Traditional vs Digital Advertising; Which Is Right For Local Business?

Choosing between traditional and digital marketing is a constant dilemma that comes up in our industry. No matter what size your budget is, you want to make sure every dollar counts.

In regards to traditional advertising, I’m referring to;

  • Billboards
  • Posters
  • Bus benches
  • Direct mail
  • Anything else offline

In regards to digital marketing, for the purpose of this article I’m strictly referring to advertising through Facebook.

I’m clearly on Facebook’s side in this argument, and I believe with good reason. Obviously I’m biased in this conversation, but let me provide my reasons, and let me know if you agree.

1. Longevity

When using Facebook, you can advertise specifically to attract page likes. Later on you can use that audience to promote posts for free over and over again.

This basically means that you can spend less/nothing in future to promote your business to those same people. Those people may also share your posts with their friends, providing “online word of mouth”.

As long as you have a strong social media strategy, you can get unlimited advertising from the same budget that you would have used for a fixed term traditional marketing campaign.

Once your billboard ads run out, there are no residual benefits, and you cannot reach those people again unless it’s through another medium.

2. Tracking

With online marketing, you can track everything.

Through the use of Google Analytics, you can find out exactly how much you spend to acquire a customer and know whether what you’re doing is working or not and make decisions on how to tweak it.

With traditional advertising, you are using the same tactics, but there’s no measurement of success. The traditional marketing companies can tell you “our billboard gets 5,000 impressions per month” but that’s based on an average from one guy sitting by it and counting how many cars drive past in a day. It’s hardly accurate.

The only way you could measure a billboard’s success would be to offer a discount using the code “BILLBOARD” on your website for example and see how many people use it to make orders.

But still, how do you really know how many people actually saw your outdoor ad, or received your direct mail and made an impact?

3. Remarketing

You can install remarketing code on your website (which is a lot easier than it sounds), so anyone that visits your webpage can be advertised to after they leave.

You know when you’re looking at some products on a website, but then you leave and head to Facebook and they start advertising that same product? That’s called remarketing.

It’s kind of creepy, but oh so effective. What happens here is the code you install keeps track of who visits your site, or certain products or services shown on your website, and then it shows those people ads to remind them of the product.

Remarketing is hugely successful for e-commerce companies as it helps pick up potentially lost buyers.

Installing a tracking pixel is as easy as copy and pasting. The most popular pixels provided are by Facebook and Google AdWords.

This is something you can’t do with outdoor ads. You can’t retarget someone that drove by a bus bench.

4. Location

The best type of advertising to use can vary based on how your business works and where your customers do most of their buying.

If you’re a handyman, most services you sell would be purchased at your customer’s home. Therefore advertising via billboards and bus benches to people who are out and about may not leave much impact.

However, advertising by direct mail would be effective, because customers would have a piece of paper they can keep. That piece of paper can be held to their fridge (c’mon, we all do it) by magnets so that they can refer to it whenever they need you.

But, it really depends on what type of business you have – make sure you think about it thoroughly first.

You don’t see a billboard for a plumber while you’re out and think “crap, I should probably get my boiler fixed”, right? Your boiler breaks at home, then you call the company, that’s just how it is.

Facebook (and other advertising providers) allow you to target your audience, so that your ads only display to the people most likely to buy from you – provided you know what you’re doing.

5. Attention

People’s attention is on their cell phones, not on billboards they’re driving by.

Think how many people you know that constantly have their heads buried in their phones (even while driving).

For Example;

One good example is House of Cars in Calgary. They kill it on social media, see their page here:

I bought my truck from them.

Originally I was going in to look at another truck, but it had already sold by the time I called. I didn’t believe them because on their website it said the date they posted it was the day before.

They said it’s pretty usual for their vehicles to sell within a couple of days, and they don’t have a car that sits on their lot for longer than a week.

So I asked what their marketing strategy was (I always do wherever I am) and they use 100% online, with 80-90% being on Facebook. In fact, I first found out about them through Facebook.

The reason for that is that you can get people’s attention for so much cheaper than traditional advertising, and you can actually target the people you want to buy from you.


Traditional advertising does have its place, and is still effective. Traditional marketing is effective for branding, or to show that you have money to spend – something that isn’t always obvious on Facebook.

However, the only way you can justify traditional advertising nowadays is to pair it with some form of online marketing campaign. Whether that’s through a web page with discount codes, or simply using it to get Facebook likes is your call. Otherwise you don’t know if it’s working and you’re simply wasting dollars.

I think Facebook is a much smarter strategy for most businesses, and I believe if your website is set up properly to push for calls and quote requests then the two will go hand in hand.

Tom Watts

AvatarTom is the proud Owner of Top Shelf Media in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He's a seasoned blogger who writes about all things related to online marketing, web design and SEO. Feel free to ask him anything!

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