Digital Media: Is it all it's cracked up to be?

Weighing the pros and cons of adding digital into a traditional media plan.
Kerim McAteer
Created on:
June 18, 2024

Is digital all it’s cracked up to be?

British inventor Tim Berners-Lee first invented the World Wide Web in 1989, while based in Switzerland at the European Particle Physics Laboratory, CERN.

And, of course, since the mid-1990s, the impact of the internet on technology, commerce and culture has been revolutionary. Increasingly, we are living our lives online, from banking and shopping to communicating (with, among others, the brands we buy), socialising and dating, and listening to music.

So it’s hardly surprising that, according to regulator Ofcom’s statistics, nearly 90% of UK households had web access in 2019, with 70% using a 4G mobile service to get online. Average time spent online daily in 2019 was three hours 15 minutes, a rise of 11 mins on the year before.

Ofcom also reports that children and young adults spend more time online than they do watching television, while those aged 54 are less likely to be found surfing the internet.

Perhaps more interestingly, the figure for those who don’t use the web – 13% – has remained broadly unchanged since 2014. The most common reason for not being online (cited by nearly half of those who said they stayed offline) was a perceived lack of any need to use the internet.

Benefits of digital marketing

The idea of digital marketing – the promotion of products and services via the internet or other form of electronic media – has been around since the 1990s, although its origins arguably date back earlier, since computers became sophisticated enough to store extensive customer information by the end of the 1980s.

Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM) took off in the 1990s, when people first started to appreciate the value of individual targeting.

During the decade that followed, the internet gave rise to social media, with the Facebook platform launched in 2004, and the micro-blogging site Twitter two years later. By 2010, both were deeply embedded in our daily lives. Again, digital marketing capitalised as traditional cold calling declined.

In 2020, the benefits of digital marketing are well known. They include the ability to reach a global audience cost-effectively, seamlessly and immediately while gaining measurable, trackable results.

Here are some of the key advantages of digital marketing – there are others:

Global reach – Advertisers can join new markets and trade globally in return for smaller investments.

Lower cost of entry – The fragmented digital media landscape means strategic advertisers can reach target audiences at a fraction of the cost of traditional media outlets. You no longer need a huge budget to enter the media landscape.

Levelling the field – Because digital media buying is automated and self-service, it’s easier to compete on a more equal footing with larger brands who may have bigger media budgets.

Transparent, measurable results – Tracking tools make it easier than ever to establish how effective campaigns have been, and to identify which channels have delivered the most tangible results.

Data driven – Integrating various elements of data gives advertisers access to the right audience at the right time, with the most personalised messages, making today’s campaigns the most targeted the marketing world has ever seen.

Creative capabilities – It’s easy to try out new creative projects, allowing advertisers to have a stronger impact with far smaller media budgets.

Organic reach – Digital media allows you to create engaging campaigns using content that can gain social currency and be passed from one user to another until it goes viral.

Additionally, it’s easy to personalise messages, and by managing social media carefully you can build customer loyalty and a reputation as an easy brand to engage with. Judiciously chosen content marketing, for example with pictures, video or articles, can gain social currency and even go viral.

When things go wrong

Of course, like anything else, digital marketing has its pitfalls. Staff must have the right skills and expertise, and digital marketing can be time-consuming.

What’s more, it’s intensely competitive; with so many messages bombarding everyone all of the time, it’s not always easy to stand out.

Equally, security and privacy are hot issues. The government is now asking media regulator Ofcom to get tough with companies which allow potentially harmful content to be published, but policing the internet is notoriously hard. Meanwhile, privacy experts have recently criticised the data protection regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), for not taking strong enough action against breaches of the law linked to behaviourally targeted ads.

At the same time, businesses with an online presence lay themselves open to negative reviews and feedback via social media and other platforms. While these can be every business’s worst nightmare, it’s essential to respond to criticism professionally and promptly.

Here are just some examples of where going digital has gone very wrong:

• In 2011, Berkshire bakery Need A Cake nearly lost all its dough after over-issuing a Groupon deal and underestimating the orders they’d receive.

• In 2017, beauty brand Dove was forced to apologise after a Facebook ad showing a black woman who became white after using one of its lotions.

• In 2013, Tesco rather tactlessly referred to ‘hitting the hay’ at a time of crisis over possible equine products in its meat.

Summing up

It’s clear that digital marketing needs to be done properly and thoughtfully every time, and that more traditional methods of communication shouldn’t be ignored. So, actually talking to someone – in person or over the phone – still matters, as does, say, sending a real Christmas card and not just a virtual one.

One thing’s for sure, whatever the size of your business, and whatever its sector, you ignore the potential of digital at your peril.

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