Choose Channel or Product First?

by Dan Walsh


My students are wrestling with a fundamental concept in marketing: The product determines marketing channels, and marketing channels determine the product. You can approach the problem from either side of the equation – channels first or product first – but options will become increasingly limited with every choice.

They grow concerned as they make these choices because they don’t want to lose channels or audiences. “But if I target dog owners in the Marina I won’t be able to use Instagram because they’re all middle aged. I don’t think a lot of 40-somethings use Instagram.” I don’t know about Instagram demographics, but this thought process is accurate. As they refine their campaign (the product) they will have to lose channels. Not all channels appeal to all demographics. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good thing because it focuses attention on areas that will have the most impact.

The equation works the other way too. If my student really¬†wants to use Instagram as a marketing channel, then they need to refine their product to match an identified demographic that uses Instagram. Maybe this means they can’t reach out to dog owners in The Marina anymore. Maybe dog owners in the Outer Sunset are younger and use Instagram.

The diagram looks something like this:

If you choose a channel, then the limitations of the channel will determine which products (campaigns) will be effective.

If you choose a product, then the features of the product will limit which channels will be effective.

You can start on either side of the equation. Some of my students started with channels and refined their product / campaign / messaging based on the channel. Other students started with their product and whittled away at the channels they would use. It doesn’t really matter which way they go, but it is an important concept to understand.