THE BLOG
09/24/2014 12:35 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

How Marketing Channels Are Like the Stages of a Relationship

Forget the marketing funnel for a second and think about this -- various marketing channels are like the stages of a dating relationship.

In today's digital environment how we communicate is changing crazy fast. But, at the core, marketers are simply telling stories that connect with people. It's not about the channels: It's about the people in those channels.

So how do you start that relationship? I've channeled my inner matchmaker and provided some tips for building a relationship with your audience that lasts. And don't worry. I left the emotional baggage from my recent breakup with "unnamed cable provider" out of this.

Banner ads: Hello, gorgeous!

Let's start at the top, 30,000-foot level. The banner ad. Did you know that you're more likely to survive a plane crash than click a banner ad? That's not just being in the plane crash, but SURVIVING it. So why do we still see them on practically every website we visit?

Because they actually work, just not in the way we traditionally think they should. Sure, people aren't clicking on them, but people are 155 percent more likely to search for that brand after being exposed to a display ad. For example, I love sweaters. So if I see an ad for a snappy cardigan sweater, there's a good chance I will go back and search for that brand when I'm bored on a Saturday morning after payday.

Banner ads are all about the first impression (and second, and third), not the conversion. They're wildly successful at increasing awareness of your brand. It's the equivalent of seeing that good looking guy or girl across the bar. You're attracted, and you want to know more about them, but in the end, it's still just a stranger.

Social channels: How do I get your number?

If banner ads are all about the impression, then social is about introducing yourself and starting the relationship. Your relationship with your audience on social is like this:

You just struck up a conversation with that attractive person at the bar. You're enjoying the conversation, and you're thinking about giving them your number. You're pretty sure this person is awesome, you want to get to know them a bit more, but you know it's way too early to think about getting serious.

Marketers are so hung up on how hard it is to measure ROI on social, but I'm not sure that's how we should be looking at it. Your audience often follows a brand on social media in an attempt to get to know them, with minimal commitments.

It's also important to remember that you're competing for attention in social media, and the odds are really stacked against you. You're not just competing with other brands for attention, but you're also competing with my family and friends and pictures of my friend's new puppy -- who is almost as adorable as my dog, Olive.

While you need to have realistic expectations about just how deep you'll be able to get with the people in your audience at this point in your relationship, it's certainly not hopeless. Reaching your audience with the right message in the right place will help them fall in love with your brand.

Email: Is this the one?

Social is the place to start the conversation, swap numbers and get to know one another. That makes email the next step. This is the sixth or seventh date, when you start to think about how maybe it might be nice to get married. If someone signs up for your emails, they're ready to take it to the next level, digitally speaking. So give them something that keeps them coming back, like special offers or discounts.

Marketers, I've said it before and I'll say it again, email delivers huge results. The average reported ROI is 4300%. And the funny thing is that a few years ago email was pronounced dead! Social media took off, and we thought that was the golden ticket in the marketing world. And if we heard that social was going to kill email, then we heard that mobile wasn't going to just kill it, but back up over it one or two times. Looking back, we might have blown things a bit out of proportion with both of these predictions.

It turns out mobile just gave email another place to shine. Email is now the number one activity on mobile devices, beating out making actual phone calls. Over half of all email is opened on a mobile device these days, so making sure your email is responsive and looks great on mobile is no longer optional. A few other suggestions: customize the preheader text, design in a single column, incorporate more white space and use a large button for your call to action so a fingertip can tap it easily.

Make communicating easy on your audience, and remember that every member of your audience has an audience of their own, who also has an audience of their own. Learning what resonates with them helps everyone get the most out of the relationship. And, if you're really smart and really paying attention, you can empower your audience members to share the brand love with their friends and followers. It's the marketing version of happily ever after.