Traditional media vs digital media: when to use each

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 16 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

With so many different marketing and advertising methods now available, businesses have plenty of choices in how they can spend their marketing budget. Previously, most would have chosen solely traditional channels for advertising, but now digital media offers attractive opportunities for brand awareness, engagement and conversions. These methods aren't mutually exclusive, and traditional media and digital media can combine well to achieve several marketing goals. In this article, we define traditional media vs digital media and consider how businesses can use each channel effectively to achieve their marketing goals.

What are traditional media vs digital media channels?

If you're new to marketing, it's important to understand the difference between traditional media vs digital media. Traditional media encapsulates offline channels, including TV, radio, print and billboards. This form of advertising has been around since the beginning of commerce. Today companies use it for brand building and awareness. Businesses use TV, radio and 'out of house' (or billboard) advertising to build brand and product awareness and engagement. Print is still powerful for brand engagement and direct conversions. If businesses can find their target customers through print, they have a captive audience for advertorials, product placement and direct advertising.

Digital media describes online advertising. Customers see adverts every time they go on the internet, on places like social media platforms, news websites, e-commerce sites, review websites and blogs. Display ads are powerful and valuable to businesses. Brands can target customers precisely, using different pricing models to display their ads in front of relevant users at the right time of day. Media buyers have an endless inventory in the digital world and customers now see highly tailored advertising. Digital media can be highly effective and also far less expensive than some traditional means.

Related: What does a media strategist do? (And how to become one)

Examples of traditional media advertising channels

Some of the most common examples of traditional media include:

Print media

Print media subscriptions to newspapers and magazines have dropped significantly, but some publications still see strong subscriber numbers. Print media can offer highly credible sources of information, memorable engagement and high-quality reading experiences. Customers tend to trust the publications that they choose to read and spend more time consuming the content within these publications. The adverts and content they consume have a higher level of engagement than online advertising and there's a higher level of trust. Companies can consider publication circulation and readership figures to see whether there's a good audience fit before advertising.

TV

TV has also changed since the world went digital and viewers can now stream any content that they want, on-demand. Most customers do watch TV still in some way and the medium can still be highly effective and worthwhile for advertisers. Consider, for example, the volume of children's TV toy advertisements channels show between weekend cartoons on commercial TV. TV advertising can be very expensive but costs vary greatly. Businesses with smaller budgets may choose to advertise on themed channels, such as sports or DIY so that they can better and more affordably connect with a smaller target audience.

Radio

Radio is highly cost-effective, impactful and remains very popular. Many people listen to their favourite radio station at some point during the day, especially when commuting, working or relaxing after work at home. Radio adverts grow brand awareness and creative adverts have high memory recall and engagement. Production is inexpensive and the potential audience is broad, capturing a wide demographic across a national or regional area. Radio adverts also tend to be relatively cheap.

Out of house advertising

OoH (Out-of-House) advertising is billboard advertising, which is a powerful choice for brands that want to advertise locally for a specific geography. The right location and the right creativity are key to a successful billboard advert. Businesses can achieve a desirable ROI if they get the physical placement and visual campaign right. Because of the high volume of passers-by, billboard adverts can increase brand awareness and offer a high degree of recall for customers. Businesses can also saturate a particular area with multiple adverts to boost interest, engagement and a strong desire to convert, such as for a product launch.

Examples of digital media advertising channels

Some of the most common examples of digital media advertising include:

Social media

Social media is perhaps the most obvious choice of platform for online advertising as almost everyone has at least one social media account and many people have several. Social media platforms offer commercial advertising, as do smaller and more niche platforms for personal or business use. Brands can advertise in different ways and also engage with followers via organic written, video or graphic content.

This offers businesses the chance to market their products and services using paid advertising and unpaid social engagement. It can be a powerful marketing channel because of the reach and power of the platform, but it's necessary for businesses to invest time and money to build a following. Social media also requires ongoing content and active engagement or followers switch-off. Competition is also high so brands work hard to carefully target their advertising to niche groups, to avoid expensive competition with other big-budget brands.

Related: 10 social media tools to manage your social media presence

Email marketing

Email marketing can be a powerful and practical choice for advertising because the medium allows brands to directly message customers in their inboxes. Many people use their phones to check their emails throughout the day and this form of advertising can have a high ROI, particularly for lead conversion and website growth. It's important for businesses to build their email database, managing consents and unsubscribes carefully to stay compliant with GDPR. When businesses have successful sign-ups, they can then regularly send out highly-targeted and engaging content to customers.

Websites

Businesses use websites to share content with their customers. When they combine it with ongoing Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) investment, websites can reach wider audiences through SEO-focused content marketing strategies. In these cases, businesses can create highly targeted content for web pages and blog posts for users to land on when searching for specific queries. Many businesses combine SEO over time to grow inbound traffic, with the immediacy of online PPC advertising traffic and other strategies such as email marketing and social media marketing.

Businesses also improve the accessibility of their website to engage customers and build traffic, working on their keywords, links and metadata so that their content is more likely to show higher on search engine results. As with social media, websites need ongoing management and fresh content to remain relevant and engaging to visitors. Many businesses use their websites as direct e-commerce channels and for sales leads, so they may invest in chatbots and other functions to optimise the sales conversion process online.

Related: 14 social media metrics for tracking campaign success

Video streaming

Video advertising is now hugely popular on video platforms. The medium allows brands to tell their story in a highly visual and engaging way, akin to TV in its emotional response and power but with the benefit of precise targeting and cost-effective pricing models. Businesses that produce content for TV often place the same adverts on video streaming platforms to maximise their reach and leverage their content.

Should businesses choose traditional or digital media?

Both traditional and digital media offer advertising and PR opportunities to businesses so that they can connect with target audiences. For most brands, the best solution is to combine both methods to maximise the reach, scope and engagement of their advertising campaign. Every platform offers its particular benefits, and an integrated marketing strategy can help to ensure that a business's target audience engages across different platforms, at different times of day and in response to different campaigns. Such campaigns range from brand or product awareness to emotional connection, intent to purchase and direct conversion.

For many smaller businesses, traditional media may be too expensive and digital media is the priority of choice, particularly for a new brand with a smaller budget and a young, tech-savvy audience with a propensity to be online. These businesses may seek to extend the value of their digital campaigns by using PR to build trust and credibility via traditional media and by working with influencers to extend their advertising into referral marketing campaigns. The ability to precisely target, measure and adjust campaigns within tightly governed budgets can bring powerful results when digital marketing professionals manage them expertly.

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