You might be running your own business, or work at a million dollar company, just kicking off their marketing efforts. But when you have a blank slate and a budget, deciding where to spend it can be daunting to say the least. There’s a ton of ways you can drive traffic online, and there’s no “best” solution for all businesses. We’re going to dive in to ways you can identify which traffic acquisition channels you should prioritize, and how you can increase your chances of picking the right one from the get go.

Picking the right initial channels starts with understanding where you are at, this can be broken down to three key areas

  • Understanding your Product
  • Understanding your Customer
  • Understanding your Capabilities

While this is not always comfortable, understanding these three aspects of the business will make it more likely to pick a strong performing channel from the get go.

We’ll also dive in to the channels you can choose from, and which work best in different scenarios, these channels include:

  • Organic Search
  • Paid Search
  • Social
  • Influencer
  • Native
    • Platform (e.g. reddit)
    • Media (e.g. an article style ad on a news site)
  • Display
  • Video
  • Retargeting
  • ABM
  • Affiliate

It’s important to remember that people use different channels in different ways, and there mind is working in a completely different way. Somebody who finds your website through search is likely directly searching for information, whereas someone on Tiktok probably just wants to see someone doing something funny or interesting. Your advertising needs to resonate with the the mindset people are currently in.

We’ll also approach this with a strong bearing of time, as well as cost, as an impact on how you should prioritize. Often time can be just as scarce of a resource as budget.

The final thing you’ll want to think about is funnel stage. Generally speaking for your initial advertising campaigns you’ll want to focus on low funnel (direct to sale) opportunities, these are the most cost effective, although maybe more limited in volume. However for some brands you may also want to allocate some of your time and budget to brand recognition, a much higher funnel stage, but one that may help amplify your other efforts.

Understanding

Understanding your Product

It sounds obvious, but when you’re choosing what channel you want to advertise on, you need to know how you’re going to position the different value props of your product, and how you’re going to deliver those values. When you’re first getting started you’ll likely want to focus on channels that provide direct sales, the lowest hanging fruit, that will provide a positive return.

Pick through what value your product has for your customer, and think through how you can promote those on different channels, and which is likely to convert.

A fashion brand may be able to have an influencer show off your latest dress, and sell directly. But a B2B SaaS platform is probably going to do better on search where it’s customer are looking for solutions to specific pain points. You can advertise any value on any channel, but matching product values to channel is going to provide faster traction, and a better ROAS.

Understanding your Customer

Out of the three, understanding your customer is the most critical, you’re going to want to build personas, and know which product values resonate with each persona. You also need a clear picture of which channels each persona is likely to utilize, which mindset they are on in each channel,

We brushed on this earlier, but your different marketing channels should have completely different advertising.

Someone searching for solutions to a specific problem is likely going to click on something that tells them that it solves that exact problem. They are likely going to buy quickly as well.

But some channels, such as TikTok are where people go to relax, they are likely browsing funny or interesting videos, A pitch on direct product value there likely isn’t going to work, but a video of an influencer showing off why they love your product might do incredibly well. The search channel might work great for someone searching for a SaaS solution, the TikTok example might do great with a skincare product.

The channel the values are conveyed on, needs to match the the mindset the customer will be in when using that channel. This means that when you’re picking your first channel, it should align with where your customer is most likely to convert, and the values and the messaging need to resonate with the customer mindset when using that channel.

As your marketing efforts grow, you’ll start to expand in to these channels anyway, but they are not the best place to start.

Understanding your Capabilities

The final thing to bear in mind, is that the workload and budget requirements behind each channel vary significantly. You’ll need to understand your capabilities to effectively action on a channel.

Some channels are quick and easy to set up, it can take minutes to set up a Google Ads campaign with decent enough messaging. A TikTok campaign might take much longer, requiring influencer partnerships, and video creation. An ABM campaign can take months of effort, with content creation needs (ebooks/whitepapers/webinars) along with sales alignment, ad creative, significant budget, and even just getting vendor contract finalized.

For your first channel, ensure that while you’re picking the best channel for achieving results, it’s also important to make sure that the effective implementation is reasonable given your capabilities and constraints in a given situation.

Channels by Mindset

We’ve talked a lot about how getting the right message on the right channel is important, and how mindset when using the channel is a large part of that.

We’ve broken down the common mindsets of users of particular platforms, and how to approach that messaging, along with some examples of potential direct sale opportunities

Search

Whether it’s organic or paid, people go to search to find something. Depending on the query this could be direct sale, or an informational search, as a marketer it’s up to you to find the direct sale opportunities for your product in search.

Most products have some keywords that have some direct to sale search relevance, although it might not be as cost effective as other channels.

Search messaging inside the search results should closely align to the problem that is related to the search query. Use the space to offer the benefits of the product, and how they solve that problem.

The difference between paid and organic search is both time and money, paid is instant return and testable, SEO can take a long time to get off the ground, and be expensive against returns in the beginning. Paid search is usually the best bet when you first get started.

Social

Social is generally where people go for entertainment and news. They are pretty far away form a direct purchase, but it’s an opportunity to trigger impulse buys.

Fashion cosmetics, gifts, and gimmicks can do well on social channels if done right. There are two key ways to make this work.

  1. Emotional ad copy. Make them laugh, cry, or get mad, you have an extremely limited moment in time to get peoples attention on a social ad. Dr. Squatch is a great example of a brand creating funny, engaging content around their brand.
  2. Piggyback on Trust. Current influencers and brands already have large audiences, and can show off your product in a way that engages their audience. Influencer partnerships can provide a strong revenue channel if done authentically.

The outlier here is LinkedIn. LinkedIn is less entertainment, and more business and job seekers. It’s not a great place for direct sales in most cases, unless you can appeal to that exact audience.

Native Advertising

Native advertising has a pretty broad definition, but essentially it means inserting an ad that looks like it’s part of a website. This could be full page copy, or an ad that looks like it leads to more content, there’s three main kinds of native content, but they all work in a similar way.

When doing native advertising the mindset of the user is generally going to be entertainment, news, or education. The advertising you create needs to align with that mindset.

it can be hard to get direct sale conversions through native advertising, but done right it’s a powerful, and relatively cheap channel.

Native Platform Advertising

Reddit and Quora are fine examples of native advertising on specific platforms. These Q&A sites allow you to post an ad that looks like a post on a site where you can insert copy that mirrors the feel of the site. Masterworks is a company that allows you to fractionally invest in artwork. It’s ads on Quora pose questions around the best investment strategies, and in it’s ad it talks about several investment strategies, along with investing in artwork (Which of course links to it’s platform).

Native Media Advertising

Native media advertising is generally run through partnerships with media sites, where you post content on their website. It’s generally broad content that will only subtly point towards your website. Native media advertising is pretty similar to “guest posting” and similar.

Native Ads

Ever finished a news article, reached the bottom, and clicked on an image that looks like it’s another article on the site, only to find yourself on another website? Those are native ads, and they can be surprisingly effective. Native ads overcome banner blindness and help transition people to your site while also benefiting from some brand trust from where the user originated. Word of warning though – people can get annoyed by this, so make sure even if it’s a direct to sale page, it’s value driven to someone who had no plans to purchase

Display

Probably the least effective direct sale strategy, display ads are generally cheap and can get your brand in front of millions of eyeballs at a low cost. It’s hard to judge the mindset of someone who sees your display ad, so messaging can be tricky even with great targeting.

While there’s a lot of terms around display ads (algorithmic, programmatic, AI/ML etc) it’s important that the end output, and the issues, are the same as banner ads. Banner blindness, lack of trust, and annoyance (especially on mobile interstitials, essentially popups) are huge barriers to overcome.

Display however can be a cheap way to build brand awareness, and high funnel traffic that can later be filtered and retargeted.

Video/OTT

Video and OTT (ads on streaming TV services) are only suitable as a direct channel for some products. They can also be hard to track in most cases. These videos are generally going to meet people in an entertainment mindset, and for that reason a lot of rules that apply to social also apply to video and OTT. The benefit of the video channel is that there is limited, or no, skipability, so you generally speaking have the persons attention, even if it’s just for a few seconds. Emotional and entertaining content does well here, and given the right pitch can be a cheap and effective channel, particularly in the ecommerce space.

Retargeting

Retargeting is not technically an acquisition channel by itself, but it can be overlaid on other channels (I.e. retargeting video views) as well as a great way to re-engage people if your website has an already high volume of traffic.

Depending on whether you use video, social, or images in your retargeting it’s going to be reaching people with a similar mindset to those channels and your advertising should reflect that. Keep in mind that retargeting has the advantage because there’s already a chance that people will remember your brand or product, if the people on your retargeting list found their prior interaction with you compelling enough.

Account Based Marketing (ABM)

Account Based Marketing (ABM) is generally speaking going to be a full funnel campaign, and mostly used in the B2B space. It’s far from a direct acquisition experience, since you’ll want to lead people from the very top of the funnel through a staged ad experience. The benefit of ABM is that you can target specific companies, and people who work within those companies in specific roles and levels of seniority, making it one of the most effective targeting types in the B2B space.

ABM is a great way to help improve the performance of a sales team, and done right can provide a big boost to sales, which makes this a very valid channel to choose first if your product is for businesses only. ABM content can be delivered via display, social, and video, and lead to content such as blog posts, ebooks, whitepapers and webinars (to name a few).

Given the nature of the media type you’ll be advertising through, you’ll want to assume that the mindset and your techniques should be similar to those. At the top of the funnel it should lead to content helpful to users, middle of the funnel it should benefit the user and show how your product can help, and at the bottom of the funnel lead people to demo requests, contact forms, or purchase pages.

ABM is only a viable channel if you have the support you need to create the large number of assets and ads you’ll require to make this work, you’ll also need to work closely with your sales team to ensure you have accurate lists to target. Ideally you’ll be targeting a company at least three months before your sales person starts calling them.

Affiliate

While it’s a tricky channel to set up, affiliate marketing can provide a strong revenue channel, with much of the advertising work being done by your affiliates. It comes with risks too, there are scammers, and people who may break the law when advertising your product (so you’ll need to monitor your affiliates). This means you’ll likely want to hire an experienced affiliate manager to run this program, unless you’re confident running it yourself.

Affiliates are likely to advertise your product across a myriad of channels for you, taking a commission on every product they sell, lowering risk of negative ROAS, but it can take time to start gaining traction. Most affiliates wont make a single sale, so set expectations with your leadership that the Affiliate channel will take time to ramp up.