Marketing Channel or Marketing Campaign: What's the Difference?

A few years ago I spent a few days in Amsterdam when flying between Rome, Italy and Calgary, Canada. I had been to Amsterdam before and I loved it - the art, the canals and the people. It is a wonderful place to visit. Don't miss it if you are ever traveling to Europe.

Amsterdam has many ways for getting around including cars, walking, bicycles, trolleys, and boats. Not every city uses boats as a mode of transportation but Amsterdam has lots of canals and water channels. I took the picture above on a boat tour down one of the many canals. As you can see, the water comes right up to the doors of the houses. In Amsterdam this is called "convenience". In Calgary, we call this a "flood" - as we had in June 2013.

This brings me to the topic of differentiating between a marketing channel and a marketing campaign. Most likely the idea of comparing a channel from a campaign is elementary for most marketers. However, not everyone is familiar with all the terms that we sling around in marketing meetings. So I thought I would elaborate....

A marketing channel is a method or path that a marketer chooses to reach a target audience. In Amsterdam, a person can choose to bike, ride the trolley or take a boat. Each mode of transportation uses a different channel to get from A to B. Similarly, a marketing campaign is the vehicle that contains the message - similar to a boat that goes down the canal or channel of water. Another way of looking at this is that a channel continually flows; it keeps on moving whether or not you are using the channel. A campaign, on the other hand, has a start and a finish. A marketer may plan campaigns in the Spring and in the Summer but the channels they choose may be different or the same each time. 

Marketers often talk about using different types of channels to deliver a campaign for a specific message. Broadly, there are two groups of channels: traditional and digital. Traditional marketing channels include print, radio, TV, out-of-home (billboards), and trade shows. Examples of digital channels are listed in the image below. Google Analytics typically shows eight digital marketing channels, assuming all are used in a given time frame.

A "campaign" often involves the creative side of marketing and advertising. The objective of a campaign is to develop an attractive, engaging message that captures the attention and participation of the target audience.

Since we are a digital marketing agency, many of our clients engage our services to run campaigns on a variety of channels. We may do a product promotion on AdWords (Paid Search). Or use search engine optimization techniques to increase the profile of a company on Organic Search. Or we may increase the awareness of an event or improve customer engagement by using various campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (Social).