Marketing channels are the means of getting your product to market while also effectively communicating good reasons to buy it at every level of distribution.

Marketing channels are often confused with advertising channels. Although advertising is required in one form or another, marketing channels deliver your product, either as a download, a common carrier delivery, or at a retail store.

How can you create a marketing channel so that the product and message travel the same channels? In traditional marketing channels, you sell your product to a distributor in a particular city. That distributor sells it to retailers who distribute it to their outlets so consumers can buy it. In this scenario, you market your product to your distributor, then to his retail buyer, then to the retail buyer’s customer, the end-user. It’s a costly mistake to believe you only have to sell your distributor and that some how they will take care of the rest, or to believe you only have to sell your end-user.

There are several important considerations to maximize your marketing channels:

  1. Sell the distributor on why they should carry your brand. The distributor may buy a product for reasons that have nothing to do with quality or price, but instead have to do with his company’s needs. The distributor’s motive may be trumping competing distributors by carrying something they don’t have. Maybe they will be able to exert influence with retailers who want your product. Maybe you have representatives in that channel who’ll make the sales to the retailer for the distributor. Once you know what compels the distributor, you can create materials and messaging that resonate with him.
  1. Sell the retailer on why they should buy it from your distributor. The retailer may buy your product because their favorite distributor has it and it’s easy to get. Maybe you provided compelling signage that tells his customers the benefits of your product. Maybe his customers are already demanding it. There are many other possible reasons. Maybe you are running a big ad or media campaign. Find out what the retailer wants and find a way to give it to them.
  1. Sell the general public on why they should buy it from the retailer. A winery may use advertising in periodicals like the Wine Spectator or they may market on radio or TV or even roadside signs. But the goal of the marketing channel is not only to deliver the product, but also to get the message to the downstream user. The most effective place to advertise is at the point of sale. It’s where the product, the customer, the money, and the decision all come together. Product recognition is also required. So if they knew about it before they got to the point of sale, how did they find out about it? Radio? TV? Internet? Blog? Road signs? Display ads? Article? Word-of-mouth? These advertising channels impact the marketing channel.

Volumes have been written on traditional marketing channels, and an equal amount on nontraditional channels such as the Internet, door-to-door sales and more. But in all of them, one thing is true: marketing channels are a comprehensive way to get your product to market but also provide the market with a compelling reason to buy it.

Of course, there’s much more that could be said on this subject. What’s been your experience? Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Wine, the largest selling wine brand in the nation, invites you to join the discussion on Marketing Channels with your comments, thoughts, and opinions below.