Digital vs. Traditional Marketing: What You Need to Know


Published: January 27, 2020 Author: Jason Holicky - Hometown Design Studio Inc.
Digital vs. Traditional Marketing: What You Need to Know

With so many individual tactics to consider, figuring out how much to spend on marketing and how much to allocate to each activity can be tricky for business owners. We spend most of our time focusing on digital methods, but traditional marketing approaches have their benefits, too. Here’s what you need to know about each, and what results you can expect so you can make smart decisions.

What is Traditional Marketing
Traditional marketing includes all the ways businesses reached out to customers before the internet came along and changed the entire playing field. In print, this includes things like magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals. Broadcast marketing is done on TV and radio; outdoor marketing uses billboards, posters, flyers, and similar materials. Direct mail via catalogs and postcards is still quite popular, and who can forget about telemarketing?

From your everyday experiences, you’ve probably noticed that traditional marketing is anything but dead. We’re all happy when we receive pizza and oil change coupons in the mail, and billboards are keeping us entertained during our morning commutes and on road trips. Plus, old-fashioned techniques like human-to-human sales are still closing deals every day.

Where Traditional Marketing Lags Behind Digital
Digital marketing has been a boon for businesses because most of the methods allow for two-way interaction between brands and their customers. Building relationships has always been the best way to create a stable base of sales, and today’s consumers are happy to have those interactions online.

One of the biggest drawbacks of traditional marketing methods is the lack of interaction between you and your customers. Businesses essentially broadcast their messages in hopes that they resonate and stick. The lack of interaction also leaves marketers with a fixed amount of space to engage with an audience as there’s no possibility of clicking through for more information once you have their attention.

Digital marketing is also dynamic, allowing marketers greater control over when and where messages are viewed and updating or changing the message can usually happen on-the-fly. In contrast, once an ad has been published in a magazine, it’s there for life. Because of the immediate nature of digital marketing, measuring the results can happen in real-time, which also allows for campaigns to be tweaked according to the results. Measuring the results of traditional marketing campaigns is not only more difficult (how can you reliably count how many people have seen a poster?), but it usually only happens once the campaign has ended.

Where Traditional Marketing Excels
Don’t worry; we’re not here to dump entirely on traditional marketing. There are still plenty of advantages to be found in the offline world. For example, signage will always be a contender against internet marketing, and the digital world has transformed pasted-on billboards into powerful, easily changed and customized messaging machines. You’ll also see smaller versions of these on top of taxis, in front of stores, and in the mall.

Direct mail had a shaky decade or so as marketers moved more toward email and shrank away from “snail mail.” However, spam filters and ad blindness have reinvigorated the paper mail world and businesses are returning to this trusty old method of getting attention. Flyers and brochures are also holding steady as more than half of all adults in the U.S. prefer to get coupons and offers in the mail rather than from digital sources.

Plus, every time there is an opportunity for face-to-face contact, consumers will almost always be responsive. Much of the buyer’s journey may happen online--especially the early stages--but many of us still prefer to see a face or hear a live voice on a telephone before making a purchase. This counts even more in the business world as companies tend to build relationships with vendors rather than make one-off purchases. Plus, networking events such as conventions, trade shows, and seminars are all major players in the marketing world.

Show Me the Money!
So, which avenue should smart business owners take? Which marketing method makes the best use of marketing dollars? Generally speaking, digital marketing methods such as social media, search, and email tend to have a better ROI, primarily because of the low cost when compared to traditional marketing. Digital marketing mainly requires time: planning, creating materials, publishing content. Traditional marketing requires all of that, plus the costs associated with printing, distributing, etc.

Of course, the real power lies in combining the best of each world as it applies to your business and the needs of your audience to leverage the strengths of one tactic to produce a better outcome overall. For example, older Americans with higher incomes spend almost twice as much time watching TV as their younger counterparts. If your primary targets are over the age of 60 and earning more than $150,000 per year, a TV commercial may be well worth the cost. If you’re a local business having a sale or promotion, don’t forget about all those people who still love paper coupons. Billboards still draw huge amounts of attention, and adding an easy-to-remember, short URL to any of these methods can bring offline customers to your digital space.

The Verdict is In
For businesses that don’t have a major league budget for marketing and advertising, digital methods have a very low cost of entry and tend to produce a steady return on investments. For this reason, every business should be employing digital strategies from the start. For companies with highly targeted audiences or a bit more money to spend, adding in traditional tactics can boost your overall marketing efforts, reach huge numbers of people with broadcast messaging, and even reach small pockets of otherwise hard-to-reach people. In short, always use digital and leverage the specific strengths of traditional methods to achieve the best results.

About the Author

Creative Director Jason co-founded Hometown Design Studio of New Lenox, IL in 2013. He spends his days guiding and consulting industrial clients and small businesses owners on their marketing strategy and projects. Jason enables everyone to be successful and grow their business by sharing his knowledge and experience.
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