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Digital media channels

Why read this? : We explore how digital media channels help you reach and interact with customers. Learn about the role digital plays in your overall media plan. We then cover the digital media planning process, focussing on search, social and display. Read this to learn how to get more out of digital media.

Digital media channels

How this guide raises your game :-

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

2. Explore the basics of search marketing.

3. Learn how the “in” and “out” of social media fits into your digital business model. 

Part of media planning is deciding whether your media style should be broadcast, narrowcast or monocast.

Broadcast channels like TV and outdoor reach mass audiences. They’re good for broad one-way communications.

Narrowcast channels like specialist print and events focus on narrower target audiences. They’re good for building relationships with specific customer segments.

But in recent years, digital technology has increasingly made monocast media a more affordable and manageable option. 

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Monocast media

Monocast media, led by digital media channels, focuses on one-to-one connections between brands and customers.

The customer feels more personally connected. Like the brand’s talking to them specifically, rather than to lots of people at the same time.

Digital media’s big advantage over traditional media is its ability to set up a direct one-to-one connection to deliver more personalised-sounding messages.

But it also has challenges, You have to figure out how these channels work, and how to use them to meet customer needs 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 your brand’s digital journey. You have to reach customers online before you can engage or sell to them.

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

So, your first task with digital media channels is to connect these 2 elements. 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 per our digital business model guide, internet penetration is at almost 90% of households. 60% of Australians are on Facebook.

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 customers are looking at different channels and content at different times. Your digital adverts will be seen while they flick through Facebook or YouTube, for example. Or when customers search on a relevant topic. Your digital media plan has to find the right places online for customers to see your messages. 

Digital Media Channel Fragmentation

Broadcast media can guarantee a large audience watching a specific show or event, but digital media channels are more fragmented.

Your digital media plan will be a combination of many small media placements to achieve your overall reach number. In traditional media channels, you’ve fewer placements, but each reaches more people.

For example, there’s no digital equivalent of a major sports event final or TV series finale which 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 associated with those events. News, sport or entertainment websites, for example.

Digital media channels usually support your overall reach targets. But it’s actually in support of the next stage of the digital journey where they come into their own.

Using digital media channels to engage

Digital media’s other great advantage over traditional media is it can be interactive.

Customers 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 is key for engagement. The customer can actively 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.

Woman wearing a grey sweatshirt and looking at her phone in a dark room

Traditional - lean back media

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

They see it whether they’ve 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. Consider how you see advertising on TV or at the cinema. You lean back from the screen. There’s less engagement with the advert itself. 

Digital - lean forward media

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

Digital media is ‘lean forward’. The customer 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, or even spoken to. The ‘do something’ for the advert has an immediate and measurable next step. It’s a more active experience. 

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges with digital media channels. Or that they’re always better than traditional media. It 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 as per our guides on how to advertise and media planning.

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

These are mainly to do with how different channels connect.

You also have to factor in the context of how your target audience will experience them. 

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

Digital objectives and business objectives

As per our digital data guide, 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. 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 to drop in a similar target related to the digital activity. “Increase visits to the website by x%” or “increase views of the video by x%”, for example. 

But there are challenges with that. For example, how do you work out the relationship between the digital activity and the business delivery? How do you know increasing website visits by x% will grow sales by y%?

The short answer is when it’s your first campaign, you don’t know. It’s a best estimate. Mostly based on gut feel. But with every subsequent digital campaign you run, you gain more insights. You gather facts and understand better how digital relates to your business objective.

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

Awareness 

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

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 closely relate to the Reach objective we cover in our digital business model guide.

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

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

Consideration

Do customers know who you are but don’t know what you do? Or what you stand for? Then your goal is 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’s a measurable action from the customer. That action shows a level of interest or desire in your brand. It’s often used as an advance indicator of a customer’s likelihood to buy. These consideration objectives closely relate to the Engage objective in our digital business model

Trial and Loyalty

Have customers engaged with you but they’re 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 situations, your goal is to drive trial and loyalty. Typical KPIs in this area would be sales, registrations, likes, reviews, subscriptions and referrals.

Response rates to online advertising

Because customers see so much advertising online, a lot of 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 it.

For most ads, this will be around 1%-2%. Or in other words, 98%-99% won’t click on your ad. 

This feels like a lot of waste for your digital 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 have to distinguish between what your objective and target are, and what you can measure. Because they’re 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. They soon found out, that people were being entrepreneurial and breeding rats to get the tails to get the bounty. So, more rats, but no plague reduction. The rats’ tails were the measure but shouldn’t have been the target

So, when it comes to setting your digital media goal, be clear you’re going after the right target. You usually need a target which combines both a quantity and quality measure. You have to reach a large enough % of your target audience. But, your activity also needs to drive enough of a behaviour change to impact future sales. 

The brief - digital media channel consideration

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

It sets 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 sales teams from the media suppliers). 

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

Where does your 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, articulate it in a way 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, does keyword research show people search on topics related to the message you’re trying to land? Do people watch videos related to the service you offer? You can find this out via the views and subscriber counts of competitors on YouTube. Do they interact and engage with other brands in your category on social media channels? Check channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see what your target audience is already looking at.

Work with your media agency to work out the implications of this data and insights. They often have access to extra insights about online behaviour which can help sharpen the media buy. 

Build relevant content with the creative agency

Your media plan should connect with your advertising plan. We cover how these plans connect in our how to advertise guide. However, there are some specific considerations with content for digital media channels.

Context

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

What looks good on a big plasma TV at the media agency won’t have the same impact on a 6-inch screen on a busy commuter train. You should always check based on how your advertising will appear in ‘real life’.

Think also about the timing of when the target audience will see the advertising. They’ll be in a very different frame of mind on the Tuesday morning train to work versus having Friday evening drinks with friends, for example. Digital media channels offer a lot of flexibility in where and when customers will see them. 

When your ad campaigns appear on third-party sites, check those sites give the right context. That they make sense and feel like a good fit. That the topics and content of those sites are relevant to your category.

Sound

Think about how sound is used in your advertising, 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 sound? Do you need subtitles?

The media agency should make this clear to the advertising agency if digital media channels are in the plan. If so, the advert should 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.

Tagging

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

This means you can ‘re-target’ them as “a customer who’s interacted with your brand before”. You can change the message they see to make it more relevant to them. That can help drive more conversions.  

Digital media channels

Broadly, digital media channels fall into search engine marketing, social media content or display advertising. Let’s look at the benefits of each. 

Search Engine Marketing 

You clearly want customers to find your website when they search for you on relevant terms. 

But how you set up your website and content is heavily influenced by how Search Engines work. How they find and rank content on searches.

The word Google spelled out with blue, red and yellow M&Ms with a M&M bag and a laptop also in the image

Understanding how to optimise this is called Search Engine Marketing (SEM). You should be aware of the basics, even if it’s often outsourced to agencies as it’s one of the most important digital media channels. Search serves relevant content to your target audience based on their search query. This basically tells Google what they need right now. And you can learn from that by looking at Google search data, like doing keyword research, for example. 

So, SEM is about discovering what your target audience needs (by what they search on). And then creating content and experiences which help meet those needs. It further subdivides into Search Engine Optimisation and Pay Per Click.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Optimisation 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 its content and experience.

For example, helpful articles which drive audience engagement can help drive search ranking. Your quality score goes up when people spend time on your site, click on links and share or link to your content.

Yoast SEO example for digital media channels

SEO tools

If you run your own website, you should check which SEO tools are available to support you. For example, on WordPress, you can use something like Yoast to boost search for your site. This analyses each page and recommends how to improve it for organic search. For example, it checks you’ve set up the right title, key phrase, description and headings. This makes it easier for Google to understand what your page is about. 

There are also other sites like Ahrefs, SEMrush and Moz which run more technical audits of how your site is set up for SEO. For example, they test your overall site loading speed. Google tends to rank sites that load faster, so these can identify if there are issues with your server, for example. Or if you’ve high-resolution images which take too long to load. 

Search Engine Optimisation takes a little effort, but, it’s one of the most cost-effective digital media channels. It creates relevant content for your target audience to meet 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 builds over time and you should focus on how to improve your website content to climb the rankings.

Search Engine Optimisation - Backlinks

When you create good quality content for your site, you should also look to link your content to and from other sites. These are called 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 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 that want to link with you, for example. Or you can use it to check out 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 ongoing 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 people 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 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 to 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 is looking for. See our keyword research article for more on this. 

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 e.g. pineapple pizza delivery in Bondi Beach  to larger, more generic terms e.g. ‘travel insurance’.

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

Most businesses outsource PPC to an agency or a specialist consultant. Where paid search is a large driver of traffic to your business website, you could 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 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 use social 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 brands, social media helps you have the type of one-to-one connection with a customer that just wasn’t possible 10 years ago.

To understand how social media can support your business, you need to split the term into 2 parts, an ‘incoming’ and an ‘outgoing’ part.

Social media incoming

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

Social media lets customers contact you directly, or publicly comment on your activity. This incoming contact means you’re 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’s 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 fairly and reasonably.

Social Media model example. Include, vision, channels and "in" activities and "out" activities

Likewise, if your target audience compliments your brand in public, acknowledging, 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 get to manage depends on the size of your profile on social media.

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

Social media outgoing

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

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

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

For example, the context of the message for example and when and where the audience will see it. Very different on a social feed to on a TV screen, for example, The fact people can publicly respond to your message for others to see. You need to have a plan so you can 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 in 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 on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn

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

Facebook post originally on Instagram of woman wearing Three-brains Blue Controller Hoodie design

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’s already high traffic like a news or entertainment site.

Or on a YouTube 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.

White mobile phone showing You Tube logo on screen

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 YouTube as this is comparatively straightforward if you already have your own 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 that it’s easy to tune out from digital media.  

Media agencies can help with this process. But bear in mind, that these agencies make their profits from media owner commission discounts they get when spending your money.

Make sure you follow a clear media planning process, linked to your target audience and business goals. Include regular reviews on your digital media spend effectiveness. 

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. 

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Three-Brains and digital media

We’ve got lots of digital marketing experience across many different projects, including digital media. We can help you develop the digital media skills you need to reach and engage customers and drive sales. Get in touch to learn how our coaching and consulting services can help you level up your digital media skills. 

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