There have been plenty of twists and turns in the digital media landscape since the first clickable banner ad appeared on computer monitors nearly 30 years ago. The dotcom bubble of 2000 quickly wiped out all but the heartiest of internet companies, but digital marketing soon picked up where it left off and by 2004 digital marketing in the US alone generated more than 2.4 billion in revenue.
That figure has skyrocketed to over $566 billion today, which underscores the notion that digital marketing – once considered a novelty — is now very much mainstream. In fact, a strong case can be made that there has been a sort of role reversal between digital and traditional marketing over the years, with traditional marketing now holding somewhat of a novelty status itself.
This begs the question — is traditional marketing still important in 2022?
First, Some Definitions Are in Order
“Important” is a thoroughly subjective term. For our purposes, let’s define it as meaning “worth pursuing”. Marketing success leans heavily on the return on investment, whether that investment is monetary or of time and effort.
By the same token, “important” doesn’t necessarily mean “essential”. There are many companies that have migrated entirely — or very close to it — to the digital marketing realm and have enjoyed great success in the process.
While we’re at it, let’s discuss a little more terminology in order to identify what media falls into the digital realm and what should be considered “traditional media”.
What’s Included in Digital Media?
Think for a moment about the Facebook and Instagram ads that likely populate your feed, including those that suddenly appear after you’ve visited a particular website (retargeting) — or the blog posts you regularly read. Even the listings that rise to the top of the Google rankings when you conduct an online search. All are examples of digital media. Digital marketing has firmly entrenched itself as an important part of our everyday lives and it continues to evolve, so a definition is in order.
For our purposes, that definition will be fairly broad. We’ll include any form of marketing that takes place on a digital medium — namely electronic devices and the internet itself. There will be one notable exception that we’ll get into a little later.
PPC ads, Social Media Marketing, retargeting, SEO, and Content Marketing all qualify for this distinction, as does Email Marketing, despite the fact that it thoroughly predates most of what we now consider to be part of the digital world, having been created by computer programmer Ray Tomlinson all the way back in 1971.
At first glance, it may not seem like that leaves much behind, but that may be a little deceiving. Traditional media is generally considered to include radio, broadcast, cable, and satellite television, print and billboards — the latter being the exception we referred to earlier, as many billboards have long since been converted to electronic displays but are nevertheless still traditional media. That’s a lot of territory.
With so many individual components included in traditional media, it’s best to judge each based on its own merits, potential drawbacks, and current vitality. It’s also important to consider that effective marketing doesn’t preclude the use of both digital and traditional marketing at the same time. One almost always enhances the efficacy of the other.
Despite having been invented by Italian Guglielmo Marconi just before the beginning of the 20th century, radio is inextricably linked with American history and folklore. Americans once gathered around their radios to listen to political addresses, news broadcasts and sporting events for decades — many still do — and the medium has been name-dropped in rock music for a long time: Elvis Costello’s “Radio, Radio” and Rush’s “Spirit of Radio” are just a couple of examples.
It’s a definite O.G. of traditional media, but is it still an important traditional media option?
Radio has certainly seen a decline of sorts. You don’t often see an actual radio outdoors anymore and devices like the Sony Walkman have been relegated to museum piece status. Podcasts — members of the digital world — are consumed in ever increasing numbers and Swedish digital music, podcast, and video service Spotify has become part of most of our everyday lives.
Nevertheless, radio persists. As of just two years ago, 83% of Americans aged 12 or older listened to terrestrial radio in a given week, and that number no doubt becomes markedly larger with the inclusion of satellite radio. That figure is down from the 92% of 2009, but not by nearly as much as most would expect.
Also, because of its ability to keep up with the timeliness of the internet, news radio remains particularly vital. In that same study, more than 50% of adults still cited it as their source for news either “often” or “sometimes”.
Radio’s primary advantages have only been tangentially affected by the rise of digital media. It still offers impressive reach and doesn’t have a high financial barrier to entry. Local advertisers are able to afford the frequency they need to get results and those results can be measured with the right offer, coupled with conveying a sense of urgency. Unlike television, production costs are generally modest, and most radio stations will even record commercials at no charge while using their own on-air personalities.
Radio is also genre-based, which allows for effective targeting of both demographics and psychographics — your typical metal fan is likely to differ from a classic music aficionado on a number of fronts and yet there are stations that appeal to each of them. Radio stations can also distinguish themselves by virtue of their daily on-air personalities — a sizable percentage of radio listeners cite them as their reason for listening to a particular station.
On the downside, the tune out factor when stations go to commercials is considerable — it is with most media — and since several ads generally run in sequence, a given spot can get lost in the shuffle. But considering its potential ROI, low barrier to entry and considerable flexibility, radio remains a viable and potentially important traditional marketing vehicle for most advertisers.
Broadcast, Satellite and Cable Television Marketing
As far as viewership is concerned, broadcast, satellite and cable television have all felt the effects of digital media’s ascendancy. In fact, streaming — which thoroughly falls into the digital media category, has now surpassed cable television as America’s preferred means of consuming television content.
That in itself doesn’t necessarily signal the obsolescence of television in its traditional media forms. If you combine the viewership of broadcast satellite and cable television, it still makes up the majority of television watchers — although it’s not hard to envision this changing in the not-so-distant future.
Based on statistics, it looks like streaming has been added to the public’s viewing arsenal more than it has simply displaced broadcast, satellite and cable television. There’s no doubt that streaming has skyrocketed of late — it’s grown by more than 22% in just the past year — but at the same time, cable and broadcast television viewership has dropped off by less than half of that number. That may leave a shrinking pool of viewers to draw from, but it’s still more than considerable.
Besides its still respectable reach, television still offers a potentially navigable barrier to entry, although it may be considered expensive by some marketers, and certainly prime time is out of reach for all but the more well-capitalized companies.
As with any form of media, content matters. The advent of the DVR makes skipping commercials a fairly easy proposition, but in most cases, this has been baked into television’s pricing structure at least to some extent. A well-produced, effective commercial with strong on-air performances and a good tagline can still distinguish itself and retain the audience’s attention, even if that audience isn’t as sizable as it once was.
In total, the traditional forms of television have actually shown a little more staying power than many might have thought, and with the right approach, remain an important traditional media option.
Print Media Marketing
It’s fairly easy to see that print media has been the biggest victim of digital pre-eminence. Physical newspapers are almost invariably a fraction of their former size — both in terms of editorial and advertising content. Plenty of pundits once predicted that very few consumers would give up the tactile sensation of turning the pages of their morning paper in preparation for the day ahead, but as it turns out they were wrong.
To be accurate, that’s still a ritual for many, but a large percentage of the print media audience has long since migrated to digital delivery. Whereas it was once a challenge for media companies to monetize this migration, paywalls and online subscriptions have become commonplace — although it has taken a while for some consumers to dispel themselves of the notion that any content on the internet should be accessed free of charge.
Despite its consistent decline, 70% of households with an income over $100,000 still read actual newspapers, and the overwhelming majority of people under 25 still read magazines to some extent. On the whole, print media retains some decided advantages. There’s still a prevailing notion that nearly ANYONE can advertise online — outlandish and borderline obnoxious digital advertising is far less common than it once was, but it still exists to an extent, so marketers do have to create quality artwork and place it with forethought in order to distinguish themselves.
By contrast, studies have shown that when companies advertise in the print media — whether that be via newspapers or magazines — it confers a considerable amount of legitimacy. Print readers also tend to spend more time with their publication than do their digital-consuming counterparts — as much as four times more, according to some studies. This is amplified by the fact that readers are likely to return to a physical publication several times. Lastly, well-designed print ads generally offer good recall, which certainly helps with brand recognition.
Whether it’s newspapers or magazines, circulations seem to be consistently waning while the content being offered shrinks at the same time, and it seems only logical to expect that this trend will continue. But, while print may have a hard time qualifying as an important element in the traditional media mix, when used properly, it still remains viable for the right advertiser.
Let’s also not forget that direct mail is a component of the print media. Is direct mail still an important traditional media option or has it earned its “junk mail” moniker? Well, there’s a reason you probably still get all those leaflets in your mailbox and under your front door — when they feature a compelling offer from a company that’s perceived to be reputable, direct mail pieces still work, so the term “junk” is entirely subjective.
Now better known as Out of Home Marketing, this member of the traditional media family may have been affected the least by the rise of digital. After all, you can’t be actively online while you’re behind the wheel of your car on your daily commute — at least you shouldn’t be. Also, the sheer pervasiveness of outdoor advertising tends to reinforce messages and lead to strong brand recognition.
Outdoor’s effectiveness has been further bolstered by advances in print technology. There was once a time when creating and positioning a sizable outdoor ad might mean enlisting the services of a mural painter, as opposed to a large-scale printer, but that time has long since passed. Any motorist navigating the highways today can look around and see often-striking examples of large-scale artwork that contains razor sharp images, which no doubt serves to make outdoor advertising more memorable than ever before. Also, while billboards are still part of the traditional media mix, many of them now feature electronic displays that make grabbing the public’s attention an easier proposition — sometimes even to the point of distraction.
Out of Home offers some definite benefits. At the forefront is one particular advantage — outdoor advertising, unlike many of its counterparts, is very difficult to ignore. Also, because an appreciable number of large-scale printing facilities have cropped up over the past few years, production costs have dropped, which makes for a lower barrier to entry. This traditional media form also lends itself to prompt consumer action — and often impulse buying. Display an eye-catchingly tempting fast food ad to hungry motorists and it’s not hard to picture them pulling off the street or highway to place their orders in response.
That’s not to say that Outdoor Marketing is a can’t miss proposition. It does have its drawbacks. Arguably its biggest negative is that it offers no possibility of targeting — advertise on a billboard and you’re presenting your message to EVERYONE who sees it, many of whom will probably not be members of your target audience. Also, as a medium, outdoor advertising makes conveying contact information somewhat difficult. Motorists are generally hesitant to write down a phone number while at the wheel — although they are considerably more willing to dictate that number into their smart phones.
While the traditional marketing realm has shrunk considerably as digital marketing has exerted its ever more powerful presence, it hasn’t disappeared and isn’t likely to do so anytime soon. Instead, there are sure to be plenty of adjustments to both forms of marketing as they continue to evolve.
As to the original question posed in this article, “Is traditional marketing still important in 2022?”, that would be a “yes” on the whole, albeit a somewhat qualified one. As we’ve already noted, many companies have put nearly all their proverbial eggs into the digital marketing basket while largely abandoning most of their traditional marketing initiatives with good results, while others have achieved either more limited success with this strategy or have yet to properly fine-tune their approach. On the other hand, there are also some companies that have taken advantage of this shift by bucking the larger trend and putting more emphasis on traditional marketing approaches.
Whether it’s digital or traditional marketing, the approach matters. Merely putting an increased emphasis on digital marketing just because of its prominence is no guarantee of success. Messaging must be on point, with a clear call to action and a solid means of tracking analytics. Choosing where this messaging appears is also an essential element — if a chosen platform doesn’t accurately mirror the demographics and psychographics of your target audience, it’s going to be difficult to make things work.
By the same token, for many advertisers traditional marketing shouldn’t be counted out entirely. It may be a luxury for some and a source of frustration for others — often because it’s hard to track results — but traditional marketing continues to yield strong results for many companies, even in 2022.
We’re curious — where are you putting your emphasis in the months or years ahead? Will you be minimizing your traditional marketing efforts in the future, or perhaps abandoning traditional marketing altogether? Maybe you’ve already done so. Let us know. We’d love to hear from you.