Traditional Marketing and Digital Marketing: What’s the Difference?



April 14, 2020 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

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Marketers have used traditional methods for nearly a century with proven results. Alternatively, digital marketing may be new, but it opens up a new world of options for start-ups and other small businesses because it is often more affordable. Let’s explore the differences between traditional and digital marketing and identify which method is better for you and your business. In this article, we discuss:

What Is Marketing?

Marketing is a type of business process that involves both relationship and satisfaction development with customers. Professionals use marketing to connect with people, inform them about the brand and its products and services, and encourage them to make a purchase.

What Is Traditional Marketing?

Traditional marketing is a fairly new term that came about after the emergence of digital marketing techniques. This type of marketing refers to more familiar and physical methods of connecting with consumers such as print, direct mail, product samples, commercials, billboards, and cold calling. For decades, this was the only way of engaging with customers. Many of these tactics are still effective.

Traditional Marketing in the Digital Age

Although marketers have come up with new ways to reach audiences, some companies are evolving many of the older marketing tactics. For example, instead of a standard billboard with a still image, digital marketers create digital boards on mobile taxis. These taxis drive through areas where the target audience is located and grabs their attention with vibrant lights, animations, and imagery. Print ads have their place as well since magazines are now online. A simple image advertising your product or service now appears anywhere because people read the magazine on e-readers, mobile phones, and desktops.

Benefits of Traditional Marketing

Here are several benefits of traditional marketing:

Customers Save Hard Copies

Physical marketing materials such as fliers and magazine ads give customers the opportunity to save the publication to read at any time. Customers may also copy the ads or share them with others.

Recycle Promotional Materials

Often, physical materials you create are recyclable. For example, if you end your campaign with 500 leftover fliers, you may be able to use them again at a later date. Doing so may cut costs on your next campaign, making it easier to implement and rollout.

Proven Success Rates

Companies still use methods of traditional marketing because of their many years of proven success. For example, if your company successfully reaches your existing audience by using traditional marketing methods, you may want to continue to do so.

Drawbacks of Traditional Marketing

Below are several drawbacks of traditional marketing:

Less Engaging

Barring some of the creative methods that car sales and similar industries such as offering false car keys or special contests, traditional marketing is passive in nature. It often lacks ways for consumers to engage with the ad or the brand as a whole. Traditional marketing focuses more on providing information and convincing consumers to make a purchase.

More Expensive

Gaining spots in newspapers, billboards, magazines, and television shows comes at a high price. Many smaller businesses are unable to afford such spaces for their content. These ad positions are often reserved for larger brands who can, for example, afford Super Bowl advertising on television or full-page ads within newspapers. More affordable advertising spots within these spaces are often too small to see any real returns.

Measuring ROI is More Difficult

Traditional marketing has very few metrics to study. For example, if you run a commercial on local cable broadcasting, there are few ways of knowing for sure if new purchases were a result of the ad or another source.

What Is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is a new type of marketing that involves more automated efforts using technology. For example, instead of using physical means to engage with customers, digital marketers use online ads, blogs, search engine optimization (SEO), and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. Digital marketing meets customers online, targeting them more directly than traditional marketing ever has.

Image via Flickr by garethr

What Is SEO?

SEO is the process of using specialized techniques that make your content and your website known to search engines. Using proper SEO methodology and best practices leads to higher placement in search results. The closer a result is to the top of a page, the more clicks it’s likely to earn.

What Is PPC?

PPC advertising is an internet marketing model in which advertisers pay a small fee each time a user clicks their ad. This allows you to send traffic to your site through purchasing a user’s click rather than earning it through organic search. Using PPC involves choose a list of keywords or phrases and bidding on a search engine’s sponsored placements. The more popular a keyword or phrase is, the more expensive it becomes.

Benefits of Digital Marketing

Explore some of the benefits of digital marketing below:

Target Vast or Specific Audiences

Digital marketing has several methods to narrow down audiences by geographic locations and interests. You can segment your audiences and target each group of them with slightly different messaging that meets their needs. The audiences you target can be international, national, or local. In most circumstances, however, the larger your target audience, the more you pay to reach them.

Find New Markets

With the help of customer profiles, you can determine what your target audience does on the internet. Learning their interests and the type of websites they visit can often lead you into new, untapped markets. Using analytics tools, you can pinpoint the sources of incoming traffic. Learning which site is generating the leads can help you better define who the population is and discover new markets to target.

Customize Content for Individual Audiences

Through audience segmentation or a thorough understanding of your marketing funnel, you can customize your messaging to individual audiences. For example, those consumers who have only just heard of your brand are looking for different information than those who are more familiar with your products and services. These two different audiences require customized content and marketing approaches you can use to provide solutions to their needs. Customized targeting only happens through digital marketing.

Make More Engaging Content

Marketing online makes it easier to create content that engages audiences. Even a tactic as simple as posing a question or poll on social media provokes a reaction and encourages audiences to interact. Quizzes are a popular method for engagement as well since they earn a high number of clicks. As consumers navigate through the quiz and answer questions, you can document and record the information to learn more about them. This helps create better content for specific audiences in the future.

Drawbacks of Digital Marketing

The following are several drawbacks of digital marketing:

Required Skills and Training

All staff working on digital marketing tasks need the proper knowledge, expertise and training to implement related concepts and use related technologies. Digital marketing requires unique tools and platforms and stays at the forefront of new trends. All of these change rapidly and require both you and your staff to stay up-to-date and continue learning.

Time Management

Using the tools and techniques for digital marketing is often time-consuming. The results of your efforts are not immediate and can take days, months or even years to see increased metrics. For example, A/B testing on social media ads may take a week or more to understand how your chosen audience reacts to the new material. It’s also important in this case to measure reactions over a period of time and document how they change. Patience is important as metrics are a foundational part of digital marketing. Monitoring them at all times allows you to make changes as necessary that increase your return on investment.

Highly Competitive

With the help of digital marketing, you’re able to reach a global audience, but you also open your business up to global competition. Entering a larger market comes with new challenges you must surpass to bring your business to the top. You have to use all you know about both digital marketing and your business itself to find new and innovative methods of keeping consumers engaged.


Feedback on your brand and its message, both good and bad, is visible to the public. Social media and review websites make it easy for consumers to rate and thoroughly review their experience. When negative reviews occur, you can develop a strategy like replying in a friendly manner. In doing so, propose solutions to rectify the situation. Even if consumers don’t reply to your solutions, others see that you’re trying to do better.

Security and Privacy

Digital marketing requires the collection and usage of customer data to better target customers based on their interests. Ensure that all elements of your marketing plan comply with related laws and regulations regarding privacy and data protection.

Options for Investment

No matter where you invest in your marketing, your goal should be to earn the highest return on investment. The industry you work in is one of the biggest factors in choosing between traditional or digital marketing or a combination of the two. Research your industry and your competition and identify some of the most popular and highest performing options.

With either option, on average, digital marketing generates qualified leads and sales for very little costs, if any at all. Alternatively, with traditional marketing, you must purchase your spot on an advertising platform. Rates increase depending on the size of the posting or the length of the commercial.

Print Ads

Marketers have used print ads for decades, and they can be successful for many companies. Print advertising is also costly and comes in a variety of packages. Magazines, newspapers, and billboards all have varying price ranges that fluctuate based on location and duration of the ad. Physical print ads often work best for high-income companies or those with additional capital.

For example, some high-end magazines charge up to $20,000 for a full-page spread. For the companies that can afford it, this is a very lucrative option as magazines such as British Vogue hold a readership of 861,000. The price buys you global reach into new and potentially untapped audiences for your products and services.

Image via Flickr by WordRidden

Digital Ads

Digital ads often come with more customization options than print ads, offering less risk. For example, using social media ads or search engine ads, you can target specific audiences that match the exact interest group your product falls into. Even after the ad goes live, you can make adjustments and minor changes according to real-time data presented in your metric and analytic dashboards.

Instead of being charged a bulk rate for display, most digital ad mediums only charge on a per-click basis. This makes marketing for small businesses much easier as they only have to pay the cost per click depending on the keywords used.

Which Form of Marketing Is Best for You?

Both traditional and digital marketing provides unique benefits for both companies and consumers. Each comes with extensive lists of benefits and drawbacks, but their main difference lies in cost. Digital marketing is a more cost-effective option. You can reach some of the same audiences with print ads for a fraction of the price. There are times in which print ads are the overall best option as long as a business can afford them, but digital ads provide more accessibility to all businesses regardless of size.

If you want to learn more about digital marketing, read our guide and download our eBook. If you’re ready to move forward with digital marketing options for your business, contact us today.

Author Image - jross

CopyPress writer

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