What is the difference between traditional marketing and digital marketing? Does one have an advantage over the other? Can digital marketing replace traditional marketing? If they drank too much Jägermeister at a bar, started insulting each other’s mothers, and ended up in a street fight, who would win?
Today we find out.
Today, we finally determine the best marketing method of all.
Two methods enter. One method leaves.
Welcome to the Titandome.
Obviously Digital Marketing Wins, Right?
Not so fast.
Did you know that only very recently people started spending more time on their mobile devices than watching TV. Which means that even though it seemed like smartphones and social media have been dominating the marketplace, a traditional marketing method like TV commercials still had the potential to reach more people. In fact, digital ad spending only just surpassed traditional in 2019, with 54.2% of the total US ad spend. That means 45.8% of ad dollars still go towards traditional methods.
That’s nothing to balk at.
So while digital marketing budgets are definitely going up (by nearly 15% yearly), traditional marketing budgets aren’t dropping by as much as you’d think (by as little as 1-2% yearly).
Yes, digital marketing generates 50% greater interactions with customers than traditional, while costing far less to implement. A schism that is only shifting wider in favor of digital in a post-COVID world. And yes, based on these stats, it’s looking like digital marketing has the edge.But there’s a reason why 36% of marketers seek to integrate traditional and digital marketing efforts.
So let’s not crown a winner quite yet. Because the advantages of digital marketing vs traditional marketing may not be so clear cut.
Traditional vs Online Marketing: What’s the Difference?
In the beginning, there was only traditional marketing.
Traditional marketing is any form of promotion we see or hear in the real world. You know — the real world — that place where grass grows, fresh air exists, and pants are usually mandatory. Broadly speaking there are four types of traditional marketing:
- Print – advertising in paper form. The oldest form of marketing (circa 3,000 BC), includes billboards, brochures, and ads printed in newspapers, magazines, newsletters, etc.
- Broadcast – advertising over the air and cable waves. Includes radio, television, and pre-movie advertising in theaters.
- Direct Mail – advertising mailed directly to people. Includes fliers, postcards, letters, catalogs, and other things you never asked for but can’t stop getting delivered to you.
- Telemarketing – calling people over the phone. Also known as telephone marketing. A controversial form of marketing that isn’t as controversial as you might think.
Traditional marketing once was the preeminent form of marketing. Mostly because it was the only type of marketing.
But then the 1990s hit, and with it the development of the Internet.
And with the Internet, came digital marketing.
(Fun Fact: Kids today talk about the 90s the same way kids in the 90s used to talk about the 60s. If you’re of a certain age that’s enough to keep you up at night.)
Digital marketing is the promotion of goods and services via the Internet. Digital marketing can be loosely grouped into seven categories:
- SEO – optimizing a company’s content and online branding to appear at the top of targeted search engine results pages (SERPs)
- PPC – paid advertising that uses a pay-per-click model to show promotions on websites, search engines, social media platforms and sites like Amazon
- Social Media – advertising to users on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram via ads, posts, videos and other native content
- Email – advertising mailed digitally to people. Includes newsletters, drip campaigns and promotional messages
- Content Marketing – creating websites, blogs, videos, infographics and other assets, often shared via the other types here, to drive consumer awareness, sales and loyalty
- Affiliate Marketing – enlisting others to promote your business in return for a commission
- Influencer Marketing – paying others outright to promote your business
The main difference between traditional advertising and online advertising is that the latter takes place online, and the former doesn’t. Who knew?
Everybody, that’s who. None of this is a revelation.
But it’s still good to set the ground rules. Now with that out of the way, let’s get to why we’re really here — to see two forms of marketing duke it out like grannies over a bench.
Can digital marketing replace traditional marketing altogether, or is there still a place for the elder method in your marketing strategy?
To score this fight we’ll look at how well each perform in five key areas:
In the end, one marketing strategy will stand victorious while the other is left for dead in a pile of back alley trash bags ruing the day they ever tried a Jägerbomb.
1. Traditional vs Online Marketing: Infrastructure
Traditional and digital marketing require vastly different infrastructures. By infrastructure, we mean the facilities needed to implement marketing strategies and engage customers.
Of the two, traditional marketing requires a lot more physical infrastructure to be effective. Which can be kind of a drag.
If you want to send a mailer, you need to have the machinery to print those mailers and an efficient means for delivery at scale. If you want to perform telemarketing, you have to have a network of phones and, more importantly, trained employees to man each of those phones. If you want to have a billboard, you need a really big board. If you don’t have the means to do any of this in-house, then you’ll have to outsource.
Online marketing on the other hand exists entirely in the digital space. Which means, you can get a full-fledged omnichannel marketing strategy in-place with nothing but a laptop, computer whiz, and family size box of Bagel Bites.
We recommend putting a little more effort than that into your digital marketing, but it’s still viable. A lot of companies run very profitable marketing campaigns on little more than that. Plain and simple, digital marketing makes it easier for your business to have the necessary infrastructure to access marketing channels, and by extension your customers.
This round goes to digital marketing.
2. Traditional vs Online Marketing: Cost-Effectiveness
Digital marketing wins this one, hands down.
With traditional marketing, all that added physical infrastructure mentioned above equates to added costs. Not cool. Especially when you consider printing an ad in a magazine can cost upwards of $20,000, a billboard can cost $2,500/month and a 30-second TV commercial on a small local station will run $1,500 (not counting production costs). Worst of all, you have no idea what kind of hard metrics you’re getting from that spend, if any at all.
Compare traditional marketing cost to advertising on Facebook, which provides an average cost-per-click (CPC) of $0.25 and cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM) of $7.19. That’s very strong metrics for a very small price.
Traditional just can’t compete.
The fact digital marketing can utilize a CPM or pay-per-click model makes all the difference. With traditional marketing you typically pay upfront for the possibility of reaching your target audience. It’s a sunk cost. But with digital marketing (using CPM or PPC) you pay only when your promotion has been engaged by your target audience. It’s a prospective cost.
3. Traditional vs Online Marketing: Data Reporting
Data is the lifeblood of your business’s growth. The more data you have, the more benefits you’ll gain, like being able to optimize future campaigns or pinpoint your ideal customer.
Without accurate reporting, you’ll be left in the dark. And yet again, digital marketing is miles ahead!
It’s very difficult to accurately measure traditional marketing campaigns. And the few data metrics offline tracking reports provide are nowhere as in-depth or intelligent as the analytics tools available for digital media. Modern digital marketing platforms and tools give businesses a huge range of feedback data and metrics that they can use to build out every area of their marketing. Tools like Google Analytics, Google Ads Manager, Microsoft Advertising, Search Console, Facebook for Business – and more – all offer an incredible range of data. Plus all of these tools provide businesses with information about how they are performing, how successful their marketing is, and how their visitors behave.
With good digital marketing businesses can understand: their revenue/sales numbers, landing-page performing, search engine click-through-rate (CTR), keyword rankings, return user metrics, time-on-site, conversion rate, overall traffic, return-on-ad spend (ROAS), cohort data, and more – and with all of this they can pinpoint where in their marketing campaign they can improve even more.
You can’t do this with traditional strategies. That is, unless you’ve got a dude standing under your billboard counting everybody that looks his way.
4. Traditional vs Online Marketing: Immediacy
The speed with which brands can directly engage with customers (aka immediacy) is a key component of marketing. The golden rule is to reach consumers where they are, when they’re there. Digital has an obvious advantage in that regard. Especially thanks to pixels and retargeting.
Not to mention, they generate an instant touchpoint.
Although technically the difference between traditional marketing and digital marketing lies in offline vs online, the real difference (read: advantage) is that digital provides immediate direct contact with your audience. Traditional does not. Paid online advertising (like search engine PPC and social media PPC ads) can begin driving results practically immediately. A small ad campaign can pretty much be set up in a single day and begin driving site traffic or conversions within a few days. They can drive sales/conversion practically over night, and as ad campaigns run longer they can perform even better by using the campaign’s performance history.
Once again, traditional marketing isn’t able to engage certain touch points as rapidly. That is, unless that dude standing under your billboard has a really long stick and pokes every car that drives by.
5. Traditional vs Online Marketing: Customizability
Digital marketing campaigns are easy to set up. They can start and stop on a dime. You can change copy, graphics and targeting on a whim. And it’s incredibly easy to redistribute budgets. Digital marketing can be tweaked, adjusted, micro-targeted, and pretty much undergo any other changes you see fit when you desire. Search engine ads and social media ad campaigns can be setup, cancelled, and modified within minutes – and once approved, changes start displaying to audiences immediately.
In other words, it’s very customizable.
Which is why digital excels at expanding market share even during economic downturns.
Traditional marketing on the other hand is not so easy to pivot.
Traditional marketing is more set-in-stone. Less flexible. A direct mail campaign takes weeks, sometimes months, to work, and once it’s started there’s no stopping it. Unless you’re cool with stealing people’s mail. Commercials have to be created way in advance, and air-time schedules are put in contract weeks or months ahead of time. Print ads have to be created, printed, and distributed way ahead of time.
Digital takes another round, and with that, if you’re keeping score, knocks out traditional with a roundhouse kick to the face.
You know when we said earlier that the advantages of digital marketing vs traditional marketing may not be so clear cut. Well, turns out they are. They’re very clear cut.
In favor of digital.
Which begs the question…
Can Digital Marketing Replace Traditional Marketing?
Yes. And no.
Sure, traditional marketing just took a beating. In the age of the Internet, it clearly cannot compete with digital marketing. But the best (and most successful) marketers don’t really distinguish between offline and online campaigns.
Two methods enter. One method leaves.
Remember that? Well, we meant it. But not because one marketing method would destroy the other. But because after they entered the Titandome (and digital marketing got in a few good licks) the two would stop fighting, stare into each other’s eyes, and realize they have more in common then they originally thought.
Traditional and digital can live harmoniously together, as one. (So long as they don’t drink Jägermeister.) It shouldn’t be digital marketing vs traditional marketing — it should be digital AND traditional marketing.
We’ll even go so far as to say there’s no such thing as “traditional marketing” or “digital marketing.”
There’s just marketing.
Does that mean you need to do it all?
You need to implement what is most effective for your business.
You need to:
- Define your business’s goals/KPIs
- Choose the most cost-effective channels
- Pick a medium with the best reach
- Use the methods that convert the most
All this can be accomplished with digital techniques. Which is why most of the time, we recommend digital strategies as the way to go. But depending on your business and ideal customer you may want to take things offline. For instance, if you target an older demographic or local regions.
So don’t totally discard “traditional.”
Sure, traditional marketing feels about as old as a discman, beeper, Tamagotchi, Blockbuster card, backwards baseball hat, and chain wallet — the coolest things from the 1990s — to a kid today. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t all still valuable. (Except that Blockbuster card. That thing’s completely useless. Unless you’re in Bend, Oregon.)
But when we hear people say things like “digital is the new traditional” we want to drink some Jägermeister and punch them.
Can digital marketing replace traditional marketing?
Without a doubt.
But that doesn’t mean you should let it. The real question you should be asking is: How can digital marketing and traditional marketing methods work together for my brand? If you need help finding the answer, contact our team, we’ll help connect you to the right strategy. Just like a chain bought at Hot Top safely connecting a wallet to a pair of JNCOjeans.