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Traditional Marketing vs. Digital Marketing

10 Jul
Stack of newspapers with a smart phone laying on them

Traditional forms of marketing blossomed in the middle and late parts of the 20th century, although the roots stretch much further back.1 When you watch a TV commercial or read an advertisement in a magazine, you're engaging with traditional marketing. By contrast, digital marketing encompasses the online world. In this post, you’ll learn about the differences between traditional and digital marketing, the advantages offered by digital marketing and where the future of marketing is heading.

What is Traditional Marketing?

Traditional marketing is any form of offline advertising.1 That includes the banner trailing behind the Goodyear Blimp, flyers for guitar lessons, billboards, direct-response mail, Super Bowl TV commercials and full-page advertisements in the Sunday edition of The New York Times.

Common Forms of Traditional Marketing

The following list is not exhaustive but covers the four major categories that make up the bulk of traditional marketing strategies and traditional marketing campaigns.

  • Print advertising comprises advertisements in newspapers, journals and magazines
  • Broadcast advertising refers to radio and television commercials
  • Telemarketing is the practice of calling prospective customers on the phone to solicit interest in a product or service
  • Direct mail encompasses sales and marketing materials sent directly to the consumer, often unsolicited. It’s also commonly referred to as junk mail

What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing refers to all forms of marketing that take place online.2 This includes the ads that play before YouTube videos, sponsored Facebook posts, banner ads and email newsletters. Even the fun listicle articles you forward to your friends and that helpful blog post on how to change your car’s oil often fall into this category.

Common Forms of Digital Marketing

The following four digital marketing channels constitute some of the most commonly utilized ways to engage with potential customers online.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

This is a form of advertising in which marketers bid on select keywords and phrases. The website displays the winner's ad, and the marketer only pays for each user’s click on it.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is essentially direct mail marketing for the digital age. Marketers send emails to prospective customers to raise awareness, drive engagement or accomplish other goals of the marketing campaign.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is a less direct approach that lets brands engage with consumers by providing value, usually in the form of education. It often takes the form of an informative blog post or video.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the practice of applying methods to websites and web pages so they appear higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). SEO is often used in conjunction with content marketing to drive organic search traffic to the content.

Digital Marketing Advantages

In the past three decades, traditional methods of marketing have lost ground to digital marketing. According to a survey by Gartner, on average businesses devote 28% of their marketing budget to traditional forms of marketing.3 Prior to 1990, traditional marketing methods accounted for 100% of business marketing budgets since digital marketing did not exist. The rapid move toward digital marketing reflects a shift away from traditional marketing outlets.

With the popularity of smartphones and internet consumption reaching ubiquitous status across the developed world, it is imperative to meet consumers in the digital landscape. However, that doesn’t fully explain why marketers have shifted most of their time and energy toward digital marketing.

Digital marketing offers multiple advantages over traditional marketing methods. The most prominent ones include:

Granular Targeting

In the past, demographic targeting was a blunt instrument. There simply wasn’t an effective way to directly target specific audiences. At best, you could narrow your audience down somewhat using market research. If you primarily sold to women aged 25 to 34 with a college degree and an interest in cosmetics, you might rely on demographic surveys to identify a TV show or magazine that reached a large number of these individuals.

However, you’d invariably end up wasting a significant portion of your advertising budget getting your ad in front of people outside your target market or group. PPC advertising tools enable you to create an audience that perfectly matches your ideal customer.2 Social media platforms, like Facebook, for example, let you filter who will see your ads by demographic markers and stated interests. Amazon and Google display ads to individuals who search for your selected keywords.

Detailed Analytics

Historically, marketing as a field suffered from a lack of solid data. Marketing pioneer John Wanamaker famously remarked, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” 5 With the widespread availability of detailed reporting with analytic tools and user-friendly dashboards, advertisers are now highly aware of the efficacy of each spent cent. Digital marketing has turned the advertising field into an increasingly metric-heavy, efficiency-driven arena.

Is Traditional Marketing Dead?

A recent albeit modest reversal in the trend toward more spending on digital advertising suggests we may have reached an equilibrium point.3 Consumers are still watching television, viewing print ads, opening the mail and glancing up at billboards on their drive to work. Marketing professionals who ignore traditional marketing methods do so at their own peril.

The Future of Traditional and Digital Marketing

Based on current trends, it appears that digital marketing will continue to predominate, although traditional marketing methods should hold ground.3 As the field turns increasingly data heavy, successful marketers will need to hone their number-crunching skills more so than in the past. Emergent digital advertising strategies like PPC campaigns and SEO content writing will become increasingly competitive.

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