Digital media channels

The advantage of digital media channels is that they create more of a one-to-one connection between your brand and your target consumers. In this guide, we review the role of digital media channels in the overall media plan. We review key steps in the digital media planning process and focus on three key channels. search, social and display.

Digital media channels

How this guide raises your game

1. Learn how digital media fits in to the overall advertising and media plan.

2. Understand the basic terms used in search marketing.

3. Learn our social media “in” and “out” model to fit into your digital business model. 

As part of your overall media planning, you make decisions on whether the media style to meet your brand objective needs to be broadcast, narrowcast or monocast.

Broadcast channels like TV or outdoor reach mass audiences and are good for broad one-way communications.

Narrowcast channels like specialist print or events focus on narrower target audiences and are more more suitable to build relationships with specific target segments.

But in recent years, digital technology has increasingly made monocast media a more affordable and easier to manage option for your media plan. 

Google hone page on a Samsung phone lores

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Monocast media

Monocast media which is led by digital media channels lets you focus on more of a one-to-one connection between your brand and a consumer. So from the consumer’s point of view, there’s a much more personal connection when digital media is used.

They feel like the brand is talking to them specifically, rather than talking to a whole crowd of people at the same time.

Digital media’s greatest advantage over traditional media is this ability to set up the direct one-to-one connection and to tailor much more specific messages.

But it also comes with a need to build skills and understanding of how these channels work and how to best use them to deliver against the needs of your consumers and grow your business.

Communication - Media Style matrix Step 3

Using digital media channels for reach

As per our digital business model guide, reach is the first step in the digital journey for your brand. You need to reach customers online before you can engage or sell to them.

And as per our guide to media planning, reach is also about delivering the right content to the right consumers via the right channels.

So, your first task when it comes to digital media channels is to connect these two elements together. The online journey and the media context come together to drive online reach.

As a total channel, digital media channels can combine to reach large numbers of people. As we covered in the digital business model, internet penetration is at almost 90% of households and Facebook covers 60% of all Australians.

The Seven Steps of the RESTART digital business model - Reach, Engage, Sell, Technology, Analysis, Resource, Transform

But, the challenge from a reach point of view is that consumers are looking at different channels and content at different times. Your digital adverts will be seen while they flick through content on Facebook or You Tube for example. Or it will only be seen when they search on a relevant topic. Your digital media plan needs to find the right places online for your consumers to see your messages. 

Digital Media Channel Fragmentation

Unlike broadcast media where you can guarantee a large audience watching a specific show or event, digital media channels are much more fragmented.

So, your digital media plan is much more likely to be a combination of many small media placements to achieve your overall reach number. In traditional media channels, you have fewer placements, but each reaches more people.

For example, there’s no digital equivalent of a major sports event final, or TV series finale that automatically reaches large numbers. 

Young woman on train station platform looking at her mobile phone

BUT, you can reach these types of audiences if you focus your media plan on the digital channels that associate with those large events. Like news, sport or entertainment websites.

Digital media channels can and should be part of your overall reach targets. But it’s actually in support of the next stage of the digital journey where they really come into their own.

Using digital media channels to engage

Digital media channels have a great advantage over traditional media is that they can be made interactive.

Consumers can click on a paid search link. They can like or comment on a social media post. And they can click directly on an online display advert.

This ability to interact with the customer is important for engagement. The customer is active and can respond to a message immediately. 

One easy way to think about engagement is to look at how much people lean back or lean forward as they engage with media channels.

Traditional – lean back media

When a consumer watches a TV or cinema ad, they consume it passively.

They see it whether they have chosen to or not. And there’s no immediate action they can do with the advert itself. To “interact”, they need to use another piece of technology e.g. search online, or call a number to find out more. 

This passive media experience is often called ‘lean back’ media. Because picture how you see advertising on TV or at the cinema. You lean back from the screen. 

This means less engagement with the advertising itself. 

Digital – lean forward media

Compare that to how you see adverts on your Facebook feed, or on You Tube. In those channels, you’re actively engaged in what’s on the screen. 

Digital media is a ‘lean forward’ media behaviour. The consumer actively consumes it. It’s important because the technology also means the advert can normally be interacted with immediately.

Digital media advertising can be clicked, touched, even spoken to. The ‘do something’ for the advert has an immediate and measurable next step for the consumer. It is a much more active experience. 

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges with digital media channels or they’re always better than traditional media.

It really depends on your target audience, your brand identity and your business context. You should consider digital media as part of your overall media plan, as we’ll move on to next. 

Digital media planning process

Digital media planning should sit within the advertising development process.

This follows the same basic steps we cover in our guides on how to advertise and on media planning.

However, because of the nature of digital media channels, there are some specific additional considerations which come into play at each stage. 

These are mainly do with how different media channels can connect together.

And also you need to look at the context of how your target audience will experience them. 

The advertising development process - a guide on how to advertise successfully

Business objective and budget

As per our guide to digital data and insights, digital brings with it a huge amount of new access to information about your target audience. And digital media channels are no exception.

However, it’s important to understand the link between your digital objectives and their fit back to the business objective.

So for example, your business objective is normally something clear and simple like “increase your sales by x%”.

The default for your digital media channel objectives is normally then to drop in a similar target related to the digital activity. So, “increase visits to the website by x%” or “increase views of the video by x%” for example. 

But here’s the challenge you need to consider.

Have you worked out the relationship between the digital activity and the business activity? How do you know that increases in website visits by x% will increase sales by x%?

The short answer is when it’s your first campaign, you don’t really know. But with every digital campaign you run, you build more understanding of key behaviours. And how they relate back to your business objective.

You should tie these digital objectives back to the brand choice funnel.


Are you a new business and consumers don’t know who you are? Then your marketing goal is to drive awareness.

And this means your digital media objectives and measures could include impressions, view completions and Click through Rate.

Impressions and view completions are generally about getting the maximum amount of people to see your ad. They are closely related to the Reach objective we cover in our digital business model.

However, on their own they don’t measure the quality of the media plan. So, measures that also track what consumers do when they see the ad (like clicking on a link) help give a more balanced view of the quality of the media placement.

The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase


Do consumers know who you are but don’t really know what you do? Or what you stand for? Then your goal is more one of consideration. KPis relating to consideration typically include Click Through Rate, Social Media Likes, Follows and Re-tweets. They could also include registrations and appointments depending on the service your business offers.

In all these examples, there is a measurable action from the consumer. That action shows a level of interest or desire in your brand. It’s often used by businesses an advance indicator of a consumer’s likelihood to buy. These consideration objectives are closely related to the Engage objective we cover in our digital business model

Trial and Loyalty

Have consumers engaged with you but they are just not buying?  Maybe they like your social page, they sign up for an email, they email in an enquiry. But no sale.

Or maybe they bought one item and then never came back?

In these types of situation,  your goal is to drive trial and loyalty. Typical KPIs in this area would be things like sales, registrations, likes, reviews, subscriptions and referrals.

Response rates to online advertising

Because consumers see so much advertising online, you find most digital advertising is ignored.

So, for example, one common measure is click through rates (CTR). This is the % of people who click on an ad out of the total number of people who see the ad.

For most ads, this will sit in the range of 1% to 2%. So that means 98% to 99% won’t click on your ad. 

This feels like a lot of wastage for your digital media channel spend. But just because a customer doesn’t click on your ad, doesn’t mean it won’t have an impact. Just that it didn’t have an impact at the time they saw the advert.

Red neon sign on a black background showing a heart illustration and 0 next to it, symbolising no likes

Objectives and measures

You also need to distinguish between what your objective and target is, and what you can measure. Because they are not necessarily the same thing.

Goodhart’s Law states “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”.

There’s a famous story about the plague outbreak in Hanoi, Vietnam in the early 1900s. The authorities knew the plague was being spread by rats. So they offered a bounty on rats, which would be paid when you brought in a rat’s tail. 

The authorities soon found themselves with thousands of rat’s tails. But no reduction in the plague. And they soon found out, that people were being entrepreneurial and breeding rats in order to get the tails to get the bounty. So, more rats, but no reduction in plague. The rats’ tails were the measure but should not have been the target

So, when it comes to setting your digital media goal, you need to be clear that you are going after the right target.

In our experience you need a target that combines both a quantity and quality measure. You need to reach a large enough number of your target audience. But, your activity also needs to drive enough of a behaviour change to impact on future sales. 

The brief - digital media channel consideration

The communications brief should be given to advertising and media agencies at the same time.

It set the challenge for the media agency to find the best and most relevant channels to place your advertising. (this may also end up with you meeting with media sales teams from the media suppliers). 

For digital media channels, your brand identity for example will help define the types of websites and other platforms where your message will best ‘fit’ for your messages.

Where do you target audience go online? And where and when will your message land with maximum impact? 

We’ve already covered business objectives above.

Marketing Communication brief - blank template

When it comes to the communication challenge, you should be able to articulate it in ways that your media agency can respond to. You want them to generate ideas on how, when and where to place your advertising, including in digital media channels.

For example, do people search on topics related to the message you are trying to land? You can find this out with secondary research on keywords.

Do people watch video content related to the service you offer? You can find this out if you search on You Tube. Check out the views and subscriber counts of competitors.

Do consumers interact and engage with other brands in your category on social media channels? Use the search function on channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see what your target audience is already exposed to.

It’s helpful where you have data or insights about these types of behaviours to work with your media agency to work out the implications. Those agencies may well have access to additional insights about online behaviour that can help raise the overall impact of the advertising. 

Build relevant content with the creative agency

Your media plan should connect with your advertising plan. We cover how these plans connect in our section on how to advertise. But there are some specific considerations when you develop content for digital media channels.


Firstly, think about the context of where your target audience will see the ad. There’s a high chance the ad will be seen on a mobile phone screen. In the US, mobile advertising already accounts for 43% of ALL media spend.

What might look good on 65 inch plasma TV screen at the media agency may not have the same impact when seen on a 6 inch screen on a busy commuter train. You should test out your advertising and media to see how it looks in ‘real life’.

Think also about the time of day or day of the week when the target audience will see the advertising. Your audience will be in a very different mindset and frame of mind on the train to work on a Tuesday morning as opposed to drinks with friends on a Friday evening for example. Digital media channels offer a lot of flexibility of where and when they will be served. 

If you advertising and media will appear on third party sites, are those sites good context for your advertising? Do they make sense. Is the topic and content of the sites they will appear on relevant to your category?


Think about how sound is used in your advertising and especially on mobile devices. In a recent survey more than half the respondents said they ‘hated’ when video ads automatically played with sound on. Nearly 80% of Facebook users watch ads without sounds.

Does your ad work without any sound on? Or should you add subtitles?

It’s important the media company makes this clear to the advertising agency if digital media channels are in the plan. If so, the advert needs to be able to work without sound. That means with no voiceover or music.

Two people holding up large ears on a small dog

When the advertising agency shows you the advertising idea (see our guide to advertising evaluation), and you know the advert will appear digitally, you should ask how it works without sound.


As per our guide to marketing technology, when you run digital media and a consumer interacts with an advert, you can include a special code that will ‘tag’ a consumer.

This essentially means you can ‘re-target’ them as “a consumer who’s interacted with your brand before”. This means you can change the message to make it more specific and likely to convert than a broader generic advertising message 

Digital media channels

Broadly, digital media channels fall into one of three categories – search engine marketing, social media content or display advertising. We will go through each of these in turn below. 

Search Engine Marketing 

The easiest way for consumers to find your website is to set it up to appear on Search for relevant terms.

But how you set your website and content up requires an understanding of how Search Engines work to find and rank content on searches. 

This understanding or skill is called SEM (Search Engine Marketing).

If you’re a small business, take some time to learn the basics of search. While it’s often outsourced to marketing agencies, it’s an important digital media channel.

Search serves relevant content to your target audience based on their needs. When a consumer puts in a search query, they are in very simple terms telling you what they need at that point in time. 

So, search engine marketing is about the knowledge of what your target audience need (by what they search on). And then creating content and experiences that help meet those needs. 

There are two main areas of search engine marketing to understand.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Optimisation in simple terms is where the search engine ranks your site against search terms. It’s also sometimes called organic search. 

This search engine ranking is based on the quality of your website experience. The search algorithm calculates this quality score based on a complex number of variables. 

The best way to improve the quality score of your website is to improve the quality of the content and experience on your website.

Helpful articles that drive engagement for your audience for example can help drive up your search ranking. Your quality score goes up when people spent time on your site, click on useful links and share or link to your content. 

Yoast SEO example for digital media channels

SEO tools

If you run your own website, we highly recommend you check out SEO tools available for your website. For example, if you have started on a WordPress site, we recommend Yoast as a plug-in for your site.

This type of tool will analyse each page of content you write. And it will recommend how to improve it for organic search.

For example, to make sure that you have set up the correct title, key phrase, description and headings on the page. This makes it easier for Google’s each crawlers to understand what your page is about. You can see the Yoast SEO example for this page in the image above. 

There are also a number of sites such as Ahrefs, SEMrush and Moz which can run more technical audits of how your site is setup for SEO.

For example, they can test your overall site loading speed. Google tends to rank sites that load faster, so these can help identify if there are issues with your server for example. Or if you have a lot of high resolution images that take too long to load. 

Search Engine Optimisation does require some either effort on your part to learn the basic skills. Or to invest and hire an expert. But, it’s one of the most cost effective digital media channels.

It creates relevant content for your target audience that meets their needs. And Google’s algorithm forces you to raise the quality of your website. The return from SEO work is rarely immediate. But it does build over time and you should focus on how to improve your website content to climb the rankings.

Search Engine Optimisation – Backlinks

If you do build quality content for your site, you should also work to link your content to and from other sites.

These are often referred to as backlinks. They can be a helpful way to drive traffic to your site. And these links will improve your search quality score.

In general, the more and higher quality backlinks you have, the more Google recognises you as being a high quality site. Sites like Ahrefs, SEMrush and Moz refer to this quality value as Domain Authority, in effect a score on how linked your site is. 

What’s also helpful from these sites, is they can run their analysis on any website. So you can check the Domain Authority of any sites who want to link with you for example. Or you can use it to check  on your competitors. 

If you can see competitor backlinks, you can use this information to understand their online strategy better.

In simple terms, a backlink could be as simple as when you add your details to online business directories. Or when you work to have your business or site featured in a news or media article.

It’s an important and on-going part of your SEO work to review and look for better ways to make your website more linked. 

Pay Per Click (PPC)

“Pay per Click” search (sometimes just called paid search) does exactly what it says.

While SEO is essentially a ‘free’ service for the consumer run by the search engines, PPC is where these search engines make their revenues from businesses who pay for their search results to appear in high ranking locations. 

In PPC, you choose search terms that are relevant to your target audience, but where you don’t rank well on SEO

Google Ads Brand and Marketing Keyword research results

You pay for a search ad placement to appear higher up the rankings.

This is usually managed through Google Ads.  You can set up an account with them for free and link it your website as long as you already have a gmail account

We highly recommend using the Keywords research tool on Google Ads as a way to start understanding what your target audience might be looking for. We cover examples of how to do this in our guide to secondary research.

How to work with Pay Per Click

Paid search effectively works like a live online ‘auction’ where you tell the Google Ads algorithm how much you’re willing to spend for your site to appear against certain search terms. These could range from very specific search terms if you’re a small business – let’s say ‘pineapple pizza delivery in Bondi Beach’ for example to very large and more generic terms – let’s say ‘travel insurance’.

Make sure that Google Ads connects to your Google Analytics account for your website, as you’ll be able to track clicks and behaviour resulting from those clicks on your Analytics tool. 

Most business outsource PPC to an agency or a specialist consultant. Where paid search is a large driver of traffic to your business website, you could be end up with a list of hundreds, if not thousands of keywords. It can take a lot of time to manage these, which is why specialists normally run bigger PPC accounts. 

However, you can get started quite easily with a small search budget. Say $10/day to test it out. It’s a worth it to run some small test campaigns. 

Even if you decide to outsource paid search buying, get familiar with the basic process of paid search to make sure you understand what your outsourced expertise is doing for you. Check out Google’s helpful guide to getting started with paid search advertising.

Social Media

You can obviously usesocial media just for the media element of it. But there are many more ideas you can tap into when it comes to social media. 

It includes the opportunity to create communities and interact directly, which traditional advertising cannot do.

This channel has clearly and dramatically changed the way consumers interact with brands.

For brand marketers, social media creates an opportunity to have a one-to-one connection with a consumer that wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago.

To understand how social media can support your business, you need to split the term into two parts, an ‘incoming’ and and ‘outgoing’ part.

Social media incoming

Firstly, the ‘social’ part of social media is where you can have a direct one to one conversation with the consumer.

Social media lets consumers contact you directly, or publicly comment on your activity. This incoming contact means you are getting ‘free’ customer feedback.

Make sure you have a customer service process and team to manage these comments and enquiries. This is an important part of being “social”. 

When people’s comments on social media are in the public domain, you should assess if there is any risk or opportunity in the comment. If they make a public complaint about your brand you need to be able to respond to those comments in a fair and reasonable way.

Social Media model example. 0 incoming and outgoing

Likewise, if your target audience compliment your brand in public, acknowledging this and thanking or even rewarding them can go a long way to build up a ‘fan base’ for your brand online.

There are online tools you can use to monitor and track comments both on your platforms and more broadly. How much effort and who you will get to manage this will really depend on the size of your profile in social media.

A small business owner like a restaurant or cafe owner might be able to respond directly to comments. But bigger brands might hire a freelancer or agency or a community manager. On the very biggest brands, you’ll likely have a full in-house team of social media managers.

Social Media outgoing

Of course, social media is also an ‘outgoing’ channel. 

At its very simplest level, it can carry your advertising and be part of your overall paid media plan.

However, for content post and adverts to work in social media, there are many factors to consider.

The context of the message for example and when and where the consumer will see it. Very different on a social feed to on a TV screen for example, The fact that the consumer can publicly respond to your message for others to see. You need to have a plan in place to be able to respond to comments and questions quickly. 

Social Media advertising

All the major social media channels will provide services for you as an advertiser. It’s how they make the vast majority of their income.

Which channel(s) you decide to invest goes back to the media planning process we outlined above.

Here at three-brains, we’re more than happy to help you get started with your digital media planning and walk you through the process so you can get up and running.

As a good place to start, you should check out the introduction to advertising content at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn

Each of these platforms makes it relatively easy to get started advertising with them.

Online Display advertising

Your final option in digital media is to use third party or display advertising.

This is when you post your advert on someone else’s content or platform. For example, on a site where you know there is already high traffic like a news or entertainment site.

Or on a You Tube or Instagram profile which has lots of views and followers.

Most businesses of any scale would outsource this buying to a marketing or media agency. There are many complexities involved in buying space.

However, it’s not impossible to contact another site directly to see if it offers direct selling of media space. It’s also worth looking at creating video ads on You Tube as this is comparatively straightforward to do if you already have your own You Tube channel.

Conclusion - Digital media channels

Digital media channels open up new and interesting marketing and e-commerce opportunities.

The days when the traditional media owners dictated what customers see have changed. It’s now a much more open marketplace to buy media space.

The challenge for business owners is there’s so much choice. It can be hard to work out where you get the best media bang for your buck. And there’s so much ‘noise’ for customers, it’s each to tune out from digital media.  

Media agencies can help with this process. But bear in mind, these agencies make their profits in getting commission discounts from media owners when they spend your money.

You should make sure you’ve a clear media planning process in place. Link this to your target audience and business goals. Include regular reviews on the effectiveness of your digital media spend. 

Digital media lets you get your message in front of the right people at the right time, when they’re online.  Use that to raise your online digital marketing game. 

Three-brains and digital marketing

We’ve worked on many digital marketing projects. Our expertise and experience experience stretches across all aspects of digital marketing including digital media channels. We know how to connect digital media planning back into driving your brand marketing and growing your sales. 

Contact us, if you want to know more about how we can support your digital marketing to grow your business  through our coaching and consulting services.

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