What Is Digital Marketing?

What is digital marketing? There's no better way to start answering that question than with a straightforward-sounding definition, this one from Hubspot:

digital marketing combines 21st-century technology with trusted marketing tactics.

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“Digital marketing encompasses all marketing efforts that use an electronic device or the internet. Businesses leverage digital channels such as search engines, social media, email, and other websites to connect with current and prospective customers.”


Notice we said straightforward sounding. That definition sounds great at first pass. Now read it again. Do you see what's missing? It doesn't say anything beyond that digital marketing is done digitally, which we were trying to define in the first place. So we're going in a circle.

Let's look at a definition of the broader term "marketing":

“The action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.”


Now we're getting somewhere. So digital marketing is using 21st-century digital communications technology to convey your marketing message about the awesomeness that is your new widget to a broader audience. Cool. Wait. That sounds like social media marketing, or is that content marketing?


How Does Digital Marketing Fit in with All The Other Marketings?

You're not wrong; there is a lot of overlap and crisscrossing of genres. Technically speaking, these other forms of marketing are subsets of digital marketing. A more detailed list of these subsets might look something like this:

  • Content marketing—Using long-form content for inbound marketing to engage potential and existing customers alike.

  • Social media marketing—The use of short-form content and mixed-media posts such as infographics and videos to engage with followers.

  • Email marketing—Newsletters and special offers sent to an existing contact list.

  • PPC advertising—Pay-Per-Click advertising uses paid ads, often on search engine results pages, to entice a new audience to click through to your website, landing page, or other content.

  • Inbound marketing—a term used for content, social, and email marketing.

  • Native advertising—A relatively new term for sponsored content. You write a blog post touting your new widget, and it's posted to someone else's site as a guest post.

  • Outbound marketing—Includes traditional marketing tactics like cold calling, cold emailing, paid advertising, TV spots, and newspaper ads.

So it's not so much that they're different forms of marketing, but rather that they add up to form the more comprehensive whole that is digital marketing. OK, now we're making some real progress. The next question we can hear you asking is:

So Wait, Am I a Marketer or a Digital Marketer?

Are you in charge of finding the right billboard to place your new ad on? Or sending paper mailings and organizing a new TV spot? Then you're a marketer.

Or are you in charge of orchestrating brand awareness campaigns via social media? And who's making up the editorial calendar for the blog? Is that you? How about the strategic use of remarketing and PPC ads? If that sounds like your day, then you're a digital marketer.

Again, there is plenty of overlap, as you've seen above. The primary factor to consider is whether you are marketing your wares online (in the digital world) or in physical forms (in the real world).


OK. Got it. So how can Digital Marketing benefit MY company?

Ah, we come at last to the real question. Because chances are, you’re already doing digital marketing. You may not have had the name for it, or realized the differences, or even realized that you should care about any differences. To answer this question, let me ask you one question in return:

“Where does your audience spend the majority of their free time?”

We’d wager you said one of the following: on Facebook, scrolling their Twitter feed, or just generally “on their phone.” So really you answered your own question.

If you want to get your brand message in front of the most eyeballs possible, you need to be getting it out via the platforms your target audience is already using. So if those eyeballs are engaged with social media, email, and scrolling and swiping on their phones, bingo.

And the best part is that it doesn’t matter if you’re B2B or B2C, this holds true. Since the goal is conversion of an audience member to customer, the process of using digital media to drive traffic to your site works no matter the audience specifics. Maybe focus more on LinkedIn for B2B and Facebook for B2C, but otherwise, the game is the same.


Bonus Question: What if I Don’t Have the Budget for any of this?

You do.

That’s one of the beauties of digital marketing, there are as many ways to do it as there are companies partaking or outlets on which to market. You can have a marketing budget of $0 and still make great use of your company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to ensure your brand message is getting out there and seen by the right people. Or you can have $1,000,000 to throw at a campaign.

Either way, your brand is being seen by the people you target. It’s a matter of scale. The company with zero to spend is likely not targeting millions of people, so the results match the need.

Creating profiles on the major social media outlets is free. Creating a company blog costs the hourly rate of the person who sets it up, and posting to it is free. Well, someone is going to spend some time doing market research, writing and editing the posts, etc. But the extra costs are minimal here.

So take the time to create some accounts, do some research and lay out a strategy that fits your company’s size and needs, do some social listening, and start marketing that widget. With a well-constructed digital strategy, you can start seeing results pretty quickly. Meanwhile, the parts that are more long-range in your digital marketing scope (content marketing, I’m looking at you) are busy building up steam, getting ready to blow you away with the volume of conversions they’re capable of. Digital marketing is perhaps the #1 marketing strategy for the 21st-century, so we highly encourage you all to get on board if you’re not already.

The time has come.


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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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