It’s digital, but it’s still just marketing

This week’s topic of Digital media and Integrated marketing communications (IMC), highlights a growing concern of mine that Digital Marketing is treated as new and a separate discipline to traditional Marketing, and shares the title of my blog.

Universities and other organisations offer courses in Digital Marketing as a separate stand-alone subject – positioned as they way of the future and out of context from the discipline of Marketing as a whole.

I’ve seen this in the workplace as well – many large organisations have separate departments for Marketing and Digital Marketing – often with different reporting lines.   The justification for this is that Digital (including social marketing) is a new and two-way form of communication requiring different skills – and therefore the assumption is made that it is its own type of Marketing,  It’s often treated as an alternative to the traditional discipline of Marketing – not just a different channel of communication or delivery.

While it is true that digital communications do require different skill sets and  utilises different ad agencies to older traditional forme of advertising such as print or broadcast media – it is not a different type of marketing – just a different way of communicating to and reaching out targeted consumers.

The growth of digital communication channels has displaced and, in some cases, replaced ‘traditional’ media advertising.  The table below, however, demonstrates that while digital is taking a larger place in the consumers’ media usage – traditional media is still part of the marketing mix.

Treating Digital Marketing as a separate from Marketing puts at risk the heart of what marketing is all about – the whoWho do you want to serve?  Whose needs do you want to satisfy?  Who is your market?  Who is your target audience?

It is only after understanding the who of your market – can you then develop products and services to satisfy their needs.    And only then should we consider how to communicate to them.

Digital Marketing is an answer in “how” we communicate to our target audience – and even then – it may not always be the best way to communicate to everyone.  We as marketers need to understand the customer first, and their needs second; and only the then start understand their habits and be able to create a strategy to communicate to them.  This may or may not be using digital channels.

My problem with Digital Marketing being taught as a stand-alone course, or as a separate department in an organisation is that it is a “how do we communicate to them” tool –a communication channel – rather than a pure market focused tool.

By taking it outside the umbrella of overall Marketing – we run the risk of focusing on the channel rather than the customer.  The focus becomes the message delivery system– but not necessarily delivering what the customer wants and needs.

The channel offers so much excitement with new communication channels opening up every day, it’s easy to become seduced by the glamour and the adrenaline of digital marketing. 

But, this too can become a trap – as marketers we should be driven by excitement of our brands and our customers and our driving need to satisfy the needs of our customers.  When we focus too much on the channels we use to communicate to our customers – we risk losing focus on what is really important about being marketers.

Digital Marketing is not a separate discipline that needs to work in conjunction with traditional marketing practices, it is a channel of communication which like all other channels should be used when it’s the best way to reach our customers.   It is not an alternative new way of marketing – just a new way of communicating and delivering products and services via websites and online media.

Published by cynthiaburgin

Cynthia Burgin a senior marketer with over 15 years experience in marketing and communicatons in Australia and Asia pacific markets. She has Masters of Business (Marketing) and am studying Digital Marketing and Marketing Analytics at RMIT to refresh my skills after an absence from the Industry.

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  1. Very interesting comments here on digital marketing. I do agree that they should be aware that this is part of a an overall marketing mix, and not two separate fields of work. However i do feel like digital marketing is very different to say print media marketing and should be dealt with differently. In saying that, there should be maybe more focus on who and where within digital marketing instead of blatant saturation of the market. This perhaps is occurring more and more now with algorithms designed to show you what ads suit your search history? Or selecting specific digital channels to market your product.


  2. Interesting read and insight you have provided here Cynthia. I think having a subject “Digital Marketing” is essential these days because every company has to have a digital approach to stay relevant, reach customers and be competitive. However I see that what your saying is that companies are treating it as separate, like digital and traditional marketing are different departments rather then just different approaches to marketing. But I would have to ask is this an opinion or a fact, because I would for Big W which is owned by Woolworths and I know we have a ‘Marketing department’ and then there are teams working on the digital and traditional approaches, they have the same department head that ensures consistency in approaches and messages. I think it is necessarily to have people working on both approaches and I believe it isn’t a problem, as many organisations ensure that they work on the same campaigns just transforming it into either digital or traditional.


  3. Cynthia, great post for this week. When you mentioned that digital marketing is ‘out of context’ from the discipline of marketing as a whole, are you referring to having unaligned objectives? Regardless of whether businesses have a separate digital marketing team, it’s fundamental that the overarching objectives of the Marketing team and digital team are aligned. I feel that it’s necessary for universities to offer digital marketing as a stand-alone subject to drill down into the nitty-gritty of the various channels. I presume that more emphasis is being put of digital marketing in the past few years due to the high levels consumption over traditional media and also the ability to target a more specific audience. For this reason, I believe that digital marketing addresses the ‘who’ even more so than traditional marketing channels.


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