Traditional vs Digital Marketing – Yes, it can be confusing!

In response to my LinkedIn Pulse article “The not-so-secret sauce of great Digital Marketing” (and blog post here), a LinkedIn user wrote to me: “your article was a great read, but it’s embarrassing that I am still a bit fuzzy on the basic differences between traditional and digital marketing. Is traditional marketing dead?

First, there is no need to be embarrassed. I have an MBA in Marketing and have been practicing Integrated Marketing Communications for over twenty years now – and am only now a bit confident that I can explain in simple terms what the precise difference is!


Whether traditional or digital, marketing at its core is still what it has always been – a business function to create a profitable market for differentiated value. In other words, marketers create/unlock and monetize value. What is value? Anything that is beneficial to users due to their demographics, psychographics, behaviors, or usage attitudes. I wrote about my favorite example in another blog post here and LinkedIn article here – that of an Indian shampoo company selling single-use shampoo sachets and selling them in weekend markets – because users couldn’t afford bottles and preferred the affordable sachets, and because retailers wouldn’t stock the sachets due to low margins so the producers had to sell in the weekend markets. It’s a fantastic example of how marketers create a market for differentiated value – the shampoo producer made available the benefits of shampoo by targeting an unexplored market segment and created a unique marketing mix of product, price, promotion, and placement.

That’s marketing for you. Simple. Really.

Digital Marketing is (process) Integrated and Interactive

Fundamentally, both traditional and digital marketing do the same thing – create a market for value. What are the differences? Beyond the obvious difference that digital marketing uses digital media as opposed to print or broadcast media, the really important distinction is that digital marketers use Integration and Engagement (or Interaction). In traditional marketing, to a very large extent, the functional areas of marketing, advertising, and sales are silos as processes. Marketing people focus on segmentation, targeting, and positioning, and on designing the marketing mix – product, price, place, and promotion. Advertising is then handed over to advertising specialists. And finally sales is handled by a dedicated sales force. These operate as three different verticals. Everyone has shared goals but beyond that there is no true process integration.

That is not the case in digital marketing. In digital, marketing, advertising, and sales are (or should be) a completely integrated process – and thanks to technology, dashboards make the same data available to everyone – so everyone is on the same page.

How does the process integration work?

Digital marketing is an interconnected system. Marketing and Advertising must work in sync to highlight the multiple dimensions of the value proposition as customers seek more and more information to make a prudent decision. Whether the route taken to make a market offering visible is Search Engines, Social Media, Programmatic Advertising, or Content Marketing, marketers and advertisers must work in tandem because every piece of information that advertisers put out leads to the next as buyers move along their buyer journeys – and marketers need to inform advertisers on the exact nature of the information chain – or the different marketing assets that customers encounter along the way. For example, your Facebook ad leads customers to a landing page which is directed at a specific audience. So your advertising team needs to know precisely how to target the Facebook ads. Advertising needs to understand how the buyer journey works in the context of your industry. Sure, you can have dedicated media buying and planning teams – but they must be fully aware of the overall marketing strategy to be good at what they do. They can’t just buy media and insert the creative and be done with it. Not anymore.

The second big difference is Engagement. Marketing and Sales must work closely to keep the customers engaged till they are ready to buy. And, no, you can’t just resort to dinner and a movie to keep your customers engaged. You must make available to them the resources they need to make prudent decisions in your product category – resources like whitepapers, how-to guides, e-mail newsletters, blog posts, infographics, and more – that keep the customers engaged and informed. These are the resources that will keep potential customers in the sales pipeline – so sales folks have to constantly provide feedback to marketing on whether or not the marketing collateral is working! This in addition to analytics that marketers must themselves use to see what resources work best.

A very handy graphic illustration of the nature of process integration and engagement written about above comes from the good folks at Inbound Marketing Agency, Australia:

In the graphic below, loosely, you could map advertising to attracting traffic, marketing to converting (engaging) leads, and sales to of course sales. But notice that the system depicts an integrated process – you do not have silos – because what advertisers put on search engines, social media, or content marketing is heavily guided by the folks in marketing. Long gone are the days of marketing people “washing their hands off” of the product after approving a “creative brief” for a topnotch ad agency and finally breathing down the necks of the sales team to meet targets.

Now, everyone has to work in tandem – thanks to technology that makes this system or process integration possible.


(image source: | used with permission)

I do hope the differences are amply clear now. This is an exhaustive topic – hopefully I’ve done justice in a blog post.

A good next step would be to explore technologies marketers use to integrate the marketing process and engage customers. A very simple, almost trivial, example is your social media ads feeding leads directly to your CRM system – where you can automatically grade leads and allocate them to different bins for different types of engagement activities. As is obvious, everyone on your team must be aware of the rules you use to bin your leads. Everyone must be on the same page. That’s what so great and challenging at the same time about this amazing thing called Digital Marketing!

Wait, there’s more!

There is another third difference between the traditional and digital marketing – one of epic proportions in 2018 – digital marketing is non-linear. In traditional marketing, the channels of communication and distribution are limited – so the flows from the marketer to the customer are linear. In digital marketing, there are multiple channels of both communication and distribution – so both the buyer journey (across multiple touch points) and the flows from the marketer to the customer are non-linear. But, really, this is beyond the scope of this post and needs a separate post!

Good Luck.

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