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The Difference Between Digital and Offline Marketing

The Difference Between Digital and Offline Marketing

Digital Presence


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About ten years ago the company I worked for hired a local print shop to do a run of glossy brochures. I remember making a long journey out to an industrial park to approve them and then hoping that their content would stay relevant enough for us to distribute such a large amount. Fast forward a few years, digital marketing has allowed businesses to communicate with their customers quicker, more regularly and in a much more accessible manner. With both forms of marketing still being relevant, it’s important to understand where to designate your efforts for each and the difference between the two.  

Online marketing or online marketing - time and budget

When you design something for digital use the final design approval can be instant. What you see on the screen is what your customers will receive. By contrast, many offline forms of marketing involve some sort of physical item whether that’s a brochure, leaflet or branded item to distribute to customers. Imagery can easily be manipulated by the printing process and, if a mistake is made, there is a huge financial implication. For online marketing, you will pay for someone’s time and possibly a marketing platform to seed these out to customer, when marketing is done offline you also need to pay for materials and printing which can be very costly.  

When you’re creating a physical item, you can encounter matters such as colour differences from one printer to another, quality control errors, material selection, lead time for printing and requirements for shipping. In contrast, creating a digital product is often a much simpler process because it ends with the digital file itself. It’s also common to order large quantities of either printed materials or SWAG (the “Stuff We All Get” like branded pens, stress balls, t-shirts, etc.) because of the per-item discount. That type of investment requires additional consideration for logistics and storage.

Online and offline marketing - cost of commitment

Most online forms of marketing are fairly easy to change. It’s digital, so if you need to swap out an image or change a word this is often possible to do that swiftly. If, for example, you’ve created a how-to video that goes on your website and some new information needs to be included, you can have the video edited and then re-uploaded. Even if you had to refilm a portion, the process to edit this into the original video is fairly quick and easy to do. If you’re handing out a pamphlet that contains how-to instructions and new information needs to be added, you’ll likely have to change the design. This means you’ll have to begin the printing process again, costing you more time and money. Plus, the old ones you have in stock become obsolete so you’ve wasted your previous investment.  

Benefits of offline marketing - tangible trust  

There’s a type of charm that goes with physical items such as the feeling of handing over a smart business card on thick paper stock or even embossed on metal. It says: “Hi, I’m a real company and I’m offering you stability”.  Well, that’s not what the card says literally, but it’s how we perceive the business. If that business could commit to paying for something real then what they offer is real. And like a physical item, that business won’t disappear overnight.  

The trust factor of tangible items and traditional media shouldn’t be minimized. Like printed materials, TV and radio command more authority than digital mediums. The perception of business stability and reliability is better portrayed when using more traditional forms of marketing.

People Versus Pixels

Although the Covid-19 pandemic may have slowed down or even stopped large in-person gatherings, it’s important to examine their value for when restrictions are lifted. Nothing really replaces the personal interactions at an event. It’s possible to meet lots of potential customers, see your competition and get an overall feel of what’s happening in the industry. If you’re exhibiting at a tradeshow there are lots of opportunities to hand out marketing materials and showcase your business.  

These events open up room for creativity. You can have entire immersive experiences and gain insights from customers interacting with your product. But it does demand a larger price tag. If you’re exhibiting, you’re often paying a price for the right to have a booth, the cost of the booth, any additional marketing materials that you will be handing out, shipping items, travel and food.  

When referring to online events, the concept of entering a room might look a bit like the opening sequence of The Brady Bunch (a screen packed with friendly squares). While the recent popularity of Zoom has eliminated some awkwardness from online events, they are worlds apart from the traditional offline version. You can leverage online events for your content strategy but you can’t replace the feel of something real.  

Fortunately, there are now many ways to fuse two together to deliver the best of both worlds. Some examples are: online vendor profiles, sponsored email campaigns, show-related press releases and social media ‘live’ streaming events. Interestingly, metrics also provide a partially common ground between in-person events and their online counterparts. Tracking attendees at events has come a long way. For example, at larger tradeshows there’s often some form of digital technology used to know who visited your booth.

Benefits of online marketing - mystery metrics

When working with digital forms of marketing it’s easy to measure everything. This is one of the key advantages online marketing has over offline. Traditional forms of advertising such as TV or radio spots don’t always provide a clear number of who paid attention and who purchased as a result. Let’s compare a TV commercial with one posted on YouTube. Online you can find out how many people clicked on your YouTube ad to visit your website. However, when things are on TV you don’t always know if someone decided to find out information about your business after seeing the ad.  

Analysing online data and interpreting trends helps give your businesses valuable insights about your target audience. There are many tools for digital marketing that help with tracking information and a multitude of ways to automate processes so that you can easily reach customers while growing your business. For example, email automation software allows you to reach large numbers of customers and track interactions. In contrast, direct mail cannot give you information about who interacted with your mail, or even if they did at all. You can track people who made a purchase based on the flyer using a coupon code but in comparison to an email campaign, most of your metrics would remain a mystery.  

Digital marketing or offline marketing - which is better to choose?

The best solution for most small businesses would be to choose a combined strategy of online and offline marketing. Even with the most efficient and successful digital campaign, it could be useful to include a tangible item or offline promotion that fosters trust. If your budget allows, you can integrate both digital and offline efforts so that they complement each other and help provide a well-rounded marketing approach. What’s crucial is that your messaging across all mediums stays consistent and that you have a good plan before you spend, so that you don’t get stuck throwing out a pallet of boxes stuffed with thousands of unusable brochures.

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