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Brand MarketingOctober 28, 2021

The Best Marketing Channels for 2021-22: Online and Offline

October 28, 2021
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Elena Prokopets
Freelance Writer & Content Strategist

Every marketer loves a growth hack.

A neat trick for confidently raising brand awareness and attracting new prospects by the hundreds from a tested marketing channel.

But then other people figure out your game and a growth hack becomes an industry best practice. Eventually, those best practices, used by every other brand out there, lose effectiveness.

So what do you do then? You move on to looking for the next-best marketing channel to cultivate. We shuffled some data and observed other brands to come up with seven strong contenders for 2021-22.

The Best Online Marketing Channels for 2021-22

Many brand managers really found their digital marketing groove in 2020. But as every marketer doubled down on digital spending, the seemingly infinite Internet space started to feel crowded.

Amazon ads rates jumped by 50% between May 2020-21 in some categories. Social media ad costs are reported to have jumped by +68% in March 2021 and then by +89% in April 2021 for DTC eCommerce brands.

If channel saturation and rising ad inventory prices at popular marketing channels deter you, here are several worthwhile alternatives to consider for your 2022 marketing strategy.

1. TikTok

Video and social media are two powerful content marketing mediums. TikTok packs a dual punch in this department. Meshing video discovery and the ability to follow selected hashtags and creators, TikTok still offers the ability to organically reach new audiences unlike more saturated platforms like Instagram and YouTube.

So if you are a brand mostly targeting Gen-Z and younger Millennials, TikTok is a promising channel to direct your budgets for brand awareness campaigns via influencer marketing.

Take it from ASOS — a popular online fashion marketplace — that ran an #AySauceChallenge branded campaign last year. The team enlisted several TikTok creators to help promote a fun challenge, sharing several ASOS fashion looks, using the platform’s filters and custom music.

In 6 days, TikTok users produced over 488K videos, viewed over 1.2 billion times. The average engagement rate was 15.79% versus 0.55% average video post engagement rate on Instagram. The team also reported a 25% lift in brand awareness on the platform.

Why Consider TikTok in 2021 and Onward:

  • Access and activation of younger demographics: TikTok’s user base skews young. But it’s loyal and highly active. In the US and UK, TikTok overtook YouTube for average video watch time and engagement. This means, as a distribution channel, you have a higher chance of getting your brand content seen by target audiences. Plus, engage ad-resistant Gen Zs.

  • Lower competition and ad budgets: Despite its growing popularity, TikTok is still an underdog. So audience and brand building still comes easy to newcomers. Ads and sponsored content costs err on the lower side. And organic reach is still a thing. Check our separate guide to using TikTok for brand building.

  • High natural virality effect for the right content: TikTok content personalized algorithms are attuned to suggest content, based on the user’s past actions, rather than account likes and follows. So if your content matches the creative trend “du jour'' or fits a specific TikTok aesthetics, you have a good chance of going viral without any paid amplification.

2. Livestreaming

Because in-person gatherings weren’t a thing last year, live video gained serious momentum in 2020. No not, Zooms and endless webinars-cum-aggressive-sales-demos. But more entertaining alternatives such as:

  • Virtual and video shopping: Per the Arvato 2021 survey, 70% of European consumers are interested in live shopping events and shopper-tainment.

  • Virtual conferences and live-streamed business events: 57% of businesses increased their budget for virtual events this year, based on the past year’s success.

  • Live QA and chat sessions on social media: 43% of consumers want to see more branded video content from businesses they like.

The data above clearly states that live video still remains a preferred online channel at different stages of the brand funnel — from consideration to conversion.

For example, a German beauty retailer Douglas, which now streams several shows per week, reports conversion rates of up to 40%.

Good luck? Hardly. Because another cosmetics brand, Lancome, also boasted a 39% conversion rate during a 3-hour live shopping marathon among Chinese expats in Canada.

After that roaring event, the company enlisted Chiara Ferragni to host a regular live brand show for Italian consumers. Other brands in the L’Oreal group such as Urban Decay, Kiehl’s, and NYX Cosmetics are dabbing into livestreaming for US brand audiences.

Beauty and fashion brands may have paved the way for live commerce. But other industries also have a high potential to connect, entertain, and retain their brand audiences via live-streamed shows and events. Especially, since these are easier to organize and cost less to run regularly than physical ones.

Why Pay Attention to Livestreaming in 2021 and Onward:

  • Triple-hit in marketing goals: Live streaming works like a charm at different stages of a consumer's journey. You can increase brand awareness and brand consideration, while also making direct sales.

  • Rising accessibility: Technology-wise the entry barrier is low. You can go with a platform-based solution such as Amazon Live, Instagram Live, or Taobao Live to run your casts. Or turn live streaming into an owned marketing channel using video-on-demand and live streaming platforms such as Unscreen, Livescale, or EventMobi.

3. Podcasts and Podcast Advertising

As we wrote before, podcast sponsorships are a staunch avenue for increasing brand awareness. But data from Sortlist also suggests that podcast ads sway consumer decisions at later stages of the funnel too.

And early movers are seeing great results from podcast advertising campaigns. Netflix, for instance, ran a pre-launch ad on Spotify for the “Stranger Things” series. The campaign reached over 9 million users and drove an 80% increase in brand affinity. Impressive, right? But there’s more.

Podcast listenership is growing across all markets. 76.2% of European consumers on average have consumed more audio content since the start of the pandemic. And 60% of US adults between 18 and 34 listen to podcasts monthly.

And when brands like Spotify and Amazon acquire popular independent shows and launch podcasting subscriptions in new markets, it is a sign of a channel’s high growth potential.

Why Pay Attention to Podcasts in 2021 and Onward:

  • Low competition-high impact: Online audio marketing is far less saturated than many others. This leads to higher effectiveness across an array of brand metrics — awareness, recall, consideration, and associations.

  • Alternative to the radio: As radio listenership gradually declines across demographic segments and countries, podcasts present an alternative path to connecting with people on the move — drivers, bikers, or remote workers, blasting their favorite series at the home office.

Bonus: Online Subscriptions

Not an online marketing channel per se, subscriptions emerged as a complementary and competitive customer touchpoint. It’s also growing fiercely.

Per Mercator, the subscription economy, featuring both physical and digital products, grew by 66% in one year in total. However, some verticals such as box-of-month subscription services boomed by 80%.

Brands were quick to act on this cue. Nordstrom used subscriptions as an opportunity to revitalize the dwindling shoppers’ interest in new clothes, by re-launching “Trunk Club”.

Formerly, the service was tailored towards males. But in 2020 Trunk Club was re-position as a box of curated new garments for just about anyone, interested in buying anytime, no minimum commitment expected. To make the suggestions more personalized, Nordstorm also integrated Trunk Club with the Nordstrom Styling program, allowing users to connect with a virtual advisor and cross-apply their loyalty points.

Why Pay Attention to Subscriptions in 2021 and Onward:

  • Expanding market: Between services and products, the global subscription market is projected to reach $1.3 trillion by 2025, growing at 18% annually. This means there’s more room for new entrants.

  • Bottomline growth: Customer acquisition costs erode profit margins. Subscription products have proved to drive a 6% average order value increase for merchants (and up to 20% in categories such as Beauty, Personal Care, Health & Wellness). And an LTV growth of 11%.

  • Branding boost: Since subscription boxes arrive with a regular cadence, your brand remains top-of-mind with the customers’. So the likelihood to recommend and buy more from you increases.

The Best Offline Marketing Channels for 2021-22

For several stay-at-home months of 2020, offline marketing channels felt like a country bar on Monday morning — with just a few regulars sticking around. Then was a period of “cautiously optimistic”, “we are in this together”, and “gratitude-geared” offline ad campaigns.

Finally, in early 2021, the post-pandemic direction of brand marketing started to transpire at the junction of offline and online.

If you are into building an omnichannel presence for your brand, here are three blended offline-to-online (and vice versa) marketing channels worth keeping up with.

1. Product Packaging and Unboxing Experience

Brands always relied on packaging as a means of differentiation and positioning. But more recently, brand marketers also re-deployed product packaging as an avenue for storytelling.

Tony’s Chocolonely, for example, uses its funky choco bars packaging to share the gist and the rationale behind its brand values. Plus invite consumers to join their mission online.

Likewise, eCommerce-first D2C brands like Casper made their packaging and unboxing experience a signature brand staple. The company designed convenient boxes for easy mattress transportation.

You can fit your purchase in a trunk or get it delivered by a courier on a bike to your door. The box also comes with some printed instructions, showing that your mattress is immediately ready for use.

Others such as Flavedo & Albedo, an Australian high-performance make-up brand, made packaging the focal point of their brand story.

As the team writes on the website:

We’re here because we wanted to reconcile our love of makeup and our plastic landfill anxiety. Our quality formulations are packaged in aluminum, glass, and sustainable timber. With zero plastic, anywhere. No tubs, no lids, no seals, no nothing.”

And this narrative seems to land well with the sustainably-minded target audiences, who also grew more concerned with the “overboxing” problem — excessive usage of often unsustainable packaging for online deliveries, brands haphazardly adopted in 2020.

Why Pay Attention to Packaging and Unboxing:

Packaging is a 1:1 channel for talking to a newly acquired or returning customer. By making unboxing part of your brand experience, you get a chance to tell your brand story, improve brand affinity, plus secure some organic promotions on social media. “Unboxing” videos still remain a huge online trend.

2. Self-Service Retail

Last year, many of us had to ditch the friendly in-store chit chat and leisurely store browsing for rushed in-and-out, all-masked-up in-store or curbside pickups. Though most of these interactions were painfully devoid of the human and brand touch, 2021 presents a good opportunity to rectify that fact.

Let’s be honest: self-service retail is convenient. Maybe it’s the introvert in me speaking, but you don’t always have the time and mood for guided brand discovery. Likewise, many prefer to do our browsing and research at a pace different than a sales consultant suggests.

So it makes perfect sense why unattended retail and click-and-collect channels are to remain prominent. Per eMarketer, click-and-collect sales in the US, which boomed by 106% in 2020, are to keep growing at double-digit rates until 2024.

I hear your thoughts: “But aren’t those self-service solutions a branding dead end?”. Quite the opposite: unattended retail allows you to blend the best of digital and physical shopping.

Borrow some inspiration from Flannels. The British multi-brand retailer opened a flagship digital beauty hall this summer in Sheffield.

As a customer, you can get yourself curtained from the busy shopping floor in a digitally connected beauty cocoon — a “safe harbor” to explore and test the latest beauty products both virtually and physically. Pretty much like browsing at home, but without the goofs of ordering the foundation five shades too dark.

Why Pay Attention to Self-Service Retail in 2021 and Onward:

Self-service retail offers a “middle-ground” between the frustrations of offline shopping (such as endless queuing) and online shopping mishaps (wrong sizing or delayed shipping). So it’s a good customer experience all alone.

From a marketing perspective, when done right, this channel can perfectly capture offline buyers’ details for subsequent remarking and entice online shoppers to discover your brand in person.

Due to the gradual commoditization of AR/VR technologies, brands can offer consumers unique blended experiences — which can be a strong competitive and brand-differentiating point on its own.

3. Pop-up Marketing

When a good chunk of spending shifts to online, maintaining physical storefronts and opening new locations becomes less appealing. Unless that is a temporary pop-up.

Pop-up events, retail locations, and even restaurants got a spur-of-circumstances revival last year. When foot traffic is down and most of your sales happen online, why keep an expensive lease, right? Especially, when even a giant like Saks Fifth Avenue is selling off some of the former sales floors to WeWork.

But cost containment is just one, and probably least significant benefit, of doing pop-up-anything. Here are others:

  • A test lab for experimentation: Whether you are planning to launch a new product, change your brand positioning, or expand into a new market, there’s a high degree of uncertainty. Thus, many use pop-up locations as a playground for testing new ideas and validating audience assumptions. For instance, Huda Beauty set up a futuristic pop-up location in London last year to promote the launch of a new makeup palette. Allegedly, the success of this location led to a subsequent distribution deal with Boots UK.

  • More sustainable scaling, both operations- and environment-wise: Pop-up locations let you settle your operations in a new location with minimal environmental impact and fewer admin overheads. In fact, a pop-up event can be an excellent DNA match for some brands. This summer, a clothing rental brand By Rotation set up an experiential corner at Westfield London. Operating under the principles of “do good for your wardrobe, your wallet, and the planet at the same time”, the brand organized a curated space of upcycled sofas and other sustainable home furnishings you can now rent via their app.

  • Follow your brand audiences: When the online space gets too crowded for drawing the attention of your core audiences, why not meet them IRL? This seems to be a strategy luxury brands have deployed this summer by hosting pop-ups in vacation destinations, frequented by their clientele. Dior organized a stylish cabana at Miramar Beach, California for showcasing its 2021 capsule. Gucci, Manolo Blahnik, and Tod’s squatted in East Hamptons, while Channel ran a regular pop-up boutique in Capri. This option, however, isn’t reserved for the luxury segment only. Especially, if you strike a co-branding partnership with another company.

Why Pay Attention to Pop-ups in 2021 and Onward:

Pop-up retail and brand events are a stellar opportunity to (re-)introduce your products or services in key markets (sans the costly long-term commitment).

For online-only brands, it’s also a unique opportunity to lure in and persuade the doubters and raise brand awareness among local audiences. Plus, pop-ups always assume a “creative” element — a unique opportunity to put a new spin on your brand identity, messaging, and overall experience.

Final Thoughts

Half of the year is already gone and this means two things from brand marketers:

  • You have some campaign data for benchmarking the efficacy of different online and offline marketing channels. (And some time to change your mix to drive better end-of-year results).

  • You’ll soon have to plan your marketing budgets for 2022, using the past results, trend shifts, and still incoming data.

Hopefully, this jumbo-sized post has helped you discover some new contenders. And if you still have doubts — get more insights from your audiences by tracking their perception and responsiveness to different marketing channels.

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