Most of us are familiar with the concept of online marketing. We use email, social media, and websites to attract potential customers, build community, and grow our business. But what exactly is online marketing? How is it different from traditional and offline marketing? Why does it matter? What are the different components of an online marketing strategy?
The first step to exploring any new subject is to gain a clear understanding of the basics. With online marketing, we’re often asked to compare the “online” and “offline” versions of the same thing. But is there any difference? Can we compare apples to oranges? Let’s examine the differences and similarities between traditional and online marketing.
Traditional vs. Online Marketing
Even before the internet, marketers were using all sorts of techniques to attract potential customers, including advertisements in magazines, radio ads, and billboards.
Traditional marketing is usually considered to be one-way communications, focused on advertising and buying audiences. Marketers determine the topics and themes of material they will distribute (i.e., magazines, books, websites, etc.) and then go about marketing the content to the desired audience. This involves hiring advertising agencies to design and produce ads, devising a media plan, and tracking the results of past campaigns.
In contrast, internet marketers seek to engage with potential customers through interactive activities, such as forums, social media, and web surveys. These marketers usually focus on one to four channels at a time, usually relying on SEO, social media, and email to gain organic traffic and grow their business.
What does this mean in practice? It means that traditional marketers often have elaborate email lists they’ve built up over time, while online marketers start their campaigns with a smaller list of customers they’ve previously acquired through various means (e.g., SEO, social media, or affiliate marketing).
Additionally, traditional marketing is usually considered to be a set of “siloed” activities, where marketing departments are only in charge of their own area (e.g., radio ads vs. billboard ads, magazine ads, or bus wraps). In contrast, the digital marketer’s job is to understand how different parts of the platform work together to create a cohesive strategy.
The Importance of Data
Let’s dive back into the question of traditional vs. online marketing for a moment. Why are marketers interested in comparing the two? Because we live in an era of data. With the internet, we have access to a massive amount of data, allowing us to compare markets, measure results, and track growth.
In marketing, we have access to a wide array of data. Paid search reports, for example, give us the details of each search query (e.g., date, time, keywords, and click-through rates), allowing us to track the performance of our ads and determine which strategies are and aren’t working. Similarly, we can track the performance of our social media posts and determine which ones are getting the most engagement.
When it comes to marketing analytics, the opportunities to analyze data are endless. We can find information on audiences, behaviors, and conversions, leading to a more holistic view of our marketing efforts.
On the other hand, when comparing traditional marketing to online marketing, we often have to rely on third-party sources to gather data. Billboards, for example, only provide limited information about the people visiting their site: we don’t have personal information, like email addresses or names, allowing us to contact those who were originally interested in the ad.
Additionally, third-party platforms, like Google Analytics, only provide a view into the behavior of those visiting our sites. If we want to see what is motivating people to visit a specific page or ad, we have to look at the content themselves and determine what the underlying themes are.
The Rise Of Online Marketing
As discussed, many marketers are now working in an online environment. Traditional methods of reaching customers, such as radio ads and magazine articles, simply don’t work as well in the digital world. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist at all; it’s just that marketers have to find new ways to reach their audience.
For instance, let’s say we’re an athletic clothing company. We may decide to create a blog for athletes, highlighting the products they need to have in their closet. This is an area that gets a lot of attention on social media channels, as people who workout regularly are constantly seeking the best ways to improve their performance. This is the type of audience we’d want to write for.
Now, let’s say we want to advertise on a platform like Google AdWords. With traditional marketing, we would bid on a keyword or keyword combination, like “athletic clothing”, and pay per impression (i.e., the number of times our ad shows up when a user types that combination into Google).
However, in the online world, we have the ability to track the performance of our campaigns not only through the number of times our ads are shown, but through various metrics as well. With Google AdWords, we can track the number of unique visitors, click-throughs, and conversions (e.g., leads that end up becoming customers).
Similarly, when it comes to social media, Twitter Ads allows us to target our audience by interests, demographics, device, and network. With traditional marketing, we might create a Facebook ad campaign, paying per click (i.e., we’ll pay to have our ad shown when someone clicks on it).
From a personal blog to YouTube videos to Instagram stories, the line between traditional and online marketing has blurred. Offline marketing tactics, like radio ads and billboards, are now used virtually everywhere, while the methods of attracting attention online are also incorporated into traditional marketing.
So, if you want to establish a successful marketing presence in your niche, you need to understand both traditional and online marketing, what makes them unique, and how to best incorporate the strengths of each into your overall strategy.