Digital vs Traditional Marketing: Looking at the Differences


I’m not going to blow your mind telling you that being successful at marketing can be a tricky venture.  There are many different avenues businesses like yours can use to reach your target audience.  You can throw a large budget at a myriad of mediums, hoping that something will stick and you’ll see an uptick in revenue.  Sometimes this strategy leads to disappointment and when it does work, you’re not sure what really worked and how you could fine-tune to generate even better results.  So, how do you know what outlets are going to be the most cost-effective and provide the highest ROI for your company?


Let’s start by clearly defining the difference between traditional and digital marketing… just to make sure we are all starting from the same place.

Traditional Marketing

Traditional marketing refers to those vehicles we are all familar with and have been around for decades: television, radio, direct mail, billboards and yellow pages to name a few.  With exception of the yellow pages (which is directional advertising), is a form of creative advertising with the function of broadcasting a message to a target audience in hopes of attracting attention.

Digital Marketing

Digital marketing refers to the targeted, measureable and interactive marketing of a business’ products and services through one or more forms of electronic media such as search engines optimization, search engine marketing, email marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, ebooks, blogs, games… this list grows by the minute.

Which Route is Best for my Business?

I really don’t think there is a business out there that can eliminate either traditional or digital from being part of their marketing strategy.  In fact, many successful campaigns use tactics from both camps to leverage the effectiveness.  For example, a great television commercial can be complimented with a Call To Action that drives viewers to a web page to learn more.  Why limit your message to the 15 or 30 seconds of the commercial?  Expand your reach with a targeted lannding page that will not only help increase conversions but also track the campaign’s success.  That being said, there are many advantages and disadvantages for each marketing component both traditional and digital.

Here are some factors to consider when choosing the components of your mix.

  • Understand Your Target Audience / Buyer Personas: Who are they and what do their buying habits look like?  What do they do?  Want? Need?  How do they get it?  What keeps them awake at night?  These are all questions you need to ask yourself so you can focus your message and choose channels that align with your ideal customer.
  • Be Sure to Allow for Two-Way Dialog: Are your efforts encouraging on inviting prospective customers to engage with your business during their purchase cycle?  Go back to our previous example of the television commercial driving viewers to a website landing page.  The television commercial is a one-way channel that can help you reach out to your target audience where the website landing page may have opportunities such as an email sign-up or link to your Facebook page as an opportunity to interact with your business.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Venture into the Unknown: Don’t get comfortable with what seems to be working.  Try and explore where you target audience might be spending their time.  Try adding different elements to your mix and seeing how it can impact your goals.
  • Measure Everything: Don’t shoot from the hip in the dark.  Know what works and what doesn’t.  There are countless methods for tracking your campaigns.  Take the time to implement tracking and understand your metrics.  It will save you lots of money.

Next Steps

This is just a quick overview… we can dig a lot deeper here.  Focus on the following and you’ll be off to a good start:

  1. Identify your target audiences to create your buyer personas.
  2. Determine where your buyer persona spends their time and make yourself present there.
  3. Choose marketing channels (traditional or digital) that allow you to reach your buyer persona without buying too much of the market.  A pizza shop that services a neighborhood might not find a radio spot covering a 100 mile broadcast area the best investment since the rate for that spot is for the entire audience and they only service a portion of them.
  4. Track and measure everything you can so you can determine what is working and what can be eliminated from the mix.
  5. Rinse and repeat.

Full Disclosure: This was written by a former yellow page rep and the co-founder of a digital agency where we help businesses formulate digital marketing strategies based on individual goals. We don’t dislike traditional forms of marketing… we just don’t normally promote them.  For what it’s worth, Google now has TV commercials.