Offline vs Online Marketing – What is the Difference, Really?

Traditional marketing is still here. While online and specifically content marketing seem drastically different, this difference is mainly a down to the new tools, channels and methods available. But when we peer past the infrastructure, are the two really that different?

Source: Arun Clarke, Unsplash

Offline marketing hasn’t gone away.

Billboards, television and radio, junk mail, flyers, newspaper/magazine ads… They’re all still there. Sadly, even telemarketers are still lurking out there somewhere.

Search engines, social media, online communities and websites now offer even more opportunities to reach the right people at the right time. These channels have even changed the way we market brands.

But the digital landscape is more than just a static billboard.

Better targeting, algorithms, online communities, search engines that learn… These new channels have influenced how people interact with brands and how they perceive a message. This has given rise to new styles of copy, design and made marketing a somewhat technical discipline.

And that’s not even the most crucial difference.

Purely Digital? Not So Fast

Online marketing has certainly eclipsed traditional methods. But it would be a mistake to think that marketing has gone purely digital.

People still watch TV, get mail and drive past billboards – in essence, people still live in the analog world.

Any comprehensive marketing strategy or campaign should still entertain the a few traditional marketing methods.


Inform or Promote?

Online marketing -particularly content marketing- has caused a shift in how brands communicate. In the past, brands tended to promote their content. It would hit audiences in the face, jump out at them on the radio. Fly through the mailbox.

Traditional marketing methods focus on promoting. It seeks out the audience.

Content marketing focuses on informing. The user seeks the information – either for education or entertainment.

The online world still allows for promotion, of course: This is most obvious in paid advertising, native advertising and PPC. Radio stations and television channels have gone online.

The Downsides of Online & Offline Marketing

While still widely used, offline marketing is expensive.

Running a print ad in a newspaper can cost you $2000. Printing and distributing flyers ads extra costs such as ink and paper. Television, billboard and radio advertising rack up huge sums. And there is the interruption factor: nobody likes to have things shoved in their face. Measuring offline marketing activities can also prove tricky and inaccurate, so determining return on investment is largely an estimation game.

Online marketing isn’t without its flaws, either. Lack of face-to-face interaction can make establishing trust more difficult. There are also adblockers (hell, even I use one) and banner blindness can reduce online marketing’s effectiveness.

The Golden Rule: Go Where the People Are

Ultimately, marketing is only effective if it reaches the right people.

Your product/service messaging must reach those who have the problem, whether they know it or not. And in some cases, offline marketing is the best way.

A case in point is the privacy search engine, DuckDuckGo.

Large numbers of their user base were already computer literate and probably learned about it through research, online communities or word-of-mouth within the tech field. That’s how I did, after all: by simply being told.

But there are many more outside of this field who have the same issue: they don’t want to be tracked online. DuckDuckGo saw this advantage, and went ahead to use a good, old-fashioned billboard.

Going offline to bring people online.

Here’s the thing: they’re not the only company providing a digital asset that has used offline marketing tactics.

The German matchmaking platform,, invested heavily in classical advertising tactics.

The Future of Marketing Is Blended

The truth is that “offline” and “online” are ecosystems. Some of our audience is more likely to respond to traditional marketing, others are more approachable online. Effective marketing strategies look at the whole picture.

Asking whether traditional marketing is “relevant” is, quite frankly, an irrelevant question. It will never disappear: it may evolve, but not disappear.