even more

On the blog of Gini Dietrich, who invented the PESO model, there is a lot to discover and learn about modern communication:

And anyone who wants to dive deeper into the world of modern communication can also register for the Spinsucks Community:

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Birk's Background

Birk helps businesses and organizations to better understand the complexity of today’s corporate communications and combine marketing, public relations and digital media in a meaningful way to connect with the people they want to reach and help. As a junior consultant at MINDACT Consulting & Content, he is preparing companies and people from a wide range of industries for the challenges of the future.