Thinking Traditional in the Era of Digital Marketing

As part of Chatham’s Marketing major curriculum, students are required to take BUS496: Digital Marketing. Channels covered in the class include search engine optimization, paid search, display advertising, content marketing, and social media marketing. The curriculum does not include TV, radio, and newspaper channels, because none of these media are classified as digital. But are they so obsolete that they should be eliminated from the larger marketing discussion completely? Maybe not.

vintage radio

This summer, I interned at Steel City Media, which owns 2 radio stations but also sells more than 50 digital products, at the cross-section of digital and traditional marketing. I just spent a semester in Digital Marketing, learning about the many channels people can be reached through the internet. But now I learned that 93% of all people are reached by radio. That makes it still relevant in the field. So why are we quick to lump ‘traditional’ modes of advertising together? Newspaper and TV are on a completely different track than radio. Many newspapers have gone digital which eliminates their classification as traditional media, and ones that are still in print struggle with falling readership year after year. In recent years with the rise of streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, Spotify, and Pandora, live-TV watching has decreased significantly, but live-radio listening has increased. Why is this reality so counter-intuitive?

Radio may still be so relevant because Americans still have places to go and every new car sold still comes with a radio. Sure, now there’s Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto, but it is always easiest to just let the radio come on by itself. In countries where people don’t have access to the internet, they still have access to the radio as it is free, portable, and publicly accessible. Right now, it is the number-one way people discover new music. It may be more old-school, but as of yet, it is still reliable and widely accessible. It can also be somewhat targeted based on demographics of different stations.

Digital marketing has, in part, become so popular because it is 2 things: 1) hyper-targeted, and 2) its price per impression can’t be beat. In terms of targeting, it is possible to serve digital ads down to a single house address now. It is possible to email only people who have had eye surgery in the last 6 months and have a household income of $75000+. It is possible to track how many people saw an ad on their phone and actually came into the associated store afterwards. None of these benefits come from setting up a billboard on the highway. In terms of price, the cheapest mailer is upwards of $0.50 per person. Digitally, one can serve ads for $0.012 per person. When you add in the fact that you can track those impressions and get an accurate impression-to-conversion ratio and ROI, it’s almost a no-brainer. It makes sense why people turn to digital advertising so quickly.

But let’s come back to traditional methods. Radio is bigger than ever, and still pretty cheap per impression, given that big stations in the area boast almost 500,000 weekly listeners. So why does this method get traded in for digital so quickly? It’s almost like marketers have the impression that these two types of methods are mutually exclusive. If you dump your money into traditional, you can’t also prioritize digital. But the opposite is true. Imagine geofencing to serve digital ads to people who drive past your billboards, and then tracking how many of those people that saw it come into your store. Imagine sending out a mailer, and then serving ads to the addresses you hit that have a high household income. These combinations can add up to more than just the sum of their parts. This is because when you have the right message that is targeted to the right people, and then you add in a frequency that helps them remember your message and put in in the top of their mind next time they’re in need of your product category, you will be their first choice every time.

Think about the last point of contact you have with a medium before you buy something. Maybe you look at online reviews, hop in your car, and head to the store. So, you would think the last time an advertiser can get to you is when you’re looking on your phone before deciding where to go. Actually, the last point they have you is in your car, when you’re listening to the radio on your way to the store. If they can get your attention there, it just might increase the recency bias (where the last point mentioned is remembered the most) enough to change your mind on what brand to get.graphic of social media channels

Having said this, it is still extremely important to be familiar with digital channels as a marketer in this day and age. At my internship, my supervisor was pleasantly surprised that I was familiar with SEO as many people she has interviewed have never heard of it before, and she counts that as a key metric of whether someone is knowledgeable on the industry. Almost every purchase decision is influenced by digital channels nowadays, and the amount of consumer data that is collected is extremely valuable. Add in the ease of tracking conversions to specific campaigns, and using a digital strategy is a no-brainer. But the decision of which types of channels to use is getting increasingly more complex. One study done by a Canadian neuromarketing firm showed that people actually require less cognitive activity to process a physical ad than a digital one, and recall it better in the long-term. This may be because there are so many ways to serve an ad that people are starting to become desensitized to what pops up on their screens.

Because of all these factors, it can be overwhelming to decide on a marketing strategy. But I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Integrating both traditional and digital channels means that you can compensate for one’s weaknesses with the other, and build on each other’s strengths to create a campaign that reaches the right people, with the right message, at the right frequency. And that is when campaigns work.



Rachel Henry

Rachel Henry is a senior at Chatham majoring in marketing. Her work experience includes Steel City Media and several years of customer service, event coordination, and digital marketing at Tom Henry Chevrolet in Gibsonia. Besides marketing, talk to her about the automotive industry, her bucket list of national parks to visit (Grand Teton pictured above), and cello. 

Peer revisions completed by student workers and faculty of the Chatham University Business & Entrepreneurship Department

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