The Digital Marketing Stack: Channels

Chad Kearns, Vice President of Marketing Services

This series was originally written by Ian Lurie in 2015 and updated by Chad Kearns in 2020.

This is the very last post in the Digital Marketing Stack series!

Part 1: The Digital Marketing Stack
Part 2: Infrastructure
Part 3: Analytics
Part 4: Content
Part 5: The Channels – Paid, Earned and Owned ← You are here


The marketing channels are your amplifiers.

They are the machinery that gets your content delivered to your audience. The channels are at the top of the Stack because they depend on all the elements. Treat the channels as the communication lines to your audience.

Content is what the audience receives on those channels. Your infrastructure ensures that you can deliver content and receive visitors when they respond. Analytics provides the data around how people consume the content you’ve delivered.

There are three basic channel types: paid, earned, and owned. Each channel creates media on behalf of your brand.

Paid media represents any coverage or communication you must buy to receive.

Most often in digital marketing, this is done through a platform you spend money on to buy advertising placement.

Common paid media types in today’s digital landscape include:

Paid media on the digital side comes in many forms and from many places. There are thousands of places to buy promotion on the web; finding the right mix of budget, unit price, and placement is the key for digital media buyers.

Paid media is the channel where you can get the fastest response to your content. The ability to segment and scale a highly-targeted audience and measure performance via paid channels is high, but it’s also a channel that can bring on substantial financial risk if not managed correctly. Advertising dollars can add up quickly, and without a solid return, that spend is hard to justify.

Many paid opportunities tend to drive traffic towards the bottom of the funnel to people who are ready to interact and convert. However, programmatic and content-related promotions are fantastic ways to fill the top of the funnel for a holistic approach to using this channel.

Earned Media

Earned media is gained by being useful, creating community, and building authority in specific categories or topics.

Common earned media traffic sources in today’s digital landscape include:

  • Organic search listings (SEO)
  • Digital PR through news media outlets
  • Social media mentions, interactions, and comments
  • Citations and links from other websites

Gaining substantial earned media takes time, but it scales better than any other channel. The longevity of it, when done right, can last for years to come. Depending on your goals and your timeline, your aim should be to have earned media become the highest portion of traffic to your site.

Owned Media

Owned media is the stuff you fully control or could control if you wanted.

For example:

  • Your website
  • Your social media accounts
  • User-generated content (if licensed correctly)
  • Your house e-mail list

Owned media is more at the mercy of infrastructure than any other channel. On the plus side, it should be more measurable and easier to control.

Tying it All Together

Effective organizations and marketers navigate the Marketing Stack every day, whether they know it or not. Sure, there are internal politics, shifting goals and priorities, and regulations and laws that direct our path. But at the end of the day, digital marketers are navigating this Marketing Stack.

When done effectively, marketers arm themselves with the ability to deliver powerful communication to audiences at exactly the right time. That’s how sustainable businesses are fueled through marketing. It all comes back to the problem you are trying to solve and the solution you have for those in need. The marketing Stack provides the framework to deliver that solution.

Note: Read a bit more about the channels and compare them to other parts of the Stack in our Marketing Stack Explorer.

Part 1: The Digital Marketing Stack
Part 2: Infrastructure
Part 3: Analytics
Part 4: Content
Part 5: The Channels – Paid, Earned and Owned ← You are here

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  1. Hi Ian,
    There were some great soundbites in here, and some useful modes of explaining things that might come in handy when I’m talking to some of our less digitally sophisticated clients – I will quite probably be using an adapted version of your stack visualisations in a slide deck sometime soon. The interactive version is a nice touch too – I like the idea of scoring each component of the stack on the same criteria. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to put this all together!

  2. Great read regarding the various types of digital marketing channels and their benefits for continued business success. Thanks for this.

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