As marketers, we’re caught between the old and the new — digital marketing, with all it’s promise (but significant risk and uncertainty) and traditional marketing, that we’ve counted on for decades.

Is it really a choice between digital marketing and traditional marketing? Or do the two fit together like and hand in glove?

What you’ll learn from this post:

  1. What is digital marketing?
  2. What is traditional marketing?
  3. How digital marketing and traditional marketing fit together?
  4. Divergent and complementary skill sets necessary for success at digital marketing and traditional marketing.

What is digital marketing?

To some, digital marketing is synonymous with social media marketing, but that’s simply not the case.

So, what is digital marketing? According to Techopedia, digital marketing is:

Digital marketing includes a raft of Internet marketing techniques, such as search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and link building. It also extends to non-Internet channels that provide digital media, such as short messaging service (SMS), multimedia messaging service (MMS), callback and on-hold mobile ring tones, e–books, optical disks and games.

But, there are a lot of definition for digital marketing.

Here’s one a really like from Scott Gardner, a Senior VP at Bank of America:

Engaging customers and prospects in digital channels, including mobile and social, where they are increasingly seeking information. We employ a number of strategies including offering informative content from a trusted source that is accessible across all digital devices, platforms and channels and which we believe empowers customers to make informed decisions that will help them improve their lives.

We’ll return to Gardner’s definition in a little bit.

For now, let’s just look at the variety of tactics that fit into digital marketing. Recognize that this is not an exhaustive list, just one that shows the breadth of digital marketing activities.

  • SEO (search engine optimization)
  • SEM (search engine marketing, which is related to SEO)
  • SMM (social media marketing)
  • email marketing
  • Content marketing
  • SMS marketing (short message service — on mobile)
  • Digital advertising
  • and others

A couple of key points here.

  1. Everything has to be integrated.
  2. The world changes at the whim of platforms like Facebook and Google, so you need to constantly update your digital marketing strategies.
  3. The relative importance of these strategies changes all the time.

Traditional marketing

According to the American Marketing Association, marketing is:

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

This definition is relatively new — less than a year old. Earlier definitions highlighted similar activities and the importance of exchange in marketing.

Marketing is NOT sales or advertising. Its much broader than that. Sales and advertising are simply aspects of overall marketing.

content marketing across the funnelHere are some of the elements critical within marketing:

  • Branding (brand equity, brand image, brand personality)
  • Target marketing (personas, segmentation, positioning)
  • The 4 P’s (product, promotion, place, price)
  • Consumer decision-making (heuristics, hierarchy of effects, learning and cognition)
  • Consumer research
  • Perception (subliminal perception, JND. perceptual mapping)
  • Consumer value
  • Group influence and persuasion
  • Relationship marketing
  • Metrics-based decision-making
  • Ethics and corporate social responsibility
  • and, more

How do digital marketing and traditional marketing fit together?

First off, it’s not an either or situation of digital marketing and traditional marketing. You CAN (and probably should) do both.

Secondly, you shouldn’t do digital marketing like it was traditional marketing. They’re very different tools for communicating with your target audience.

That said, digital marketing is more effective if you remember the concepts that made traditional marketing successful.

I see folks — very reputable and successful folks — wasting time “rediscovering” concepts that traditional marketers knew for nearly 100 years (marketing is only about 85 years old. I comes from incorporating psychology and economics into a separate discipline). Consumers may have changed, but the underlying concepts are still valid because they’re based on human behavior.

  • You still need to segment your marketing and develop ways of communicating that match your target market and what they value.
  • You still need to provide value, which requires you understand the value system of your target market
  • You still use influence and persuasion — in fact, group influence and persuasion are much more embedded in digital marketing than traditional marketing that relies heavily on one to many communication.
  • You still need to understand your customers’ journeys and provide the right communication for each stage in the process.
  • You still need strong branding that resonates with your target audience.
  • Etc.

Skill sets differ between digital marketing and traditional marketing

Digital marketing and traditional marketing require a very different skill set.

Traditional marketing is much more planning and strategy and less on implementation. That’s because an entire ecosystem evolved around traditional marketing. You have advertising agencies, PR firms, branding and image firms, promotional materials companies, guerrilla marketing firms, market research firms. That means marketers don’t require a lot of technical skills and can outsource a lot of the implementation. I’m not convinced outsourcing (even within the same firm) is a good idea — it can lead to disjointed efforts that don’t move the brand forward and close the deal and many of these outsourced folks don’t understand marketing.

Digital marketing can (and does) use some of these same agencies and more outsourcing happens all the time, but digital marketers still need a more extensive skill set — especially when it comes to technical skills. Don’t confuse this statement with any endorsement of using technical folks, like developers, to handle your digital marketing — they just don’t have the marketing chops. By the same token, digital marketing involves storytelling, but while novelists and journalists might be effective for creating your content, they don’t understand marketing.

Thus, digital marketing requires the following skills that aren’t necessary for traditional marketing:

digital marketing success

Creative expertise

In traditional marketing, you have whole departments dedicated to creative — film makers, photographers, music directors, photo editing folks (who are true artists. During a faculty internship at Grey Advertising on summer, I saw an amazing photoshop where the editor was removing a full body tattoo from a female model), copywriters, …

In digital marketing, you could still use these folks, but content is often created on the fly. So, instead of weeks or months building a campaign by bringing the right talent together with plenty of time to edit and coordinate, you’re creating fresh content on a daily basis. Outsourcing often just doesn’t work when you need infographics or images for today’s post.

So, digital marketers commonly need some rudimentary creative skills.

Digital expertise

Traditional marketers know little or nothing about broadcasting or printing. They don’t have to.

But, digital marketers need digital expertise, including some HTML and CSS so their content appears the way they want it to. Digital marketers might need some experience with databases to extract information for analysis.

Digital marketers also need to understand SEO and other technical aspects of online marketing — things like keywords and meta tags.

Understanding social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest are also critical for digital marketers if they want to optimize their performance on these platforms.

One-on-one communication

Probably the most important skill necessary for success in digital marketing is the ability to communicate one-on-one. Digital marketers need to care about their target audience and relate to them like a friend. Unlike the traditional marketing roles of a sales person who also related one-on-one, digital marketers have to relate on a less commercial level to be successful.

Thus, instead of filling my posts with marketing communications, I need to provide value that highlights my ability, then hope you decide to contract with me to handle your digital marketing. Sure, I include a small call to action at the bottom of my posts so you’ll know what action I want you to take, but the rest is really focused on solving YOUR problem, not trying to influence you to hire me.

This balancing act between providing value and driving sales is difficult. It’s even difficult for clients to understand. I once encountered a prospect who, after I made my pitch, said “we’re really not comfortable talking about anything except ourselves”. Well, then you should stick with traditional marketing because digital marketing won’t work for you.

Beyond simply crafting engaging one-on-one communication, digital marketers have to let prospects and customers behind the curtain — develop a friendship with them, not a commercial transaction. That means letting customers and prospects get to know you as a person, not just a spokesperson for your brand