Today, we're putting the spotlight on two heavyweights: product marketing and channel marketing. They might sound similar and many confuse the two.

In this article, we explore what these two marketing terms even mean and the four key differences between them. 

Let's get started!

What is product marketing?

Product marketing is like the quarterback of a company's game plan for launching and keeping a product successful. It is done to really get what the customers want, figure out the best way to make the product stand out, and then get the word out there to make sales happen. 

Product marketers don’t do this alone though; they work hand-in-hand with other teams like product development and sales to make sure everyone's on the same page and those business goals are achieved.

What is channel marketing?

Think of channel marketing (also known as distribution channel marketing) as a roadmap for companies to get their products from where they're made to where they're bought. 

It is a strategy companies use to promote and sell their products or services through various channels or intermediaries. These channels can include wholesalers, retailers, distributors, agents, brokers, and online platforms, among others.

Product marketing vs channel marketing - what’s the difference?

While product marketing and channel marketing share common goals of driving sales and revenue growth, they focus on different aspects of the marketing process.

First off, product marketing is a niche role within the broader scope of marketing while channel marketing is strategy. As a product marketer, you could deploy multiple strategies, including channel marketing (and omnichannel marketing too, for that matter) to meet your objectives. 

But besides this obvious difference, let’s truly understand the key differences between the two:

1. Focus

Product marketing

When a company wants to sell something, they have to figure out the best way to get the word out and make it appealing to the right people. Right? 

That's what product marketing is all about! It's like crafting a plan to showcase and sell a particular product or service to folks who are most likely to want it. This involves researching to understand the market, figuring out how to make the product stand out, coming up with the perfect message to grab people's attention, setting a price that makes sense, and planning how and where to launch it. 

It's about getting people excited and eager to snatch up what you're offering!

Channel marketing

While product marketing is all about getting people excited about what you're selling, channel marketing takes a different angle. It's more about how you get your stuff into the hands of customers. 

So, think about it like this: you've got your product ready to go, but now you need to figure out the best ways to get it out there. That's where channel marketing comes in! 

It's about picking the right partners to work with, managing those relationships, coming up with smart strategies for how to get your product out there, giving your partners the support they need to sell it, and then keeping an eye on how well it's all going. 

In a nutshell, it makes sure your products have the smoothest journey from the production line to people's homes (or screens)!

2. Key aspects

Product marketing

First, you gotta dive into market research to figure out how to make your product stand out. This means checking out what your customers are into, what they like, and even what your competitors are up to.

Once you've done your research, it's time to figure out what makes your product special. You gotta define what sets it apart from the competition and why people should be jumping at the chance to get it.

Now that you've got your awesome product ready to go, it's time to plan the big debut! This involves setting the right price, deciding where to sell it, coming up with killer marketing campaigns, and making sure your sales team is geared up and ready to roll.

You can't just launch your product and hope for the best. You gotta give it some pizzazz! That's where creating marketing materials comes in handy. We're talking catchy slogans, flashy PowerPoint presentations, and success stories to get people amped about buying your product.

Your sales team is your frontline warriors, so you gotta make sure they're armed with all the right info. That means training them on how to pitch your product, handle any objections customers might throw their way, and ultimately seal the deal.

Channel marketing

First up, you gotta pick the right intermediaries to team up with. Think of them as your sidekicks who'll help you reach those ideal target customers.

Once you've got your team assembled, you must keep those relationships strong. You want everyone working together towards the same goals, right?

Your partners need all the support they can get, so don't forget to give them a hand. That means providing them with the tools, training, building the content inventory for them, and incentives they need to sell your stuff like hotcakes.

Plus, you gotta keep tabs on how things are going. Keep track of which channels are working best and make tweaks as needed to keep the ship sailing smoothly.

3. When to use

Product marketing

As we discussed above, when a company is rolling out a new product, it needs product marketing to make sure people know about it, get interested, and start using it. Product marketers come up with strategies, figure out how to position the product just right, and run marketing campaigns to get the word out there.

Now, if a company's giving an old product a makeover - maybe adding new features or sprucing up the brand - product marketing steps in again. It’s what spreads the news about what's changed, helps create cool messages and materials, and gets people excited about the new and improved version.

And when a company's aiming for new markets or new types of customers, product marketing's there to help too. It helps tweak the product's image and messages to match what these new customers are into, do some research, and launch targeted ads to get their attention.

In super competitive markets where everyone's selling pretty much the same thing, product marketing becomes even more crucial. It helps you find what makes your product stand out, come up with clever ways to talk about it, and convince customers that it's the best choice.

Channel marketing

Channel marketing allows companies to tap into markets beyond their immediate reach. By partnering with intermediaries who have established distribution networks or customer bases in different regions or industries, companies can extend their market presence without the need for significant upfront investments in infrastructure or market development.

Setting up your distribution channels from scratch - be it social media, email newsletter, or mobile marketing can be a real headache, especially if you're a smaller company. But with channel marketing, you can piggyback on your partners' infrastructure, resources, and relationships maintained by them, and save yourself a ton of hassle and money.

Plus, by letting your partners handle the sales stuff, you get to focus on what you're best at - like making awesome products or coming up with killer marketing ideas. It's like everyone playing to their strengths, which helps your business grow faster.

Certain market segments or customer demographics may be better served through specific channels or distribution channels. 

For example, niche products may find greater success through specialty retailers or online marketplaces catering to specific interests or preferences. By leveraging channel marketing, you can access these specialized channels and target audiences more effectively, enhancing your market penetration and competitiveness.

4. What it looks like in practice

Product marketing

In practice, product marketing involves understanding customer desires and pricing preferences. 

A tech company, for example, conducts surveys to tailor its new smartphone to appeal to both tech enthusiasts and business users. They launch extensive ad campaigns across various platforms, accompanied by informative content showcasing the phone's features. If required, the sales team is well-prepared to walk customers through the product and address queries. 

Now, for instance, if a food company is launching some new healthy snacks. They don't just put them on shelves and hope people are going to chomp on them. 

To attract health-conscious consumers, they talk to stores that sell healthy food, share online, and give out samples to show how tasty their snacks are. And once the snacks are out there, they watch how they're doing and listen to customer feedback. 

In each of these scenarios, product marketing isn't just about launching a product; it's about getting your ideal customers excited and making recurrent sales happen.

Channel marketing

If you produce organic skincare products, you partner with a chain of beauty stores to distribute your products. You provide them with promotional materials, product training, and exclusive deals to encourage them to feature and sell your skincare line prominently in their stores.

You may also use the footfall to their stores to give away promotional merchandise that can help build awareness about your product in your target group. 

Suppose you manufacture electronic gadgets. Instead of selling directly to retailers, you work with wholesalers who buy your products in bulk and distribute them to retailers across different regions. You offer competitive pricing, bulk discounts, and marketing support to wholesalers, enabling them to reach a wide network of retailers and ultimately, end customers.

As an e-learning platform, you create an affiliate program where influencers and bloggers can promote your courses on their websites or social media channels, or even white-label them. You provide them with unique tracking links and offer them a commission for every sale generated through their referrals. This way, you leverage the influencers' reach and credibility to attract more students to your platform.

If you're a software company, you might work with VARs (Value-Added Resellers) who customize your software solutions to meet the specific needs of different industries or regions. These VARs then sell your tailored solutions along with their services - such as implementation, training, and ongoing support, to businesses looking for comprehensive software solutions.

Final words

It's clear that while product marketing and channel marketing share common goals of promoting products, their approaches and focuses are distinct. 

Product marketing is about crafting compelling narratives around your offerings, while channel marketing is about finding the right avenues to reach your audience. So, whether you're showcasing the features of your latest product or strategizing how to get it in front of the right audience, recognizing the nuances between these two strategies will be key.