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There is a funny little part of many people that comes out when they hear the word 'marketing'.

Most people will inevitably think of Mad Men, these days. There’s nothing wrong with that, great show, but it doesn’t really give you the full picture of what marketing means in this digital age.

Some people will invariably think of things like billboards and television advertisements. These are more in the right direction of what modern marketing is all about, but there’s inevitably a big component that is overlooked – the world of digital marketing online.

You might not hear so much about it, but it has become very popular and important for businesses to function effectively and perform well on the net. So, what is it? And how does it work?

Digital Marketing - A Redefinition

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Essentially, the main aspects of traditional marketing remain the same – digital marketing will still sell the sizzle and not the steak. The main difference is that the approach is entirely through digital channels – namely the internet.

Dave Chaffrey, writing for SmartInsights defined it rather intelligently as Achieving marketing objectives through applying digital technologies.”

So, the essence of marketing remains the same when talking in a digital sense – but it is rather more the application of marketing within digital channels that defines it.

To Understand Where Digital Marketing Came From - One Must Understand Where Traditional Marketing Came From

Don't sell the steak, sell the sizzle.

Perhaps we're jumping the gun here.

Perhaps we should jump back a little further to consider the journey of how we arrived in this modern era of digital marketing.

After all, if you understand where you’ve come from you can get a better idea of where you are going – you need to know your history.

Marketing has been around since time immemorial in one form or another. Peasants selling turnips in medieval market squares would enthuse that theirs were the best and most delicious – but the routes of modern marketing come from the period just before World War 2 and took root in the 1950’s.

Prior to this, marketing was distinguished by the following characteristics;              

  • Needs Based – Items were sold as necessities, and were largely characterised as required for performing certain tasks.
  • Non-experiential – Marketing was almost exclusively devoted to goods, with experiential services like restaurants or bars foregoing advertising almost entirely.
  • Demand Based – this era of marketing was dictated by the people, companies would not try and sell their products to people who did not use them – for example, they would not try and sell cigarettes to women.

After this, pioneering work from psychologists such as Sigmund Freud was used to sell products without a needs basis and the focus was shifted towards consumerism.

People like Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew, consulted with businesses and provided them with a psychological framework that would enable them to sell their products to those who previously would not have bought them. This framework was implemented through advertising.

Linda M. Scott, writing for Project Muse, states that advertising pre-WW2 was “focused more on promoting the merits of a corporation, product, or service”. Defining characteristics of the new post-WW2 form of marketing included;

  • Consumption – Items were sold with the intention of them being consumed to promote commerce in society, as opposed to being needs based.
  • Experiential – Services played a larger role in advertising post-WW2 with things like restaurants and travel being much more heavily advertised than in the previous period.
  • Persuasion – People would not buy for the sake of it, they needed persuading – this is where brands began to play a crucial role in gaining trust. Companies would now persuade people they needed certain products.

The era of digital marketing followed on from this, as advertising continued to be used in much the same way until the advent of the internet – after this the era of digital marketing began to take over. Characteristics of digital marketing include;

  • Highly Targeted – The web has allowed companies to target people very accurately, ensuring that their advertisement is seen by the right person.
  • Two Way Communication – One of the key defining aspects of digital marketing is that there is direct two way communication between consumer and supplier. This is particularly evident in social media.
  • Integration – We use computers for a variety of activities in our work and personal lives, digital marketing is highly integrated in this regard as opposed to traditional methods of advertising such as billboards.

Overall, the modern era of marketing can be considered to have spanned these three distinct periods – from necessity to consumption to communication – this is the essence of digital marketing, communication.

How Does Marketing Actually Work Online?

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Digital marketing usually starts with one thing, a website.

It is possible for businesses to exist online without a website, for example with directory listings similar to The Yellow Pages, but for the most part digital marketing is built around the promotion of a company website.

Company websites are a dime a dozen, the real challenge comes when trying to get the website out there and seen. One aspect of this is discoverability; if nobody can find your site then you’re not going to get any real business from it. One aspect of digital marketing that can help a website is search engine optimisation. 

As people use search engines to find websites, it is an effective technique that makes the website easier to find. Elements of search engine optimisation include;

  • Meeting the criteria set out by search engines that they use to define a website as ‘good’ and therefore be useful to a user of a search engine.
  • Making a website technically sound so there are no errors and a search engines look upon it more favourably.
  • Creating a high quality user journey on a website, so that it looks like a website a search engine would want to show users who are searching for particular terms.

This form of marketing is very technical. It’s all about integrating a website well within a search engine so that the engine looks upon the website favourably. This diagram from White Label SEO illustrates the various ways that this marketing technique works and can be implemented within a search engine;

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There are many different ways that digital marketing is very effective, however it is unwise to overlook the fact that there are many advantages still to be had for companies with traditional marketing mediums such as print, billboard or television advertising.

At this point in time it is reasonable to suggest the combination approach utilised by many big brands that spans both digital and traditional mediums is the way forward. However, smaller companies unable to afford traditional advertising will most likely find digital marketing techniques more effective for their needs – and in the future it is reasonable to suggest that traditional modes of advertising will continue to decline.

What the future will hold, nobody knows – but it will be interesting to see as the internet develops and traditional marketing modes combine with digital how it will affect the marketing landscape as a whole.