Charlotte Markwell

In the modern-day business world, it is quite common practice to outsource marketing activity to a third party to get experienced input, which allows businesses to focus on their own specialism.

But a question that often gets floated around is “where should we be focusing our attention to ensure I get the best bang for my buck?”

As an account manager for a digital marketing agency, some people may think that I’m going to go champion purely digital all the way, but as I’ve worked client-side, offline and online, I’m pretty well placed to look at the pros and cons for both traditional marketing and digital marketing.

The rise of digital marketing

Although digital marketing isn’t the new kid on the block anymore, we still tend to differentiate between traditional and digital. In fact, digital marketing has been around since the introduction of the internet 30 years ago, it has just evolved over time, and does have an important place in a lot of marketing strategies already.

The introduction of some of the big social media sites; LinkedIn (2002), Myspace (2003), Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2007), emphasised how we leverage digital through user-generated content, which changed the way we saw marketing[1].

The more content that people started to share online through these social sites, the more access we had to user data, which therefore provided businesses with the ability to target marketing more accurately.

Now that we know that it’s here to stay, we can look at them side by side and see what is best for your business.

What is traditional marketing?

Quite simply – the term traditional marketing refers to any type of marketing that isn’t online. This covers[2]:

  • Print (newspapers, magazines etc)
  • Broadcast (radio, TV etc)
  • Direct mail (door drops etc)
  • Outdoor (billboards, bus backs etc)
  • Phone (outbound, SMS etc)

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing, or online marketing, is the promotion of brands using the internet/other forms of digital communication.

This includes[3]:

  • Email
  • Social media
  • Paid search
  • Display
  • SEO

Traditional marketing pros

Pro: Traditional marketing can reach audiences that would normally sit outside a brand’s perceived audience.

  • For example, if a billboard was seen by someone on a drive home, it may result in a customer performing an action even though they might not be the expected target market.

Pro: Traditional marketing can reach a large number of people (budget depending)

  • There are large audiences available on broadcast, which is great for brand awareness.

Pro: Traditional marketing allows you to plan your core campaigns in advance

  • Some businesses have regular campaigns that they plan out over the year – every year. For example, a food retail business knows that they will focus on the big holidays, i.e. Christmas, Easter, summer holidays etc. This means that they are able to forward plan with their strategies.

Traditional marketing cons

Con: Traditional marketing can be more expensive than digital marketing.

  • Broadcast, outdoor and direct mail can be expensive in comparison to digital marketing, causing return on investment to often be less successful.

Con: Traditional marketing is often not as measurable as digital marketing.

  • Measurement of traditional marketing is much better now than it has been previously with things like QR codes, unique telephone numbers, URLs, and surveys. Although it has come in leaps and bounds, it’s not as cut and dry as digital measurement.

Con: Traditional marketing can take longer to execute and refine than digital campaigns.

  • When planning traditional marketing materials, the turnaround time can be much longer than online marketing. For example, if a company produces a direct mail piece, the fulfilment process can take much longer than building an email campaign.

Digital marketing pros

Pro: Digital marketing can be more effective when targeting specific groups

  • It’s been possible to collect customer data for a long time, so specific targeting has become the norm. We can use geographic, traffic usage (in some places), lookalike audiences, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) audiences. Using these learnings has meant targeting can ensure we’re getting the content in front of the relevant people.

Pro: Digital marketing can provide something with a low cost

  • Pay Per Click (PPC), for example, allows you to set your own budget based on what you have available, so you can ensure you are spending within your budgets. Once the ads are live, you’re able to monitor performance and how much it’s costing (Cost Per Click – CPC)
  • You can also use Search Engine Optimisation, which doesn’t have any advertising spend associated with it to increase your organic results on sites such as Google.

Pro: Digital marketing can be reactive

  • If you’ve got access to a smartphone, you can create reactive content very quickly. We can see a great example of big brands like Aldi doing this in 2021. The #FreeCuthbert campaign gave that tongue in cheek approach to a serious topic but twisted it into a positive, and gave them great exposure.

Pro: Digital marketing is measurable

  • In terms of the measurement of digital marketing vs traditional marketing, the former makes it much easier to justify marketing spend and return on investment reporting. It also allows you to be much more strategic in how you spend your budget and be more reactive to shifts in performance.

Digital marketing cons

Con: Digital marketing can be highly competitive

  • Although PPC can be a cost-effective approach, it can also be extremely competitive. There is a high possibility that there are going to be other companies focusing on the same keywords as you, and they will aim to get to the top of the page as well. This can result in a bidding war, meaning your CPC can rise!

Con: There is a requirement for specialist skills to get your best return

  • Digital marketing is a fantastic way to get your brand out in front of your target audience and work on specific conversions, i.e. form fills, sales, and phone calls. But the best way to do this is to work with a specific specialist to ensure it’s all set up using best practices.

Con: Security & Privacy can be hard to get right, but very important to do so!

  • Security is key. Especially when planning any digital marketing activity, you need to ensure that everything is secure. This includes how and where you host your website, but also covers how you obtain and store customer information.

So, which is better?

Having a look at these pros and cons, it’s clear to see that there is no one answer. The best option is always going to be dependent on lots of different variables:

  • What is the objective of the campaign?
  • What budget do you have available?
  • Who do you need to target?
  • What is the time frame you’re considering?

Most marketing activities will likely require a certain amount of digital support, but it’s best to plan everything holistically and in line with your business strategy.

We are an award-winning, full-service digital marketing agency that provides a range of digital marketing services, including SEO, PPC, Content Marketing, as well as Digital Strategy and Reporting.

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