Traditional Marketing vs. Digital Marketing

Our industry has developed a fixation on pitting traditional marketing against its newer counterpart, digital marketing. If you research the topic, you’ll find plenty of web-savvy people arguing that digital is far superior. Are they biased? Most definitely, but that’s to be expected from people who work in cyberspace.

This obsession with all things digital has put traditional marketing in a weird place. Some business owners have disregarded it entirely. Others are set in their ways and haven’t yet taken new online opportunities. Most, however, struggle in knowing the right direction for their time and resources—whether they should go digital or traditional. We’re here to settle the big debate with an unbiased outlook. Here’s what you need to know.

Marketing Company at Board Meeting Table

What is Traditional Marketing?

Traditional marketing is done offline, while digital marketing is done online. It was the only option up until the internet became readily available in the 90s. And even then, digital marketing was in its infancy up until the mid-2000s. Still, that doesn’t mean traditional marketing is old-fashioned. It’s just easy to ignore how influenced we truly are when it’s all around us.

Traditional marketing isn’t irrelevant. Instead, it’s become integrated into our daily routines. Billboards on the highway during your commute have become the norm. We expect to receive company postcards and coupons when we get the mail. For 20 percent of viewers, the commercials are the sole reason for tuning in to the Super Bowl. Advertisers spend upwards of $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime. That tells us that there’s still value in traditional marketing.

“When leafing through your favorite magazine, you’re bound to be struck by a flashy ad, and you might occasionally find yourself chuckling over a silly television commercial. These types of ads, along with direct mail postcards, telemarketing and outdoor advertising still grab our attention.”

Karina Tama-Rutigliano for Forbes

Traditional Marketing Strategies


Magazine Ads
Promotional Products


Vehicle Wraps


Direct Mail
Press Releases


TV Commercials
Radio Ads


Trade Shows
Open Houses
Networking Events


Referral Campaigns
Professional Affiliations
Door-to-Door Sales


Establishes credibility
Reaches a local audience
Easier to implement
Connects audiences emotionally
Less competition


Can be expensive
Difficult to measure
Hard to scale
Little opportunity for engagement
No control over the timing
Unable to target segmented audience

What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is about building relationships and selling products online. With nearly 5 billion users online, businesses have access to an endless pool of potential customers. Unlike traditional marketing, these digital alternatives provide a measurable way to interact with that audience.

Access to this data is powerful and can help you trim down a marketing budget. That reason alone is why 60 percent of branding and marketing agencies are making significant changes in their workflow to make more room for digital marketing. But the internet is constantly evolving, meaning there’s an undeniable learning curve that comes with digital marketing. It can be impossible to stay up to date with these changes unless you have the time, skill, access to the tools, and the budget.

One of the biggest arguments in favor of digital marketing is the affordability compared to traditional. Digital marketing is often praised as an even playing field. Yes, any company can start a blog, create an email campaign, or post on social media. In that way, digital marketing can put small businesses in front of countless people. But things get complicated once you move toward paid advertising.

For example, Google Ads are highly competitive. Businesses bid directly against each other to claim the top spot in search results, and you are charged when someone clicks your ad. For some industries, a single click can cost hundreds of dollars. And most small businesses are unable to outbid bigger players. You can’t compete when you don’t compare, which leaves many companies unable to gain their footing in the paid space.

“Digital marketing benefits businesses of all sizes by giving access to the mass market at an affordable price,” said NI Business Info, a government-led business resource of Northern Ireland. “While you can reach a global audience with digital marketing, you are also up against global competition. It can be a challenge to stand out against competitors and to grab attention among the many messages aimed at consumers online.”

Digital Marketing Strategies


Pay Per Click (PPC)

Email Marketing


Video Content


Organic Social Media Marketing
Social Media Ads
Influencer Marketing


Virtual Events


Highly scalable
Specific targeting
Audience engagement
More affordable
Reach global audiences


Learning curve
Difficult setup
More competition
Often based on highest bids
Guidelines regularly updated

What’s the Difference?

Digital marketing is widely thought of as a solution to traditional marketing’s problems, but it’s not that black and white. Traditional marketing and digital marketing both strive to build awareness of a business. Although they have the same goal, each concept approaches it differently. Let’s compare.


Without a doubt, digital marketing outshines traditional marketing in terms of precision. Social media platforms and search engines have tools that allow you to target certain groups of people. You can even control the size of your audience by making your target more general or specific. Beyond location, targeting doesn’t exist with traditional marketing. For instance, you can choose where you want a billboard, but you can’t control who sees it and when.


Traditional methods still have their place among small businesses. Look at your target audience. If they’re local and you want them to visit your physical storefront, then a traditional marketing campaign could bring more people through the door. If you sell products online, your audience isn’t limited to local shoppers. You can easily market to people around the world using digital methods.


Traditional marketing methods are often criticized for being more expensive to implement than digital marketing. In some cases, this is true. A billboard will cost a lot more than a sponsored Facebook post. That’s a no-brainer, but it’s not showing the whole picture. An ad in your local newspaper can be much more affordable than hosting a web series. And sponsoring an event can be a couple hundred dollars, but so can a single click within a Google Ads campaign.

Traditional marketing and digital marketing both play an essential role in the overall growth of a company. It’s not necessarily true that one is better than the other. And we don’t think of it as an either/or situation.

Ideally, every business should be doing some type of digital marketing. We look at digital marketing as a method of reinforcing the credibility you build with traditional marketing.

They serve different purposes, and businesses need to find the right balance between the two. There isn’t one clear answer that works for everyone, but solely relying on one marketing channel is a mistake. Businesses need to diversify their strategies. It’s a balancing act.