What is marketing? It may seem like a silly question, especially coming from a marketing agency. But it’s a question that many marketing managers and business owners alike ask themselves. We know, because many of our own clients are unsure where to start or what to do when it comes to marketing. The simple answer, as is often the case, is the cut-and-dry one. Merriam-Webster defines marketing as:

The process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.

That is of course how most people in business see marketing. But is that the best answer? Simple and best are not always the same thing. That’s the conceptual idea of marketing. But what does marketing mean in practice? And what does marketing mean in 2017? We think we have some ideas.

Marketing in 2017: It’s All About Channels

To market effectively is to get your message in front of as many eyes and ears as possible (it’s worth noting too that getting your message to the right people is equally important). And to do this, you must take an omnichannel approach. Marketing is far more than simple self-promotion and advertising. It’s customer service and outreach. Customer education. Reputation management. Brand management. It is global endeavors, like branding, and ground-level endeavors, like creating user personas. It is design, copywriting, and so much more. It is the sum total of your combined efforts to reach, engage, communicate, and interact with your clientbase.

This leads to an obvious question: How can my company effectively market, and which channels should it leverage to do so?

In the digital age, there are no shortage of options. And there’s a strong argument to be made that your business should be leveraging as many of them as possible. Consider these channels, and how they can impact the way you engage your customers.

  • Social media is a great tool for direct customer engagement – Twitter and Facebook make it easier than ever to directly address client questions and concerns, as well as drum up support and loyalty.
  • YouTube and Vimeo put video marketing in reach of everyone; companies no longer need to afford television time to reach their audience (and believe it or not, video marketing doesn’t have to be expensive).
  • Instagram and Pinterest are terrific publishing platforms for B2C companies looking to showcase their products in a compelling and engaging way.
  • With Email, you can reach your audience directly via their smartphone or computer. You can do this not only to sell a product or offer a promotion, but for branding purposes as well.
  • Websites continue to be an essential component of any modern marketing effort, as they are increasingly invaluable go-to resources for online customers.
  • Search engines and social platforms provide ripe paid advertising opportunities through banner ads, PPC ads, and video ads.
  • Offline channels, such as billboards or radio spots, can broaden your reach to new (and potentially larger) audiences.
  • And of course, through search engine optimization and content marketing, businesses can be found organically for applicable and relevant search queries.

Through these channels, you can get your message to your audience. That, in a nutshell, is what marketing is. Communicating with a customer base to educate and persuade. It isn’t enough to know that you should be marketing; having an understanding of what mediums are available to you, and which ones work best, is crucial to actually implementing an effective marketing plan. Which brings us to our next topic.

Prioritizing Channels is the Key to Success

In an ideal world, you will have the budget and resources to capitalize on all of the channels described above, and each in turn will yield a positive ROI. However, the real world is a bit more finicky. In all likelihood, as you ramp up your marketing efforts, you are going to have to make a determination on where your efforts will be directed. In the future you may have carte blanche, but for now, you have a budget to adhere to.

To start, choose two or three channels that seem like a natural fit, and perform test runs. Remember, however, that no two channels are alike, and different channels yield different results. A website, for example, may deliver hundreds of thousands if not millions of visitors over the course of its life, but don’t expect this volume immediately. Websites must develop a reputation over time, both with consumers and search engines, in order to maximize their potential. By comparison, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, whether on search engines or social platforms, can yield immediate results.

Consider what your needs and goals are, and select a channel or two that seems well-suited to help you accomplish those goals.

Once your test campaigns are running, you can start evaluating them objectively through data analytics and auditing. Through these efforts, you can start to determine which channels are cost-effective. What amount of resources (and money) are you putting in, and what are you receiving in return? Only after you determine your return on investment can you declare one way or another if the effort has been a success – and perhaps more to the point, whether it is worth doing in the future.

But Don’t Let Priorities Limit Your Approach

Though prioritization is important, the thesis of this article is that marketing today encompasses anything and everything that your organization can and should be doing to communicate with your clientbase. So it bears repeating that even if you happen upon a strategy that works, don’t limit yourself to that one strategy. Your company should constantly be expanding its marketing channels to broaden its reach. By starting small, you can limit your expenses, but ultimately, marketing is communicating, and the more ways that you can do so, the better. There are many reasons why your marketing efforts might fail you – don’t let lack of effort or commitment be one of them.