Digital marketing vs traditional marketing: which is best?

  • Article by

    Amie Whale

Digital marketing vs traditional marketing: which is best? - eighty3 creative

How is digital marketing different from traditional marketing and which is the best option for your business?

Having a marketing budget is vital in any business. However, trying to make the most of it, especially when you’re working with a tight one, can cause a few unwanted headaches.

The problem many businesses have is trying to decide which kind of marketing they want to do because their budget simply won’t stretch far enough to cover every avenue or they’re unsure on what direction to go.

According to Rakuten Marketing, marketers believe they waste an average of 26% of their budgets on ineffective channels and strategies, while 2.9% of respondents think they squandered more than 80% of their budgets.

A perfect starting point to solving this dilemma is to compare digital marketing and traditional marketing. By getting a better understanding of the digital marketing vs traditional marketing debate, you’ll be able to identify which marketing method is best for your goals and how it can be applied.

Digital marketing vs traditional marketing – the differences

What is digital marketing?
Digital marketing refers to any form of digital/online marketing campaigns. This includes:


Digital marketing has become increasingly important over the past couple of decades as internet usage continues to soar with more people accessing it via their mobile phones. This is being led by the needs and wants of computer-savvy Millennials and Generation Z professionals.

With technology constantly being developed and new digital ideas begin to leverage the power of artificial intelligence (AI), it’s hard to look past digital marketing as a top marketing method.

However, does this mean digital marketing is better than traditional marketing? Not necessarily.

What is traditional marketing?
In contrast, traditional marketing is a form of marketing that helps businesses reach a semi-targeted audience using offline methods. This includes:

  • Print – magazines and newspapers
  • Phone – SMS marketing and telemarketing
  • Direct mail – lumpy mail campaigns, postcards and catalogues
  • Outdoor – flyers and billboard adverts
  • Broadcast – TV and radio adverts


Despite everyone encountering some sort of traditional marketing every day, its presence is almost impossible to ignore. If something is physical, customers can keep it for a long period. For instance, if a customer sees an ad for a gardener in their local newspaper, they’ll often keep it and get in touch when they have a need for their services.

Digital marketing vs traditional marketing – the pros and cons

The pros of digital marketing
One of the biggest differences between digital marketing and traditional marketing is the fact that the former gives you the option to interact with your audience in real-time through social media networks. While commenting on blogs and instant replies via email helps continue the conversation at any given time.

There’s also the added benefit of sharing. Granted, a prospect could easily spread the word about your business to their friends and family following a traditional marketing means, but it doesn’t have the same potential reach as digital marketing. It only takes one comment on LinkedIn or a blog share on Facebook to reach thousands of people beyond your target audience.

Your audience can choose how they want to receive your content too, which isn’t strictly possible with traditional marketing. For example, one potential customer might love reading your content and will subscribe to your emails, while another prefers to engage in your social media channels instead. Digital marketing gives you the power of market segmentation and tailor campaigns to suit certain tastes.

The cost of digital marketing is often cheaper than traditional marketing as well, providing it’s done well. There are no print costs to think about and every campaign can target a specific type of customer, based on buying habits, location, interests and even salary average.

You’ll generate real-time results, which can be tracked using Google Analytics and insight tools provided by social media channels. There’s no second-guessing the return on investment (ROI) of a campaign, as you’ll have the statistics to prove it.

The cons of digital marketing
All-in-all, digital marketing has minimal disadvantages. However, they do exist. Like most things nowadays, we rely heavily on technology. So, when this breaks it can leave you in a sticky situation.

There are also security and GDPR stipulations to think about when it comes to email marketing and social media marketing. It only takes one breach of a users’ information and your business could face a substantial fine and damage in reputation.

More specifically, social media channels have started tightening up advertisements on social media to put a stop to clickbait posts from businesses. While the algorithms implemented can make it very easy for posts to get lost if it doesn’t generate instant comments and likes. It can take years to master the art of being seen and boosting brand awareness on social media platforms.

The pros of traditional marketing

As we mentioned earlier, traditional marketing is hard to ignore. You can easily reach your target local audience in printed publications or by posting something through the door.

Your audience won’t simply scroll past or delete, they’ll have something physical in their hands which demands them to take action. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on the quality of your marketing.

There are no algorithms to contend with, GDPR to follow or complexities surrounding keywords to think about. Anyone can run a campaign with ease and cut through the noise generated by digital marketing methods.

Neuroscience seems to support the benefits of hard copy marketing too. According to a study sponsored by Canada Post, direct mail requires 21% less cognitive effort to process than digital media, suggesting that it is both easier to understand and more memorable.

The cons of traditional marketing
On the flip side of traditional marketing, it doesn’t generate much interaction between the medium used and your customers unless they’re buying something. Therefore, it’s extremely hard to gauge whether a campaign can be regarded as a success or not.

Not having the luxury of measuring a traditional marketing campaign can result in you wasting budgets on ineffective methods or trying to plea your case to stubborn board members who want to see an immediate ROI.

As we touched upon in the digital marketing pros, traditional marketing methods like print or radio advertisements can be expensive due to the printing materials and people needed to distribute it effectively. You also don’t have the luxury of AI and technology to target audiences based on their behaviours.

Digital marketing vs traditional marketing – the verdict

When you compare digital marketing vs traditional marketing, there are benefits to adopting both approaches. The former hinges on modern technology and is more aligned with 21st century consumer behaviours, while the latter plays on the human tendency to prefer something physical they can touch and see.

The good news is that they can work together harmoniously. Your marketing budget shouldn’t hinge on the digital marketing vs traditional marketing debate. Instead, it pays to think smarter and try to find ways of using both tactics to market effectively. Sure, you may favour one over the other, but relying on one means alone is a dangerous approach and has the potential to permanently damage your customer journey.

Think of it this way, a direct mail campaign to engage with a dream list is nothing without an email follow-up to get the conversation started. In the same way, a speculative email isn’t always going to be warmly received if there isn’t a TV or printed advert in place to boost brand awareness and credibility.

Your best bet is to adopt a multi-channel approach that leverages the benefits of both avenues. If you’re able to achieve this, you’ll not only appeal to a bigger audience, but you’ll start making every penny of your marketing budget work in your favour.

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