Choosing the Best Marketing Channels for Your Retail Brand

Cover: Choosing the Best Marketing Channels for Your Retail Brand

As a retail store owner or manager, you're always looking for the best way to get new shoppers into your store and keep existing customers coming back for more. It's tempting to try a little bit of every marketing method and hope that something, somewhere, will bring in more customers. Instead, take the time to assess your existing customer base and target market and determine the most effective channels for marketing your business.

In this post, I'll take you through how to identify important demographics of your target audience, and then outline key marketing channels for your retail brand, whether you have brick-and-mortar locations, and online store, or both.

Identifying Your Target Audience

If you've been in business for a while, you likely already have a sense of your target demographic. Who is most interested in your products? Who will have the most use for them?

If you haven't done this exercise, take a few minutes to imagine this: Someone walks into your store, looks around, and exclaims, "Oh my god! This place is amazing!" They browse, make a purchase, and soon become a regular customer.

Write down the characteristics of this imagined person. What is their age? Gender? Family status? How much money do they make? Where do they live?

Not all of these characteristics will matter for all retail businesses, but the more specific you can get, the more effective your marketing will be. Don't get caught up thinking of every possible customer; focus on the two or three audiences that will be the most likely to make a purchase.

Keep these ideal customers in mind as you read through the remainder of these marketing channels.

SEO (Organic Search)

There's a 99 percent chance your business is Google-able, so you'll want to spend some time on SEO. For the uninitiated, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and refers to the website elements that Google and other search engines use to determine which sites will break into the coveted top 10 search results.

SEO works best for businesses that rely on gaining new customers through searches for generic terms - that is, they won't already know your business name, and you want them to find you through searches like "bookstores near me" or "custom mugs." If you have an online store that is a large component of your total business, SEO may be an extremely valuable channel to invest in, as nearly every demographic is comfortable using Google to find information. It's a matter of targeting the keywords your ideal demographic will use to search for your products.

If you are an exclusively brick-and-mortar business, don't ignore SEO completely: a simple website and a Google My Business profile can do wonders for helping local residents find your store. If your goal is to drive foot traffic, a small initial investment in SEO will likely get you a long way. If you want to drive online traffic, you'll likely need to invest more consistently in SEO to grow and maintain that traffic.

Paid Search

Paid search, also known as Google Ads or AdWords, also relies on potential shoppers using search engines to find them, but it's a better tactic for retailers in verticals that are highly competitive and who have a bit more capital to spend. Rather than creating a website that will naturally find its way to the top of search results via Google's algorithm, site owners bid on certain terms to have their site appear above any of the organic results.

Retail stores specializing in gifts, clothing, or beauty products may find paid search to be a valuable channel, as you can better compete with national brands. Another benefit is the ability to run limited campaigns around peak season: run a campaign in December for Christmas gifts, or a short-term sprint of ads for your best seasonal sale.

Paid ads can also appear in local search results, so as with SEO, don't immediately discount this tactic if your business is largely or exclusively a brick-and-mortar location.

Social Media

Nearly every business makes use of social media in some sense-since 79 percent of U.S. residents have at least one social media account, it's a simple way to engage with your target audience without them having to put in any extra effort.

To determine how much investment to make in social media and on what platforms, you'll need to rely on your understanding of your target audience. Use their demographic information to find the social media platforms they are most prominent on, and devote the bulk of your efforts there. There are plenty of social media demographic studies, like from SproutSocial, to help make this decision.

Organic vs Paid Social Media

Social media marketing takes on two forms: organic and paid. Organic social media is when a business operates an account in the same way an individual would, with regular posts and engaging with followers and customers. This can be scaled up and more aggressively strategized, with posts planned weeks or months in advance, or it can be an as-needed project run on the side. Paid social media comes in the form of sponsored posts, which allows businesses to target specific audiences, even if those users don't follow the brand account.

Social Media Platforms

Here's a brief overview of major social media platforms, including their major demographics and what retail niches they work best for. There are plenty more not mentioned here, but these are the most popular for retail marketing.


Most Americans use Facebook, regardless of their age or income-but if you're trying to reach teens or senior citizens, you may miss the mark. Because of its prevalence, Facebook can be put to use for almost any business in any vertical, and can work for both brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers.


Instagram users skew younger, female, and city-dwelling, and while there's not a huge disparity in use across incomes, more affluent people are more likely to use the platform. Combining this information with the highly visual appeal of the platform, Instagram is a hugely important platform for clothing and fashion retailers. Other verticals that can benefit from Instagram include home decor, beauty, jewelry, and gifts.


Twitter isn't a huge platform for retailers, although it's fairly simple to connect Twitter to more important social media accounts for cross-posting to have a presence there. Twitter users have higher incomes and are more likely to be male and college-educated, so if that's your target demographic, it's worth taking a second look at this platform.


If you want teenagers to frequent your store, get on Snapchat: 60-70 percent of people ages 13-29 use Snapchat, but only 25 percent or less of people over age 30 are on the platform. If you're creative, you can use Snapchat to market a variety of products, but it likely works best for gaming and outdoor sports.

Email Marketing

Keep customers interested in your business by collecting email addresses and reminding them of sales, new products, and more. Email marketing can sometimes be hit or miss, so it may be worth running a limited time test to see if your email campaigns drive increased sales or foot traffic. However, some studies suggest millennials are a great target demographic for email marketing: they check their email often and are more likely to be persuaded by a promotional email.

You can collect emails in a variety of ways, whether you're brick-and-mortar or online. Ask customers for their emails at checkout, allow them to opt-in to emails about deals and sales, or even put a physical sign-up sheet near the register.

Print Advertising

Although we've moved largely to the digital world, print advertising can still pack a punch, especially for brick-and-mortar stores or businesses whose target demographic doesn't have a strong digital presence. Flyers with your store location and hours can be placed on community billboards in libraries, coffee shops, or even bars. Think of where your ideal customer hangs out, and find a way to catch their eye with a flyer there. It's hard to measure the return on investment for initiatives like this, but taking time to ask your shoppers how they heard of you when they visit can give you some sense of your success here.

Final Words

Don't throw all your marketing ideas at a wall and see what sticks: take the time to assess and test what marketing channels bring better sales to your business. Focusing your efforts on the most valuable channels allows you to cultivate an experience for your shoppers that will lead to higher sales and customer loyalty.

About the writer: Sophia Conti is a freelance writer and digital marketer for small businesses, with an emphasis on SEO and content marketing. See more of her work at or follow her on Twitter @seo_phia.

Join the #retail, #ConnectedJourney and #SmartStore conversations on Twitter at @RetailNext, as well as at

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Sophia Conti

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