distribution is all you need

published25 days ago
6 min read

In a world where technology gets quickly commoditized, all you're left with is distribution!

And, that's even truer now, with AI. Indeed, unless you are a foundational layer player (like OpenAI) it's very hard to build a sustainable moat, without building your own distribution strategy.

So let me show you how! And at the end of this you'll also find a video of the framework below...

Let's take things step by step though.

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If you're trying to digitalize your business or to build a digital business, it might be easy to get lost in the plethora of platforms and available channels.

How do you make an order for that?

A distribution channel is the set of steps it takes for a product to get in the hands of the key customer or consumer. Distribution channels can be direct or indirect. Distribution can also be physical or digital, depending on the kind of business and industry.

Business distribution (being able to match customers with your product) is a vital asset. Without distribution the business will always be fragile.

But how do you build a strong distribution strategy?

Getting lost in the plethora of digital channels

A digital channel is a marketing channel, part of a distribution strategy, helping an organization to reach its potential customers via electronic means. There are several digital marketing channels, usually divided into organic and paid channels. Some organic channels are SEO, SMO, email marketing. And some paid channels comprise SEM, SMM, and display advertising.

There isn't a single way to build a distribution strategy, and in many cases, it will depend on factors like what channels might be more suited for your product, what channels enable faster growth, and those distribution channels are also stable over time.

Lastly, distribution is also a matter of choice. Indeed, some companies (also based on their vision and culture) prefer certain distribution channels over others.

So how do you find the right mix?

We need to look at two key elements.

The key elements of a distribution strategy

When building up a distribution strategy, there are many factors to take into account. For the sake of this guide we'll look at two primary, major factors, that affect a business over time:

  • Control: how much do you own that distribution channel?
  • Growth: what kind of growth does the channel unlock?

Let's look at them.

Control: Owned vs. non-owned distribution channels

When building up a business from scratch, chances are, none will know you. There is no customer base. There is no product recognition. So how do you unlock growth?

Usually, companies tap into existing distribution networks, where they have none, or little control over how the product will be delivered to customers.

This might dilute the customer experience. However, it will enable the first traction of growth. As the business grows and it acquires its customer base, the same company might start investing on its own platform, thus asserting more control over how the product gets distributed.

For instance, if you take a company like Apple; it leverages both a direct (controlled) distribution strategy where it sells its products via its stores. And an indirect (partially controlled thanks to Apple's branding power) distribution strategy.

In 2022, most of Apple's sales (62%) came from indirect channels (comprising third-party cellular networks, wholesalers/retailers, and resellers). These channels are critical for sales amplification, scale, and subsidies (to enable the iPhone to be purchased by many people). In comparison, the direct channel represented 38% of the total revenues. Stores are critical for customer experience, enabling the service business, and branding at scale.

While some businesses thrive in the long term without building a mix between controlled (owned) distribution and non-controlled distribution by solely relying on one or the other.

A solid distribution strategy needs to leverage both for several reasons:

  • Diversify the product distribution
  • Enhance and amplify the product
  • Scale customer base by maintaining a good customer experience

Growth type: Organic, paid, and viral channels

On the other end, when building a distribution strategy, you might want to consider the kind of growth strategy to adopt. In this guide, we take into account three main types of growth:

  • Organic: this kind of growth is built over a long period of time, and it's bottom-up. As more customers join, they give slow but less noisy feedback on the product.
  • Paid: in a paid growth strategy the company allocates resources to push its products in the hands of potential customers. In this case, the budget allocated for growth is primarily used to distribute the existing product to as many potential customers as possible.
  • Viral: in a viral growth strategy (usually the less expensive but also the riskier) a brand leverages the features of its product to push it in the hands of as many users as possible, independently from the fact that those will convert in paying customers. As a classic example, think of a freemium strategy.

Distribution mix matrix

From the balance between a controlled and non-controlled channel and the growth strategy (organic, paid and viral), we can find the right mix.

A solid distribution strategy will leverage both controlled and non-controlled channels. And at the same time, those who are organic, paid, and viral.

As you build up your distribution strategy you want to move from non-controlled to controlled distribution channels to build a solid company.

Some examples below.

Media-driven PR

A media-driven PR growth strategy is a viral strategy where you have not much control. You can changes the message to fit the market and as you do that you might get some good media coverage.

This is a viral strategy as it is usually inexpensive. At the same time, you're not changing the underlying characteristics of the product.

While you're working on the perception of the product you want to make sure also to develop the core parts of it in line with its new perceived value.

Which leads us to a product-driven word of mouth strategy.

Product-driven word of mouth

In a product-driven word of mouth strategy, you iterate on the core features of the product to make it more appealing to a wider customer base. As those features will gain traction through word mouth that will also make your brand known.

With this strategy the product will evolve to fit the market needs. Therefore, you can push it further also at PR level, as a solid product, can scale in terms of attention and users' base without too much risk.

Beware though, as many people get to know your product the more your product will need to evolve.


Search engine optimization (rank your pages on Google organic results) is an organic growth strategy, which do not control. While you can structure content to be picked up by Google's algorithm, a change in those core algorithms might cause your website to lose traffic (and customers) over night.

While SEO rankings might be stable over time. You still want to diversify this organic growth strategy that you do not control, with a growth strategy where you have more control.

Email list

As you build up an organic audience via search engine optimization, building an email list from the contacts that reach you organically, is a great way to move from a channel where you have little control, to another where you have more control.

Key takeaway

  • Distribution is a core asset of any business. That is why it's important to find the right mix to build a solid business.
  • While building up a distribution strategy we can take into account the amount of control you have on that channel, and the growth strategy adopted (organic, paid, viral).
  • As the business grows, you can develop a distribution steered toward more control, and less dependent on channels you do not control.

Full video below!


With ♥️ Gennaro, FourWeekMBA

Business Engineering Printed

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The Business Engineer

At the intersection of business model strategy, technology, and business development, The Business Engineer is the only official newsletter of FourWeekMBA.com, the leading blog about business model strategy and business engineering. The blog reaches millions of business people each year.

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