old Sears catalog

Traditional marketing channels are dying. Newspaper circulation is on a downward spiral. Radio audiences have flatlined. And television commercials are commonly viewed as the time to get up and get a snack. All the well-worn weapons in a marketer’s arsenal — from print ads to direct mail to the humble catalog — are facing what seems like an unrelenting encroachment on their territory. And what is undermining their dominance? 

Digital marketing.

The hype surrounding digital marketing has hit peak levels. So why are marketers are getting so excited about new ways of spreading brand awareness?

  • Automation tools like HubSpot can turn "likes" into leads
  • In contrast with, for instance, a billboard campaign, measuring the ROI of a digital marketing campaign is actually (kind of) possible
  • You can target and modify campaigns far more easily. Realize some of your content isn’t quite right for your audience? Edit your website — the same can’t be said for a direct mail distributed to tens of thousands of customers
  • So. Many. Channels. You have more methods of reaching more audiences, more easily — from mobile to video to social media listening to landing pages to apps and beyond
  • Slash budgets. Unlike printing, filming and distributing ‘analogue’ marketing material, digital can get your messages across at a fraction of the cost

Given the rise and rise of digital, is it time to forget traditional tools and focus all of your energies on building a dynamic social media profile, writing some SEO packed pages and tweeting like a small blue bird? Or is there still hope for the old school?

What Professionals Say About Digital Marketing

In Salesforce’s 2015 State of Marketing report, over 5000 marketing professionals fed back on their current and upcoming digital marketing focus. Eighty-four percent of marketers planned to increase spending on digital channels in the coming year, and 38 percent intend to shift from traditional to digital advertising. Among the top areas for spending were social media advertising, social media marketing, social media engagement, location based mobile tracking and investment in mobile apps. Email remains a core part of most (73 percent) of marketers’ strategy and over 14 percent of respondents reported sending more than 25 million marketing emails per year.

That’s a lot of spam.

In an unequivocal article titled "Why You Shouldn’t Waste Any More Money on Traditional Marketing" Amplify Reach co-founder Tony Pataky argues:

“Everything seems to be moving online. Rather than being told to buy something, customers now enjoy the ability to search for what they need. This also allows businesses to focus their advertisements on a select target audience, rather than waste expenses on unreceptive ones that traditional marketing techniques generally provide”.

You Need Glasses

For its 2014 Spring Collection campaign, JCPenney Optical decided to implement its first major online branding campaign. It shifted part of its budgets from traditional marketing to digital, improved search exposure and ran targeting advertising across the Google Display Network. This approach lead to a leap in online exposure (by a staggering 830 percent), a 285 percent rise in online store conversions and a greater foot traffic in physical JCPenney stores — just what the company needed after a near-fatal rebranding. What does this show? Quite simply, combining digital with traditional marketing techniques leads boosted sales.

Some traditional marketing techniques — posters and flyers in particular — are as old as civilization itself. And despite the ubiquity of the Internet, people do actually leave their bedrooms, meaning these marketing techniques still have impact. It’s also worth remembering that in spite of the success of inbound marketing — it only attracts people who are aware of your product. There’s a lot of people out there who don’t know how great your services are however, so outbound, traditional techniques still have their place.

Studying the effects of cross-channel marketing is far from easy. Linking one technique with a sale – finding cause and effect — is infamously difficult for marketers. However, a 2014 study on cross-channel effects of digital vs. traditional advertising at a major American clothes retailer attempted to do just that. By analyzing two years’ worth of weekly sales data (in both online and physical stores) and comparing this with the various online and offline marketing campaigns, the researchers were able to explore the comparative impact of different marketing techniques. Most importantly, they were able to show how digital campaigns led to offline sales, and traditional campaigns also led to online conversions.

“Our results demonstrate that the impact of advertising a) is not just within a single purchase channel, but across multiple channels [and] b) has differential effects on customer counts and spend across channels.”

While traditional advertising for this firm in particular was less effective, it did nonetheless serve a purpose. Getting rid of it altogether would have been counterproductive. The researchers were also quick to stress that every business will be dealing with its own specific challenges and needs, meaning there’s not cut and fast marketing model for all companies.

A Holistic Treatment

As the examples above show, discounting traditional marketing techniques from your campaign would be premature. For all the digital marketing agencies who want to convince us that traditional methods are dead, the research indicates otherwise. Instead of dividing the world into two competing alternatives, marketers should aim to build a high impact campaign that incorporates the most targeted and effective tools to reach out to their specific audience.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  JeepersMedia