Cross-channel marketing goes hand-in-hand with marketing automation. As you may have guessed, it involves using more than one channel at a time, but it’s not just that. Cross-channel marketing follows the customer from channel to channel to give them an experience that matches where they’re at in the buyer’s journey and the actions they’ve taken.

For example, a previous customer of an ecommerce store may get a direct mail flier. That flier prompts them to go to a specific URL and use a discount code exclusively for existing customers. If they complete checkout from that page, they’re put into an automated email flow for returning customers to keep them engaged. If they don’t complete checkout, they’ll see retargeted ads on social media afterwards.

As you can see, this isn’t as simple as deciding to be on as many channels as you possibly can. You need to match the channels (and what you’re doing on them) to your goals, customers, marketing funnel, and more. We’re here to show you how:

What is a “channel”?

A channel is any medium through which you can reach customers or potential customers. A business might use any of these channels:

  • Email
  • Online ads
  • Print ads
  • Other forms of advertising (TV, radio, podcasts, etc.)
  • Direct mail
  • SMS/text messaging
  • Social media (which can be broken down further into Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  • Organic traffic to your website/content marketing blog

It’s not a good idea to rely on only one channel for marketing. If nothing else, that dramatically reduces the number of people you can reach. The people who are likely to open email newsletters aren’t always the same people who will hear an ad on a podcast, or follow your company on Twitter.

That, of course, begs the question: which channels should you use?

Choosing your channels

When deciding what channels to build into your marketing automation strategy, think about the following:

  • Customers: If you’re trying to reach people in their 50s, Instagram is probably not your best bet. On the other hand, a newspaper ad won’t cut it if you want to reach tech-savvy 20-somethings.
  • Product: What’s the best way to show off your product? For example, businesses that sell lifestyle products often do well on channels that prioritize photos and videos. That way, they can sell the entire lifestyle, not just the product.
  • Brand: If your brand voice is casual and full of pop-culture references, Twitter is going to be a better fit for you than LinkedIn.
  • Goals: If your current focus is converting leads to customers, you’ll want to focus on using bottom-of-funnel channels. (More on that in a minute…)

Don’t forget about the runway

Another factor is how long it can take to get a new channel up and running. Let’s say you think Twitter would be a good fit for your next marketing campaign, but you don’t have a Twitter following yet. In that case, you need to ask yourself if the potential gains will be worth the time, effort, and expense (paid post promotion) required to build up a following.

There’s also the learning curve to consider. Every channel will require some amount of learning, but some of them more so than others. For example, if you don’t have an expert on staff to set up and manage your pay-per-click ad campaigns, you’ll need to learn the ropes yourself or hire a consultant to do it for you.

Ask your existing customers

It’s a good idea to get feedback from your existing customers on how they found you. If a lot of your existing customers are coming from one channel, it might be a good idea to double-down on that channel before trying something new. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Related: Creating a Killer Market Research Survey

Is more always better?

If you’re focused on growing your customer base (compared to, say, maximizing repeat customers), you may want to try as many channels as possible and see what happens.

This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, as long as you have the resources available to do justice to each channel. Cross-posting the same message on every single social media network and then sending it via SMS probably won’t achieve much. Each channel should have its own dedicated strategy and messaging.

Of course, there will be some overlap. For example, your Facebook and Instagram posts might use similar messaging or the same images. But you still need to think about the different audiences and craft content that appeals to their specific needs, interests, and expectations. Otherwise, if you send out the same content, on the same schedule, on all your channels, your marketing presence will feel unnatural and inauthentic to anyone who pays attention on multiple platforms.

Okay, so how many channels do I use?

A lot of that depends on how large your marketing team is and what your goals are. You may want to focus on 1-2 channels for the near future if:

  • You work on a very small team (or run your business on your own)
  • You’re starting from scratch with a lot of your marketing
  • You need to demonstrate marketing ROI so you can get more resources from the rest of the company

Using 3-5 channels makes sense if:

  • Your marketing team is growing and you have more than one person available
  • You’re happy with the current ROI on your existing channels and want to expand to new channels
  • You’ve successfully automated the majority of your marketing efforts
  • You have the time, money and energy to learn how to use new channels effectively

Using 5+ channels makes sense if:

  • You have a large team and/or the resources to work with agencies or subcontractors to manage the channels
  • You’re launching a new product or business and want to make the most of the momentum behind the launch
  • You’re selling your product in diverse international markets, with different dominant communication platforms
  • Your product is mass-market enough that you’re guaranteed to find potential customers on all or most channels

Again, it’s a good rule of thumb to start smaller and grow the number of channels as you get the hang of your existing channels. This is where marketing automation software can be helpful—otherwise, your only way to scale is to spend more time or hire more people.

Matching your channels to your marketing funnel

Different channels (or different ways of using those channels) often work best for different stages of the marketing funnel.

If you need a refresher on what a “marketing funnel” is, it refers to the stages people move through as they go from non-customers to customers. The specific stages vary from business to business, but the most common stages are:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Evaluation
  • Commitment
  • Sale

For example, with a brick-and-mortar retail business, the “Awareness” stage might involve walking by the store, seeing an ad in the local newspaper, or seeing a geo-targeted ad online. For an online store, “Awareness” might be seeing a post on social media or seeing a keyword-based ad in search results.

Top of funnel channels vs. bottom of funnel channels

You can see how different funnel stages naturally lend themselves to different channels. In general, the further along the funnel you go, the more intimate or personal the form of communication gets. Email, conversations (whether in-person, over the phone, via social media or live-chat, etc.), and SMS are well-suited to the bottom of the funnel. That doesn’t mean they can’t be used for people in the middle of the funnel, but they’re especially useful closer to the end.

Similarly, advertising and social media are often top-of-funnel activities, but can be used for middle or bottom of the funnel marketing, too. One-to-one conversations on social media are one example. Another example is retargeted ads, where a lead who opens a specific email about a sale or visits a product page on your site is shown targeted advertising campaigns related to that activity. If they browsed through the “dog harnesses” section on your site, for example, you might show them Facebook ads for dog harnesses and leashes, or ads about a sale you’re running on your products for dog owners.

Tracking it all

One of the biggest issues with all of this is getting accurate data. Did that customer find your site through an organic Facebook share, or through something you posted? If they came to a product page from an email, which email was it?

Using UTM parameters to get more accurate data

One of the easiest ways to track it all is with UTM parameters at the end of your links. UTM parameters add more data that your analytics tool can use to figure out exactly where a visitor came from (and why). They include:

  • Source, to show which website or platform the link is on (i.e. Facebook, Twitter).
  • Medium, to indicate, for example, social media vs. email.
  • Campaign, for a specific marketing or advertising campaign/promotion.
  • Term, used specifically for paid search engine ads to track the specific keywords associated with a specific ad.
  • Content, often used in situations where the other parameters are the same. It can be used to indicate where in the content the link is at (for example, sidebar vs. header), that the traffic is coming from a specific PDF, etc.

To give clearer information about what specific email sequence and email visitors were coming from, you could use a link that has “email” as the medium, uses “campaign” to specific the autoresponder series, and uses “content” for the specific email that the link is in.

If you’re using SMS or other channels that have a limited amount of characters available, you can use a link shortener like bit.ly to make sure your longer links fit.

Start using UTM links today

When using UTM parameters, you can use just one parameter, all of them, or any combination thereof. It looks like a lot, but it doesn’t take very long to create a link that uses UTM parameters. Getting in the habit of using UTM parameters in your marketing links can make a world of difference in getting usable data. There are lots of simple, free tools online to help you build and use UTM links – here’s one. And if you’re a MarketingHub user, you can use smart links and channel-based tracking links.

You’re on the road to marketing automation success – don’t stop now! Next, let’s dig into how to audit your marketing automation results and use that data to create a stronger marketing plan in the future.

How to Audit Your Marketing Results
8 Marketing Automation Examples & Workflows
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