Traditional vs. Digital Marketing: Which is Better for Your Business?


Just when you think you've zoned into the perfect strategy, a rather existential question comes up and throws you for a spin.

If some brands like P&G are "planning to decrease their budget for digital ads since digital ads are unclear in terms of placement and can potentially be placed next to extremist content," as reported by Adweek, and, at the same time, Starbucks' ad spend in 2017 is the highest it has ever been, you've got to ask yourself:

Who has got it right, traditional or digital marketing?

Especially with the ensuing panic and chaos from interpretations of open-ended questions about GDPR compliance, marketers are starting to ask themselves: Is digital all it's cracked up to be?

There's no doubt that marketing practices will have to shift and change. Yet, according to a Gartner 2016-2017 CMO Spend Survey, marketing budgets have shown a steady growth rate in 2017, climbing to 12% of company revenue, up from 10.4%. 

Allocations within the marketing department are going primarily towards direct expenses — which can be characterised as advertising, trade promotions, and direct marketing techniques — with social media as a close second. 

And even though traditional marketing still lags far behind the voracious and enthusiastic appetite of digital marketing, it has still managed to experience a small upward tick, moving from a drop of 2.0% in budgets in August 2017 to 1.7% in February 2018. 

Source: The CMO Survey

It also seems to depend on the industry each business operates in. While traditional marketing spend has dropped, B2B products is the category where they've dropped the least, suggesting that there is still authority and weight left in the heft of traditional techniques. 

Source: The CMO Survey

Let's take a look at what these tactics really are, where your marketing dollars are best spent, and the pros and cons of each avenue. 

What Is Traditional Marketing?

Think "paper-based," and you'll have half of traditional marketing. The other half is made up of billboards, television, and radio. 

Any promotion, campaign, or advertising that occurs through these mediums, across flyers, brochures, print advertisements in magazines, newspaper print ads, commercials, television spots, radio shout-outs and jingles are all part of traditionally "traditional" marketing.

Now, keep in mind that, until digital marketing came along, there was no "traditional" marketing. It was just marketing."

Interesting, isn't it? Traditional marketing quickly became the defending champion, thanks to delighted 2000-era marketers like Gary Vaynerchuk who jumped on the Google Ads bandwagon in its early days and reaped its low-cost-wide-reach moment. 

But that was then. And this is now. Traditional still has a few tricks left up its sleeve, as we'll soon see below.

What Is Digital Marketing?

At its core, digital marketing stands for any practices executed online, digitally, or that require the use of the Internet for proliferation, distribution, broadcasting, interaction, and engagement. The strategies and tactics that comprise digital marketing are diverse and multi-faceted — which very much matches the decentralised nature of the Internet itself. 

Digital marketing techniques rely on integration, automation, and networking. It occurs on devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, watches, and other devices that connect to the Internet.

Using digital marketing techniques, marketers can gain far more insight about a user from a single interaction with a marketing material, otherwise known as content, than from a traditional one. There is less of an emphasis on a sale being a conversion — instead, there are various moments of conversion, what Google calls micro-moments, which occur every time a customer interacts with a brand or business. 

All of these together lead up to points in the so-called buyer journey, which eventually move the prospect to a sale. Digital marketing techniques including email marketing, review management and reputation listings, SEO, paid search, display ads, social media marketing, influencer marketing, and more. 

The Pros and Cons of Digital Marketing

It's Low-Cost and Cost-Effective

There are plenty of old-school marketers who remember the early days of Google Adwords, where you could buy words like "wine" and "film" for next to nothing. 

Obviously, competition today is fierce, but digital marketing in the keyword realm is still much more cost-effective than, for example, printing and sending a mailer campaign. Consider that: 

  • Using social media, an e-commerce candle company increased its sales by 714% over a three-month period.
  • Forever Diamonds, a Georgia jewellery company, used digital marketing to reach and engage fans on social media for less than $1 over the course of the year. This sustained campaign also increased foot traffic, leading to in-store conversions. 
  • A local gym used a targeted Google ads campaign to generate 210 new leads over 90 days at a cost of just $4.33 per lead.

And you'll notice that, while competition on singular keywords is still pretty high, the emergence of long-tail keywords, coupled with a change in the ways people are searching (asking questions instead of using singular terms) means there is an explosion of new keywords to compete for. 

Omnichannel Integration

Digital marketing techniques allow you to integrate functionalities and information about your potential customers across platforms. This is particularly useful for e-commerce-focused businesses that want to support their customers' in-store as well as online experiences. 

Omnichannel marketing is all about creating a seamless experience across devices and platforms. While the end offer may be a purchase, for example, omnichannel marketing would allow businesses and brands to focus in on specific segments of customers and craft the next offer — a discount if they like an associated Facebook page or a suggested purchase — based on the customer's history and clicks. 

You Can Streamline Multiple Actions at Once Using Automation

Digital marketing calls for digital tools. And two of the perks of digital tools are automation and integration. Software can do, for less cost and with fewer resources, what it takes machines much more time and money to implement. Using marketing automation software, for example, brands can market, sell, and analyse all from one platform. 

They can even integrate other pieces of software — such as their accounting software — into their automation platforms so that information moves seamlessly between a newly created network of software solutions. 

It Can Be Difficult to Determine ROI

Let's take a look at this snapshot of five Facebook posts:

Even though Facebook shows you real numbers on engagement, as well as the number of people these posts actually reached, it can be difficult to contextualise what these numbers actually mean or use them to judge whether your content strategy is even working — let alone whether they are responsible for actual conversions. 

This is actually a woe shared by traditional marketing as well. Individuals will often ask, "What's the ROI of an Instagram business profile?" as a deterrent. But they may as well be asking, 'What's the ROI on this flyer?' 

Unless you can ask the customer specifically what brought them in or caused them to purchase, or unless your flyer has a special, targeted promotion that a customer might have to redeem, ROI is hard to track, at times, in traditional marketing as well.

Your Content Can Get Lost in the Online Noise

With so many posts upon posts proliferating the annals of a Google search result as well and an explosion of content types — from blogs to e-Books to podcasts, YouTube videos and beyond — it's getting harder than ever to get your content viewed. 

Building a loyal fan base or audience can seem a particularly lengthy process, exacerbated by the fact that certain brands and businesses are in saturated niches. 

It's Time-Consuming

If you think that creating content is time-consuming, wait until you have to measure it. Measuring and analysis, testing and user surveys are some of the most useful techniques to capture important feedback and customer data. 

But doing this — creating the reports, hooking up the results, and then actually capturing actionable insights — is incredibly time-consuming. This is particularly felt in digital marketing more than its traditional counterpart because there are often multiple strategies and platforms businesses will use at once. 

For example, a business using digital marketing will survey its traffic health and sources, its SEO strategies through Google Analytics, its Facebook ads conversions through Google Analytics and Ads Manager reports, and then have an entirely different platform for Adwords campaigns. 

This means that if you don't have dedicated specialists for each platform, surveying the actual efficacy of your marketing ploys will get pretty overwhelming, pretty quickly. 

The Pros and Cons of Traditional Marketing

Traditional Methods Are Now a Novelty

Did you know that direct mail campaigns not only pique a customer's attention but actually retain a potential customer's interest long after the actual collateral has been discarded? In fact, research shows that customers are nine times more likely to keep a direct mail postcard or brochure, especially when the offer has been personalised to their buying history. 

Direct mail is, in fact, far more effective than its ephemeral and fleeting counterpart, email marketing, when it comes to staying power. 

Of course, there was a time where the flood of flyers, brochures, postcards, and coupon books absolutely overwhelmed our senses and pushed their way through our mail slots. 

But, with the rise of digital marketing, traditional direct mail campaigns have become a novelty. While marketers flood the online space with offers, deals and content tailored specifically to customers, retailers like Ikea, Bonobos, Nordstrom, and J. Crew are taking advantage of the sudden silence in the print space.

Using a strategic blend of catalogues, triggered postcard campaigns, and even QR codes, brands and businesses are using the surprising novelty of traditional marketing techniques to infuse the 'personal touch' into a customer interaction. 

Building a Local Audience

It's much easier and more effective to build a local audience using traditional methods. In fact, radio, cable television and print ads are all designed for local — which is to say regional — audiences. In some cases, for fashion brands, this might occur on a national level. But it certainly does not extend to the global scale. 

Campaigns are countrywide or city-specific. This means that there is a particular, keen focus on the demographic at hand. The offers and campaigns can become more specific and well-tailored to the buying habits and desires of the local demographic. 

Traditional media ad buys can be far more specific in their scope and their messaging because, over time, brands operating within the area know their customers and understand their behaviours. 

Often Needs a Digital Component

The effectiveness of either digital marketing and traditional marketing comes down to this: attention. Digital marketing captures people's attention, but traditional marketing has the power to keep that attention for a longer period of time. 

And since 70% of all interactions geared towards purchasing occur on mobile devices anyway, customers need a digital component to ever trust a brand or business enough make a purchase. 

Think of it this way: Even if a potential customer is enticed by your postcard, what would their nextstep be? They would likely want to find out more about your brand or business. To do that, they would pull out their mobile device or tap away at their laptop, doing a quick search based on your brand name or category. 

It's this consumer behaviour that calls for traditional to be hooked into the digital landscape. With our lives increasingly moving online, traditional will have to be a bridge to the digital world in order to continue living on. 

The Verdict

The jury isn't exactly out on which is better. But asking that question is rather reductive. 

Both traditional techniques and digital marketing strategies have their own place. Often, as in the case of direct mailing or catalogues, they would work great when used together. 

Businesses shouldn't be too integrated with one set of techniques over the other. 

It's not enough to simply pick one camp, based on your business goals. The truth is that your business goals, budgets, and strategies will likely change (as they should). 

Opt for a blend of digital and traditional techniques instead. This is not only to get the widest reach but to meet the customer where they are, cementing your brand promise, your product's effectiveness and your business's advantage spread across multiple interactions. 

If it takes, on average, seven interactions to convince your customer, why not make four digital and three traditional? 

It also remains to be seen how IoT will affect traditional techniques. As digital home assistants listen to our commands and smart TVs track our watching behaviour, there may be new opportunities for traditional ads in media once more — except, this time, it's on demand. 



No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Already Registered? Login Here
Thursday, 14 November 2019
If you'd like to register, please fill in the username, password and name fields.

Member Login

Business Insights & Tips


Jill Holtz
2319 Points
Tena Glaser
1395 Points
Michael Lane
802 Points
Ron Immink
732 Points
Fionan Murray
721 Points
View Leaderboard