Is Social Media Marketing Different Than Traditional Marketing?

Traditional marketing, inbound marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, online marketing, outbound marketing, “push” marketing? Sometimes it seems like the marketing world has gotten a bit overly complex in recent years, doesn’t it? So what ARE the differences between all those seemingly different niches listed above? We’ll admit, we cheated a bit on that list, as several of those are actually synonyms for the same set of tactics.

social media and traditional marketing differ in many ways, however they're also complementary.

In reality, the differences come down to the direction of your marketing activities, and the location.

Direction as in push or pull, outbound or inbound. And location as in online or off.

That’s really all you need to know on the surface. For today’s deeper dive, we’re looking at the primary differences in technique between one subset of online, inbound marketing—social media—and traditional marketing, also referred to as outbound or push marketing.


Let’s start with a quick description of these terms:

Traditional/Outbound/Push Marketing:


This set of phrases is what most of us think of when we think of advertising. Print media, billboards, flyers that come in the mail, and even old-fashioned cold calling all fit this category. Several online tactics can also be found under this heading, things like pay-per-click banner ads and unsolicited blast emails, for example.


The bottom line is this is a one-way monologue, with the marketer speaking on behalf of the company talking at their audience, whether they asked a question about the product, or not. The goal is to increase sales.


Inbound/Content Marketing:


The new kid on the marketing block, this school of thought is all about creating a two-way conversation between company and customer, or brand and audience if you prefer.

Inbound consists of content marketing, blog posts, social media presence, and heavily targeted ads and emails. The goal here is to provide value so that when the audience member is ready, they’ll come right to you to make a purchase without any further action on your part.


Traditional Push Marketing vs Social Media Marketing: The Showdown


Each set of marketing techniques comes with its own set of positives and negatives. The key is to know what to pull from which playbook, and when to deploy each set of styles and tactics to have the most impact on your customers, your product, and your goals.

Traditional Marketing Plusses


  • Well established and time-tested. This isn’t called “traditional” without cause. The tactics and techniques here can be connected in a straight line to the origins of marketing in the late 19th-century.
  • Can be extremely effective at elevating sales numbers quickly. That’s mainly down to the law of large numbers. Print ads reach millions of people at one time so logic says a certain percentage of them will be ready to buy.
  • Expected in many sectors. When was the last time you saw a social media ad for mobile phone service? How about a billboard? Exactly.
  • Tradeshows are awesome for putting a face on the company. That way your audience has someone to associate with the product and will remember your smiling, good-natured banter.


Traditional Marketing Minuses


  • Expensive. Getting that print ad in the papers and that billboard up along the freeway are not cheap endeavors.
  • A high bar to entry. Not only the costs involved in publishing the ad but the additional costs of having it produced in the first place. Writers, designers, graphics, and so on all add up fast.
  • No effective targeting. You can choose which edition of the paper to go in, or which stretch of freeway to put up your billboard, but that’s about it for targeting. You have no way of controlling who actually sees the ad, making it difficult to tailor its content effectively.
  • Difficult to track effects. Since these are primarily analog techniques, they don’t come with any good way to track metrics.


Social Media Marketing Plusses


  • Cheap. In terms of person-hours, especially when you consider how much of your presence can be automated with the strategic use of marketing automation software.
  • Ad targeting is easy and accurate. Most major social media outlets offer dashboards where you can develop your audience profile down to the zip code and whether or not they like pineapple on their pizza.
  • Massive numbers of people to get your message in front of. In terms of your overall presence, posts, interactions, etc., there are millions of people on social media every day so your chances of hitting the right person at the right time go up exponentially.
  • Multi-media possibilities. Film a product release, or a day-in-the-life of your street team, create an infographic detailing the amazing ways your widget will solve your audience's problems, or write a lengthy thinkpiece about the state of your industry. All of these have a place on social media.
  • Engagement. Likes, comments, re-posts, and shares are all ways to encourage your followers to engage with your social media team (even if that’s just you for now).


Social Media Marketing Minuses


  • Can be time-consuming. Without strategic use of automation, social media can quickly become just as addictive for marketers as it can be for the general public.
  • Requires constant updates to stay relevant. With the speed of timelines, if you’re not posting something multiple times per day, you’re not going to see the ROI from this one.
  • Many channels to choose from. It’s easy to find yourself posting to a dozen sites in an attempt to reach everyone at the same time. Which goes back to the first item on this list.
  • Easy to become overwhelmed by data. Every platform has its own dashboard where you can dig into the metrics on how your presence is performing. The problems arise when you’re not clear on which metrics you actually care about and get lost in the data weeds.


Traditional and Social Overlap and Interplay


The true strengths of these marketing methods come out when you realize how much overlap there is and start to develop your own mash-up of push and pull.

It’s in this gray area where the biggest ROI benefits can be found.

Get Your Email Marketing Checklist

Try an email blast that contains content designed to address a specific pain point, then links to an eBook for a deeper dive. Or how about using QR codes on your promotional materials that links people to a landing page for gated content developed specifically for attendees of that conference. On a basic level of cross-over, you can create a landing page just for special events, full of links and content targeted as the same audience as the event. 

The growth of what’s being called “hybrid” marketing shows that there are creative ways to blend old-school and cutting edge, in- and outbound techniques, to create a marketing campaign that is unique to you and your product. Think outside the box and formulate your own integrated strategy and see how you can put this theory to work for your next campaign.

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Jesse hails from Seattle, Wa. When he’s not creating great content, or staring at his laptop screen waiting for inspiration, he’s probably walking in the trees somewhere in the foothills of the nearby Cascade Mountains.

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