The digital marketing space is made up of a multitude of online channels, whose primary purpose is to help a company reach its potential customers wherever they spend their time. Be it reading, searching, socializing or shopping online.

Let's first look at two fundamental classification of online marketing channels:

  • acquisition vs. retention channels

  • organic vs. paid channels

Acquisition vs. Retention channels

The first important distinction among online marketing channels is between acquisition channels vs. retention channels.

Acquisition channels are marketing channels that allow a company to 'acquire' a user for the first time. For example, the marketing channels used to make a user download for the first time the Grab app or to make the first purchase on Shopee both fall into this category.

Retention channels, on the other hand, are marketing channels that are used by a company to push their existing customers to make additional transactions. For example, after you make a purchase on the Traveloka app, you will keep receiving emails from them to remind you about their additional services and offers. Email marketing and App notifications are among the most popular retention channels.

Organic vs. Paid channels

The second fundamental distinction among online marketing channels is between organic channels vs. paid channels.

Organic channels are channels which don't require a company to pay per each additional visit generated on its app or website.

For example, when you click on a link in an email sent by a company and land on their website, the company doesn't have to pay for each click or visit they obtain. They obtain such visits for free. That is, organically.

A newsletter example from Gojek

On the other hand, when you see a promotional banner on a website such as on, the advertiser (in the case below Nissan), pays for every impression the banner generates or every click the visitors make on the banner. Therefore every visit your website generates as a result of such clicks is considered 'paid'.

Display Ads from Nissan on

Organic channels are typically harder to grow initially and they require a bigger initial investment in terms of manpower, with therefore a longer term approach.

Paid channels are easier to get started with and don't require any initial investment, but becomes expensive as you grow since you will need to keep paying for every additional visit/app download you obtain.