Digital Marketing vs. Traditional Marketing

If you’re like our typical client, you have limited resources for marketing. You may be the entire marketing department, or you might have one or two people on your team. You have a budget, but that budget has to cover all the marketing you do, from billboards to social media. Ask a roomful of people how they would look for an organization like yours, where they’d go for answers to questions about health issues, or how they’d learn more about a referral from a friend. We know you’d get a chorus of “Google!” Even so, you may feel stuck when you’re trying to decide how to allocate funds to digital marketing vs. traditional marketing.

In Think Like a Freak, economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner tell the story of a company that knew TV worked better than print. How? Because whenever they did TV ads, they saw huge sales. However, since TV ads cost a lot more than digital marketing, the company saved up and ran their TV ads in time for Black Friday and Christmas. Was it the TV ads or the timing that drove the big sales? No one knew, because experimentation seemed too risky. You may feel the same way about traditional and digital marketing.

Here are some factors to consider.


Traditional media is, well, traditional. You probably know which channels work well for you, and you may be more confident with a media buy for radio or newspapers because you’ve been doing it for years. You know your local stations and papers and you see the billboards. It makes sense to you. If this is true, then one of the advantages of using traditional media such as magazine ads or direct mail is that it’s comfortable.

If you’re not comfortable with digital media, you’re in the right place. Our blog is written for businesspeople and marketers, not for tech wizards. If you have specific questions or want to see how what we’re saying here can apply to your organization, you can call or email us and we will be happy to help.


In some communities, a presence in established local traditional media channels gives legitimacy. Your board of directors likes to see you on TV or your customers feel you look legit when they see you in a magazine ad.

On the other hand, the proportion of consumers who feel this way is falling fast. In Nielsen’s 2021 consumer trust survey, they found that 88% of consumers surveyed trust their friends and families’ recommendations, 84% trust brand websites, and 66% trust newspaper articles.

Only 78% trust TV ads, 56% trust ads in magazines, and 54% trust ads on radio.

Nielsen also tells us (in their most recent report) that the use of both radio and TV are in decline. Today’s consumers are more likely to use internet-connected devices even to watch TV shows, and computer-streamed broadcasting is more popular for listening and watching. Smartphones, tablets, and personal computers are all still on the rise. So don’t assume that your target market will be impressed by your TV ad… they may not even see it.


Broadcasters may have some idea of how large their market is, but they can’t tell you how many of their audience members took action on your ad. Digital media is so much more measurable than traditional media that there’s no comparison, and it’s getting more measurable as time goes on. Traditional media is not.

Your newspaper ad’s circulation numbers are based on the number of subscribers and the number of purchasers of the paper — maybe even the number of papers printed. You know that the ad salespeople can’t tell you how many people read the paper that day instead of tossing it right into the recycling bin, how many people read the page with your ad on it, or how many people who saw that page actually stopped to read your ad.

Cost effectiveness

Google Ads shows your ad only to people who are looking for what you have to offer, and you pay only if they click on your ad. Strong content on your website can reach thousands of people for every dollar you pay for it. Social media can spread your message far beyond the word of mouth channels available to you in the physical world. Digital marketing is not free, but it’s far less costly than traditional media, and the potential reach is far greater.

If you’re looking for better ROI, digital marketing will almost always outdo traditional media.


We’ve met plenty of marketers who are emotionally connected to the community magazine, the local NPR station, or the very idea of TV ads. Fortunately, you can use digital media to support your broadcast and print investment.

If you’re planning to use traditional media, follow the trendsetters and use it to direct people to your website, the medium which is second only to advice from friends and family in terms of consumer trust. Use a QR code, put your URL (web address) on your billboard, invite customers to find you on Facebook.

Then feature that expensive print ad on your blog, post that pricey TV commercial on YouTube (make sure it’s good enough to attract viewers), and reuse your radio spots in your social media.






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