Traditional Marketing vs. Digital Marketing

You want to make sure your marketing dollars are put to good use. You’ve probably heard that marketing strategies can be placed into two broad categories: digital marketing, and traditional marketing.

There’s a bit of a false dichotomy at play in the title – your traditional marketing strategies can boost your digital marketing, and vice versa. Most companies will employ both traditional and digital marketing. Striking the right balance between the two is the key.

To help you find that balance, we’re going to define both traditional and digital marketing, and look at the pros and cons of each. From there, we’ll give you our thoughts on the best way to spend your advertising budget


What is traditional marketing?

“Non-digital marketing” might be a better name for traditional marketing. It says a lot about the way the winds are blowing, that traditional marketing is most often defined as “any type of marketing that isn’t online”. 

By this definition, traditional marketing has been around since time immemorial – the first artisan who painted their name on a wooden sign at a bazaar was doing traditional marketing. For this reason, almost every brick-and-mortar business is engaged in some small degree of traditional marketing.

More examples of traditional marketing include:

  • Billboards
  • TV ads
  • Newspaper ads
  • Telemarketing
  • Radio ads

We could go on – again, if it’s not online, it’s traditional. It’s pretty obvious how interlinked traditional marketing and digital marketing are – if you include a URL in any of your traditional marketing, you’re crossing the streams. And in this case, that’s a good thing.


Traditional Marketing: Pros


We’re not historians, but we suspect that traditional marketing has been around for at least as long as the written word – if not longer. Fun fact: pubs have names like “The King’s Head” because most of their customers were illiterate but could recognize pictorial signage, which was used in place of written words.

This is all to say that traditional marketing benefits from millennia of trial and error. Digital marketing can draw from this experience, too, but it simply doesn’t have the same historical precedents as its traditional cousins.



While not all traditional marketing is long-lasting (TV and radio spots, for example, are often pretty temporary), some traditional marketing lasts for decades. From storefront signage to old magazines people don’t throw out, traditional marketing is often physical – so it lasts a long time.


Changes attitudes

Traditional marketing isn’t usually something customers actively engage with – they passively absorb it. That makes it particularly well-suited for changing attitudes; it’s specifically geared toward making people like your brand more subconsciously through familiarity. That makes it a great option for global brands, which is why you still see Coca-Cola ads even though everyone knows what Coca-Cola is already.


Traditional Marketing: Cons


Difficult to measure

How many people walk into your store because they love the sign out front or because they can’t get your jingle out of their heads? How do you even begin to measure that? There are methods, but they’re less accurate than the methods used in digital marketing.



Not all traditional marketing is expensive – you can paint some scrap wood and nail it to your storefront pretty inexpensively. TV ads and the like, on the other hand, are quite pricey.


Less granular

You’re casting a broad net with traditional marketing – a lot of people will see your ad, and you hope that some of them might be interested in your product. That means you can’t be as selective with your marketing efforts.


What is digital marketing?

Any and all online marketing efforts are digital marketing. Do you have a website? That’s digital marketing. Social media accounts? Digital marketing. You get the idea.

Other forms of digital marketing include:

  • SEO
  • PPC ads
  • Email marketing

SEO, in particular, stands out in the digital marketing space because how well you rank in search engines is a reflection of almost everything else you do online. Web design and social media best practices are a natural extension of SEO best practices, because most web traffic flows through search engines.


Digital marketing: Pros


Want data and analytics? Digital marketing is the way to go. Google, Facebook, and other digital giants have built-in analytics – there’s a reason we’re in the age of Big Data. 3rd-party digital marketing companies have also created their own analytics software. It’s possible to track almost anything you could imagine using digital marketing – and we can use that data to make the marketing even better. It’s a positive feedback loop.



Have you decided that you want to improve your market share among 40-55 year olds who love skateboarding in Montreal? We can get that granular. Digital marketing is perfect when you’re trying to target a specific segment.


Changes behaviours

When someone looks up “bike shop near me”, you better believe their plan for the next 24 hours involves going to a bike shop. That’s how digital marketing changes behaviour – if your website comes up before your competitor’s in Google, the chances are pretty good that they’re going to your bike shop.

On the other hand, if your bike shop doesn’t even show up in the search results, you’re down a customer. Digital marketing changes the actions your potential clients are going to take right now.

Digital Marketing: Cons

Rapidly changing

SEO 20 years ago was about hiding keywords in your website’s background where users wouldn’t notice them. SEO today is nothing like that. The digital landscape shifts rapidly – so does digital marketing. You can’t just do the same thing you were doing 5 years ago.


More difficult to understand

The proper use of the canonical link element can prevent your pages from cannibalising each other’s rank in Google.

If you just said “Huh?” – you’re not alone. Digital marketing has a lot to do with coding and data-tracking. It’s easy to understand how a fun, colourful TV commercial can inspire people – it’s harder to understand what inspires Google’s algorithm to boost your rank.



Digital marketing is all interconnected. An badly thought out social media post can lead to a stream of bad reviews, which can discourage people from visiting your website, which can cause your rank to drop in Google. To make use of digital marketing, you need to be constantly monitoring a lot of moving parts.


Which type of marketing is right for your business?

The answer is, almost definitely, both. In the current landscape, however, we’d suggest that most businesses focus on digital marketing.

Why? Because you get more bang for your buck, and you encourage changes in behaviour instead of attitude. For most small to medium-sized businesses, the key is getting people into your store – brand recognition will stem from positive word-of-mouth.

What’s more, brick-and-mortar stores aren’t the be all and end all of retail sales anymore. E-commerce accounts for about 15% of all retail sales – and the number is only slated to go up.

That’s why we started our SEO agency in Winnipeg, Manitoba – because we believe SEO is the best way you can spend your advertising budget. Digital sales are only growing – digital marketing is the way to go.

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The purpose of First Rank is to help businesses generate leads from their websites. We put a focus on SEO, because we believe it is one of the most cost effective and highest converting forms of traffic generation, however traffic alone is not enough on its own to grow your business. SEO should be combined with conversion optimization, email marketing and retargeting to maximize the ROI of your advertising dollars.