Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing Definition

Investopedia / Mira Norian

What Is Digital Marketing?

The term digital marketing refers to the use of digital channels to market products and services in order to reach consumers. This type of marketing involves the use of websites, mobile devices, social media, search engines, and other similar channels. Digital marketing became popular with the advent of the internet in the 1990s.

Digital marketing involves some of the same principles as traditional marketing and is often considered a new way for companies to approach consumers and understand their behavior. Companies often combine traditional and digital marketing techniques in their strategies.

Key Takeaways

  • Digital marketing involves marketing to consumers through any number of digital channels.
  • This form of marketing is commonly executed on websites, mobile devices, and social media platforms.
  • This form of marketing is different from internet marketing, which is exclusively done on websites.
  • Digital marketing is a broad field, including attracting customers via email, content marketing, search platforms, social media, and more.
  • One of the biggest challenges digital marketers face is how to set themselves apart in a world that is oversaturated with digital marketing ads.
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Key Performance Indicators (KPI)

Understanding Digital Marketing

Marketing refers to any activities that a company uses to promote its products and services and improve its market share. In order to be successful, marketing requires a combination of advertising savvy, sales, and the ability to deliver goods to end-users. This is normally undertaken by specific professionals or marketers who can work internally (for companies) or externally with other marketing firms.

Traditionally, corporations focused on marketing through print, television, and radio. Although these options still exist today, the rise of the internet led to a shift in the way companies reached consumers. That's where digital marketing came into play. This form of marketing involves the use of websites, social media, search engines, apps—anything that incorporates marketing with customer feedback or a two-way interaction between the company and customer.

Increased technology and newer trends forced companies to change the way they marketed themselves. Email was a popular marketing tool in the early days of digital marketing. That focus shifted to search engines like Netscape, which allowed businesses to tag and keyword stuff to get themselves noticed. The development of sharing sites like Facebook made it possible for companies to track data to cater to consumer trends.

Smartphones and other digital devices are now making it easier for companies to market themselves along with their products and services to consumers. Studies show that people prefer using their phones to log on to the internet. So it should come as no surprise that 70% of individuals make buying decisions (usually on their phones) before they actually hit the purchase button.

Digital marketing can be interactive and is often used to target specific segments of the customer base.

Special Considerations

Advertisers are commonly referred to as sources, while members of the targeted ads are commonly called receivers. Sources frequently target highly specific, well-defined receivers.

For example, after extending the late-night hours, McDonald's targeted shift workers and travelers with digital ads because the company knew these people made up a large segment of its late-night business. The company encouraged them to download the Restaurant Finder app, targeting them with ads placed at automated teller machines (ATMs), gas stations, and websites that its customers commonly frequented.

Types of Digital Marketing Channels

As noted above, marketing was traditionally done through print (newspapers and magazines) and broadcast ads (TV and radio). These are channels that still exist today. Digital marketing channels have evolved and continue to do so. The following are eight of the most common avenues that companies can take to boost their marketing efforts. Keep in mind that some companies may use multiple channels in their efforts.

Website Marketing

A website is the centerpiece of all digital marketing activities. It is a very powerful channel on its own, but it’s also the medium needed to execute a variety of online marketing campaigns. A website should represent a brand, product, and service in a clear and memorable way. It should be fast, mobile-friendly, and easy to use.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising enables marketers to reach Internet users on a number of digital platforms through paid ads. Marketers can set up PPC campaigns on Google, Bing, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook and show their ads to people searching for terms related to the products or services.

PPC campaigns can segment users based on their demographic characteristics (such as by age or gender), or even target their particular interests or location. The most popular PPC platforms are Google Ads and Facebook Ads.

Content Marketing

The goal of content marketing is to reach potential customers through the use of content. Content is usually published on a website and then promoted through social media, email marketing, search engine optimization, or even PPC campaigns. The tools of content marketing include blogs, ebooks, online courses, infographics, podcasts, and webinars.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is still one of the most effective digital marketing channels. Many people confuse email marketing with spam email messages, but that’s not what email marketing is all about. This type of marketing allows companies to get in touch with potential customers and anyone interested in their brands.

Many digital marketers use all other digital marketing channels to add leads to their email lists and then, through email marketing, they create customer acquisition funnels to turn those leads into customers.

Social Media Marketing

The primary goal of a social media marketing campaign is brand awareness and establishing social trust. As you go deeper into social media marketing, you can use it to get leads or even as a direct sales channel. Promoted posts and tweets are two examples of social media marketing.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is one of the oldest forms of marketing, and the internet has brought new life to this old standby. With affiliate marketing, influencers promote other people’s products and get a commission every time a sale is made or a lead is introduced. Many well-known companies like Amazon have affiliate programs that pay out millions of dollars per month to websites that sell their products.

Video Marketing

YouTube is one of the most popular search engines in the world. A lot of users are turning to YouTube before making a buying decision, to learn something, read a review, or just to relax.

There are several video marketing platforms, including Facebook Videos, Instagram, and even TikTok to use to run a video marketing campaign. Companies find the most success with video by integrating it with SEO, content marketing, and broader social media marketing campaigns.

SMS Messaging

Companies and nonprofit organizations also use SMS or text messages to send information about their latest promotions or give opportunities to willing customers. Political candidates running for office also use SMS message campaigns to spread positive information about their own platforms. As technology has advanced, many text-to-give campaigns also allow customers to directly pay or give via a simple text message.

Internet marketing differs from digital marketing. Internet marketing is advertising that is solely on the internet, whereas digital marketing can take place through mobile devices, on a subway platform, in a video game, or via a smartphone app.

Digital Marketing Challenges

Digital marketing poses special challenges for its purveyors. Digital channels proliferate rapidly, and digital marketers have to keep up with how these channels work, how they're used by receivers, and how to use these channels to effectively market their products or services.

It's becoming more difficult to capture receivers' attention because receivers are increasingly inundated with competing ads. Digital marketers also find it challenging to analyze the vast troves of data they capture and then exploit this information in new marketing efforts.

The challenge of capturing and using data effectively highlights that digital marketing requires an approach to marketing based on a deep understanding of consumer behavior. For example, it may require a company to analyze new forms of consumer behavior, such as using website heatmaps to learn more about the customer journey.

What Is a Digital Marketing Agency?

A digital marketing agency is a firm that deals exclusively in marketing to consumers through digital channels. This includes creating and launching campaigns for corporate clients through social media, pay-per-click advertising, videos, and websites, among others.

What Is SEO in Digital Marketing?

Search engine optimization or SEO is the way that companies are able to increase their traffic through search engines with the goal of pushing their websites and names at the top of any search results page. This can be through search results done organically or editorially. When companies are able to successfully apply SEO in their digital marketing strategies, their names and websites become increasingly visible to more consumers.

What Is Internet Marketing?

Internet marketing is any marketing that takes place solely on the internet. This means it exclusively appears on websites. It is different than digital marketing, which includes internet marketing as well as marketing on social media sites, and mobile apps. These marketing campaigns can take place through smartphones, digital devices, and other platforms.

How Can I Become a Digital Marketer?

Digital marketers require strong writing skills along with data analytics and social media skills. A bachelor's degree is needed for most digital marketing positions, in a business field such as marketing, or a related field such as communications. You may also want to take courses or bootcamps specifically in digital marketing. In addition, completing an internship while in school can be useful. A master’s degree in digital marketing may be useful but is not necessary to get into the digital marketing field.


What Skills Are Needed in Digital Marketing?

You need to be skillful in writing content along with communication skills to effectively tell your product's story to your consumer base. Data analytics skills are important for understanding how well your marketing campaigns are performing and where they can be improved. Finally, social media and other online skills are a must.

The Bottom Line

Some of the world's biggest advertising campaigns were executed through traditional means. The Marlboro Man was very popular in print while Wendy's wowed individuals with its "Where's the beef?" tagline. But changes in the way people consume media forced companies to shift their focus. Digital marketing is now just as big, if not bigger, than traditional advertising and marketing tools. And you can expect things to keep evolving as technology continues to change.

Article Sources
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  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "How to Become an Advertising, Promotions, or Marketing Manager."