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What Is Marketing? Types, Channels, and Strategies

What Is Marketing? 

Marketing is the activities brands engage in to:

  • Attract new buyers
  • Retain existing customers
  • Encourage repeat purchases

Marketing can be as simple as an ad in a newspaper. 

Or, it can be as complex as a multi-touch content strategy delivered across several online channels.

As long as the activity involves communicating with customers and has the long-term goal of growing revenue—it’s marketing.

What Is the Purpose of Marketing? 

Modern brands use marketing to differentiate themselves from competitors and grow revenue.

To achieve this, marketers must attract more customers or keep existing ones. Depending on their stage in the marketing funnel.

The end goal here is almost always to sell products or services and make money. That said, marketing can pursue many goals, often simultaneously. 

And breaking that larger “grow revenue” objective into smaller, more specific goals helps focus your marketing strategy.

Your strategy is your company’s long-term plan for how you’ll promote yourself, reach your target audience, and convert people into customers.

These goals generally fall into one of five broad categories:

Brand Awareness

Increasing brand awareness means more people know about your company, whether or not they buy your products or services. 

Greater brand awareness means you show up more often in “consideration sets.” These are the options a buyer considers when purchasing.

Because if someone doesn’t know about your brand, they won’t buy from you. And that’s why increasing brand awareness is the top goal of content marketing: 

A visual showing Semrush's research data on responders' key marketing goals for 2023

Tactics for increasing brand awareness include: 

  • Maximizing your presence on social media 
  • Running contests
  • Creating valuable content (e.g., free ebooks or courses)
  • Building positive PR

Lead Generation

Lead generation is about attracting potential customers and acquiring their contact details (usually an email or phone number). That way, they opt into your sales and marketing communication and become “leads.”

Doing so allows you to segment your audience so you can pinpoint those most likely to become customers.

For example, here’s an example of one of our lead generation landing pages:

Sermush's lead generation landing page for a free demo

Users fill in their details to find out how Semrush can best help them achieve their goals. And we get a list of leads who are considering making a purchase.

Other lead generation tactics include:

  • Offering free tools or trials for your service to convey the value you offer
  • Creating high-quality lead magnets (useful content that requires contact details to access)
  • Attaching live chat to your website so leads can ask questions
  • Encouraging positive reviews from happy customers to give prospects confidence


Customer acquisition means attracting and converting new customers.

That’s often synonymous with sales. But in the context of freemium apps and free software tools, acquisition might focus on simply gaining new free users.

For example, 89% of respondents say video content has convinced them to buy a product or service. And that’s why 96% of marketers consider the medium an “important part” of their marketing strategy.

Here’s how software company Unbounce uses video to encourage acquisition on its landing pages:

Unbounce's "customer story" video on a landing page

It also uses social proof in the form of a customer’s testimonial and hard data to prove the tool’s usefulness.

Other acquisition tactics include:

  • Creating a referral program to incentivize current customers to invite new ones
  • Researching your target audience so you know what they want most
  • Offering a free trial to convey the value of your offer
  • Optimizing your website to provide a better experience for visitors


Customer activation is about turning free trial users into paid customers. It’s often a joint venture between marketing and sales, especially when selling to large enterprise companies. 

For example, an activation event could include attending a trade show in your niche. Here, you can speak to potential customers and encourage signups. 

Other activation tactics include:

  • Including short-form video tutorials in your website’s knowledge base to engage users
  • Sending trial expiration emails to encourage people to upgrade before it’s too late
  • Adding social proof (e.g., testimonials) to your site to build trust and credibility
  • Incentivizing sign-ups with free merchandise (e.g., offering a t-shirt when users activate)


Retention is all about keeping existing customers.

In the context of subscription-based companies, it’s about preventing churn (i.e., customers who cancel their subscriptions).

For transactional businesses like ecommerce brands, retention focuses on creating repeat sales from previous customers. While SaaS (subscription as a service) companies have to keep people actively subscribing to their products on a monthly or annual basis. 

For example, telecommunications company Vodafone rewards long-term customers with perks like Spotify Premium, YouTube Premium, or Amazon Prime:

Vodafone rewards section including Spotify Premium, YouTube Premium, and Amazon Prime

Other marketing tactics for retention include:

  • Creating a strong onboarding experience with detailed tutorials so people understand everything the product can do
  • Sending a regular customer newsletter with updates and valuable content
  • Offering unique services that your competition doesn’t to differentiate yourself
  • Listening to customers’ feedback regularly to make them feel like their opinions matter

Digital Marketing vs. Traditional Marketing 

For some companies, marketing takes place mostly—or even entirely—online.

This approach is known as digital marketing. And it’s an umbrella term for any type of online marketing effort.

A visual showing digital marketing as an umbrella term for inbound and outbound marketing

Digital marketing includes a wide range of distribution channels like:

  • Search
  • Digital advertising 
  • Social media platforms
  • Email
  • Short message service (SMS)

But what is marketing when it’s offline?

Digital marketing’s counterpart, traditional marketing, uses only offline marketing tactics:

Traditional marketing covers channels like:

  • Broadcast (e.g., TV and radio)
  • Print advertising (e.g., newspapers and magazines)
  • Out-of-home advertising (e.g., billboards and bus stop ads)
  • Direct marketing (e.g., discount coupons sent via mail)
  • Event marketing (e.g., trade shows)

A digital marketing strategy is typically more measurable and benefits from greater visibility into how customers interact with marketing efforts.

Digital channels can be better for delivering educational messages than traditional ones since the advertising methods enable greater customer interaction (e.g., watching video content and reading email newsletters).

By contrast, traditional marketing primarily relies on more passive types of advertising (e.g., walking by billboards and flicking past print ads).

Advertising vs. Marketing

Advertising is a term often used as a synonym for marketing. An advertisement is a paid promotion of your brand, product, or service. 

What makes it distinct from other forms of marketing is that it’s disruptive.

Brands serve ads to consumers in a context where the ad interrupts what they’re already doing. 

In traditional marketing, ads are in places like magazines, TV, and radio. The consumer isn’t reading the magazine, watching the TV, or listening to the radio for the ads. The ad is interrupting the customer experience.

In the digital world, consumers see ads on websites and social media. The adinterrupts the experience of watching the Instagram Story or reading the blog post.

On the other hand, marketing is the brand’s Instagram Story or blog post itself. Users are consuming this content intentionally. So, it isn’t interrupting anything.

14 Types of Marketing

Marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. Instead, think of it like a tree with many different branches that you can use at different times.

Here are 14 of the most effective types of marketing for businesses trying to build an off and online presence:

1. Search Engine Optimization

The goal of search engine optimization (SEO) is to organically place your website higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) for related keywords people search. Increasing the likelihood a user clicks on your site instead of others.

Marketers use SEO to meet search intent and get more organic traffic.

SEO involves:

For example, both Dog Food Advisor and Discover Magazine wrote blog posts targeting the keyword “best dog food.”

Google has determined that users searching for these keywords want a list of dog food brands. And these two listicles have relevant detail that answers the question most effectively.

Google's search results for "best dog food"

The biggest benefit of SEO as a marketing channel is that it’s organic. Which means you’re not directly paying for traffic like you would be with an ad. However, elements of your SEO strategy may still cost you if you use a paid tool or hire a blogger or developer.

Ranking on the first page for a search term increases visibility. Which can help boost user engagement with your brand.

Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool is the perfect solution for helping you find new ranking opportunities in just a few clicks.

Here’s how:

Type in a keyword or phrase that relates to your brand in some way. Then click “Search.”

"socks" entered into the Keyword Magic Tool search bar

On the following page, you’ll see a list of all keyword suggestions that relate to your initial phrase:

A list of keywords related to "socks" in Keyword Magic Tool

Here, you can filter search volume, keyword difficulty (KD), and search intent.

The lower the KD, the less competition for ranking highly on the SERPs.

"Volume," and "KD%" filters highlighted in Keyword Magic Tool

So, start with some of these keywords (the low-hanging fruit) to rank higher more easily.

2. Content Marketing

Content marketing involves creating and distributing content like articles, videos, guides, and podcasts across various platforms. 

Here are some more examples:

This content works to attract and engage an audience, drive brand awareness, establish authority and expertise—and ultimately create sales.

A good content strategy repurposes assets and distributes them across multiple channels. 

For example, we used the “SEO meaning” image (in the section above) in our post on SEO and in a social media post:

Semrush's LinkedIn post on "7 truths & tips about SEO" including an “SEO meaning” image

Content marketing’s advantage is that it’s customer-driven. The customer initiates the interaction with your company rather than your brand pushing an ad to them when they aren’t looking for you.

It’s also educational. 

Good content helps guide buyers through their buying decisions or assists them in solving a problem. 

3. Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing encompasses all activity on a brand’s social media channel. With the aim to build brand awareness, foster audience engagement, and drive business growth.

This can include:

  • Ads
  • Organic posts
  • Engagement with customer comments
  • Collaboration with other social media personalities
  • Reposts or engagement with user-generated content (UGC)
  • Responses to customer service queries

Marketing on social networks offers the benefit of a potentially huge audience. As your follower count grows, you can reach and engage with more potential customers who are already interested in what you have to say.

Take this post from Gymshark, which generated over 45,000 likes in one day.

Gymshark's Instagram post with "likes" highlighted

Many people follow the brand because of its sponsored athletes. So, it uses an image of a group of them to capture attention then encourages engagement with a question in the caption.

4. Search Engine Marketing

As opposed to SEO, search engine marketing (SEM) is a form of paid advertising where the channel is a search engine—like Google.

With SEM, also known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, you choose a webpage to promote and a specific search term for which you’d like to show up.

For example, here are two paid ads from tech education platforms Lighthouse Labs and Udemy for the term “web development class:”

Lighthouse Labs and Udemy's search ads for the term “web development class"

Each time someone clicks on the ad, both sites pay for that traffic (hence the name pay-per-click).

The benefit of this channel is that you’re paying to get the positions above organic search results for a given search term. 

So, it’s a faster way of topping the SERPs with your content.

5. Display Advertising 

Display advertising involves running digital ads on websites where your target audience is likely to visit.

It includes designing ad creatives like images and videos. And purchasing advertising space, typically sold as impressions (ad views).

Here’s what a display ad for FedEx looks like (this type is called a banner ad):

A display ad for FedEx on Forbes's website

The benefit of display advertising is you can reach potential customers who aren’t intentionally engaging with your brand. But are the same people who are most likely to be interested in what you’re selling (even if it’s not right at that moment). 

In the above example, a reader on the Forbes website isn’t actively looking for FedEx. But the banner ad creates a branding opportunity and keeps FedEx top of mind.

6. Video Advertising

Video advertising uses short-form videos to capture buyer attention on platforms like YouTube and Vimeo.

For instance, this 15-second ad from Adobe aims to create interest in its Photoshop product:

A video ad from Adobe on YouTube

It uses bright colors to grab your attention and demonstrates some of the software’s capabilities in 15 seconds.

These ads can come before the video (known as pre-roll ads), during the video (known as mid-roll ads), or after (known as post-roll ads).

Video advertising’s most significant benefit is its medium. Video adds visuals and audio to the marketing mix. 

That allows you to communicate more information to customers in less time.

7. Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is an approach that involves contracting an individual with a relevant audience (the influencer) to promote your brand, product, or services.

Most of this takes place on social media.

For example, this Instagram post from Ellen Brockbank promotes Purina’s products but doesn’t come from Purina itself:

Ellen Brockbank's Instagram post promoting Purina's cat food

This is how influencer marketing doesn’t appear as directly promotional as a traditional ad. Because it seems like a vote of confidence from a third party.

The big win here is the ability to tap into someone else’s captive audience. In this case, Purina benefits from getting in front of Brockbank’s 130K Instagram followers.

8. Email Marketing

Email marketing encompasses a variety of marketing activities, all of which take place via email.

Common uses for email marketing include:

  • Promotional email (e.g., announcing a sale)
  • Transactional email (e.g., product shipping updates)
  • Email newsletters (e.g., product updates)
  • Onboarding emails (e.g., welcome messages)

In this email marketing example, Woodpecker announced a new product feature to existing customers: 

Woodpecker's "The Product Team Update #13" email

Woodpecker’s Head of Product explains a common user pain point (email sending limits) and then explains how the team has solved it (a new feature that rotates multiple inboxes).

The big reason for using email as a channel is its high ROI. For every $1 spent on email marketing, you can get $36 in return. 

Plus, you can use it across the marketing funnel—from lead nurturing emails to retention-focused content.

9. SMS Marketing 

SMS marketing is the use of text messaging to engage with customers.

It can be promotional, like this example from Adore Me:

Adore Me's SMS marketing messages

Image Source: salesmsg

Using words like “last day” and announcing a buy-one-get-one-free offer creates a sense of urgency that convinces recipients to head to the site before they miss out.

But SMS can also be an effective channel for transactional messages, like delivery updates for online purchases.

SMS is valuable, but it’s also underutilized. 

Promotional messages from brands flood email inboxes daily. But SMS is primarily for personal messaging.

As a result, SMS can help brands cut through the noise and effectively reach their target audience with concise, impactful messages.

10. Affiliate Marketing 

Affiliate marketing is a performance-based advertising method. A person or business (the affiliate) earns a commission for generating sales of another company’s product or services.

For instance, with the Semrush Affiliate Program, our affiliate partners earn $200 for every new subscription they generate. 

Semrush Affiliate Program homepage

Loyal customers promote your product, and you provide a monetary reward as part of a win-win cycle.

The benefit of affiliate marketing is you have a marketing and sales engine operating at no cost to you until you make the sale.

That allows you to tap into existing audiences who aren’t aware of your brand without any upfront cost.

11. Print Advertising 

Print advertising is any form of paid ad taken out in a print medium, like a newspaper or magazine.

Print marketing can be effective as a branding exercise, like this ad from Heinz:

Heinz's ketchup print ad

Image Source: bizadmark

The word “grows” and tomato stem on top of the bottle suggest Heinz grows its own tomatoes to create the ketchup. Promoting a healthier, less-processed image of the product.

You can subtly access the authority and credibility of the publication you’re advertising in to benefit you.

For example, a brand like The North Face could align its brand with the authority and respect readers have for Backpacker Magazine.

12. Event Marketing 

Event marketing is one of the few in-person forms of marketing.

For example, a company may choose to put on an event like a product launch. Or, host a booth at an existing trade show like Oracle NetSuite.

Oracle NetSuite's booth at a trade show

Image Source: Eventige

Attending events creates human-to-human connections that feel more trustworthy. And lets potential customers ask your sales rep questions about your brand and offer.

In either case, the purpose is to engage directly with potential customers and often to showcase a new product, feature, or service.

13. Direct Marketing

Direct marketing is a channel where marketers interact with customers directly and on a one-to-one basis.

This type of marketing commonly occurs via physical mail, like this playful freebie offer from Nestle’s KitKat:

Nestle’s KitKat playful freebie offer

Image Source: WMD

It plays on the “missed delivery” notices many households get. And instead, allowed recipients to exchange the notice for a free KitKat Chunky at their local newsagents.

In today’s online-centric world, marketing professionals use direct marketing as a unique way to connect with target customers and improve brand recognition.

14. Out-of-Home Advertising 

Out-of-home advertising (OOH) covers ads that customers see outside their homes. Billboards are the typical example.

For example, McDonald’s positions billboards where drivers approach its restaurants. 

McDonald’s billboard for Iced Mocha

Image Source: Marketing Birds

The ad primes the desire to purchase, making it more likely drivers will pull over when they spot those golden arches.

OOH advertising can also include posters and bus ads. The biggest benefit of this type of marketing is that brands control where the interaction takes place.

The 4 Ps of Marketing

The four Ps framework explains how a marketing plan interacts with different parts of a business. They are: Product, Pricing, Place, and Promotion.

It’s a traditional marketing aspect that has stood the test of time. 

It was invented in the mid-20th century in the context of offline tactics but is still relevant to online marketing.


The central theme here is whether there is demand for the product (or service) a company offers.

In modern terms, we call this product-market fit.

When considering this tenet of the four Ps, effective marketing teams focus on market research to understand:

  • What key demographics and behaviors identify your target audience
  • What important customer needs your product satisfies
  • What kinds of messaging resonate with and engage your customer base


For this principle of the four Ps, your marketing department must turn its attention to competitors and experiment with different approaches to pricing.

For transactional businesses, it’s about first determining where in the market you want to position your product (e.g., a luxury option or a budget one). Then, optimize pricing to fit within the budget of shoppers in that category.

Price too high, and you’ll be unattainable for some. Price too low, and you may come across as an inferior option. 

Brands must also determine which pricing models (e.g., per-user or usage-based billing) fit best for their products and customers.


The “place” P refers to where customers find and buy from you.

For brick-and-mortar businesses, it’s about physical location. Brands like Starbucks and McDonald’s are great examples.

Let’s take Starbucks.

The global coffee giant uses a data-driven process to choose locations in wealthier neighborhoods with high foot traffic. Because that way the team knows there will be enough people who can afford their products.

In the context of modern marketing, brands must think about how and where they show up online. Your company’s website is an obvious place to start. 

But as an ecommerce brand, you also have the option to sell directly through social media channels and online marketplaces (e.g., eBay, Amazon, Etsy). That essentially means you can have multiple online storefronts.


“Promotion” covers the 14 different types of marketing we covered above.

It’s about determining where you’ll reach customers (channels), how you’ll connect with them (tactics), and what you’ll say (messaging).

Why Knowing Your Audience Is Critical in Marketing 

The foundation of a great marketing plan is a strong, well-researched understanding of your audience.

If you plan to use display ads to capture customer attention, you’ll need to have demographic data on hand to set up targeting accurately.

If you’re going to invest in a content marketing campaign, you’ll need to know what challenges customers face so you can help solve them.

If you think social media is where you can reach your audience best, you’ll need to know what kind of messaging resonates, engages, and captures attention.

In short, you need to know who you’re talking to and what they care about.

A tool like Semrush’s One2Target can help understand your market’s audience and how they engage online. It’s a complete audience analytics solution. 

Simply enter your target URL and click “Analyze.”

"" entered into the One2Target search bar

On the following dashboard, switch between four reports that give you insights into your audience: “Demographics,” “Socioeconomics,” “Behaviors,” and “Audience Overlap.” 

“Demographics,” “Socioeconomics,” “Behaviors,” and “Audience Overlap" tabs highlighted in the One2Target dashboard

For example, clicking “Behaviors” will unearth your audience’s interests, most-used devices, and social media platforms.

“Behaviors” audience overview in One2Target tool
"Social Media" section of the One2Target report

Use these insights to understand how to better connect to your audience in the places and devices they frequent.

Make audience research the bedrock of your marketing strategy by:

  • Exploring quantitative data (like demographics) in your customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing platforms
  • Conducting qualitative customer interviews to uncover insights into challenges and buying processes
  • Using competitor research to find your niche and fuel brand positioning
  • Testing different messages to validate assumptions about what connects 
  • Working closely with customer relationship managers to understand the real-life impact of your product or service

Research Your Target Audience Using Semrush Today

Today’s brands cannot succeed simply by having the most convenient location or prominent in-store position.

Customers now have a world of products at their fingertips, and many industries are already saturated.

Differentiation is key for standing out in crowded markets. Which starts with understanding why customers might buy from your brand above all others.

Before you invest in any of the marketing channels discussed above, start with a thorough analysis of your market and audience.

Learn how with our guide, Marketing 101: What Is Audience Research?

Then, make it happen with Semrush’s One2Target solution.


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