What is Digital Marketing? – The Step by Step Guide

Although most business leaders think that they have a good conception of what the term “digital marketing” means, delving a little deeper into the nuts and bolts of what it actually means often reveals that they don’t. To many business leaders, digital marketing means their website, SEO, or some form of email marketing. But a correct understanding of digital marketing must encompass all the channels through which companies interact with their customers digitally, and the real purpose of the enterprise. In this article, we’re going to move from the specific to the general, and hopefully learn something along the way.

Digital marketing is a vast concept which spans multiple domains. It’s about much more than websites or email marketing. Digital marketing is an activity which varies in multiple dimensions.

  • Purpose. The purpose of digital marketing is to enhance the customer journey to conversion, from creating an intent to buy to creating loyal, long-standing customers. What’s more, the nature of digital marketing that a company deploys depends on the stage of a prospect is in the buying cycle. Digital marketing to generate intent-to-buy is very different from the type of methods a company might deploy to retain a customer or encouraged a lapsed one to return.
  • Device. In the early days of the internet, digital marketing used to far more restricted to a single device, namely desktop computers. But today’s device landscape is far more complicated, thanks to a proliferation of form factors that began in earnest at the end of the 2000s. Digital marketing is intelligent marketing that happens on any “digital” device, be that a regular PC, tablet, notebook, phone, watch, or TV with digital capabilities.
  • Platform. To call the internet a platform is a gross oversimplification. While it’s true that the internet is the home of digital marketing in many respects, it is such as a vast system of communication that it is often more useful to break it up into chunks that have different digital marketing characteristics. A platform, from the perspective of digital marketing, is a system around which a unique or specific digital marketing strategy develops. Marketing to boost your website ranking in search results, for instance, is very different from marketing on social networks. Both require expertise in SEO and content but use different methods.
  • Technology. In the past, email marketing was a mainstay of the digital conversion process. But over the years, the digital marketing technology stack has proliferated. Digital marketing, therefore, encompasses both the mode in which companies communicate with customers – such as chatbots, emails, website content, interactive content, videos, blogs, tutorials – and the tools that they use to generate and analyse digital advertising efforts. Digital marketing tools not only help businesses reach customers but also tell them about which kinds of marketing they like and provide the software support to make them engaging.
What is Digital Marketing

Moving Towards A Definition

What is interesting about current definitions of digital marketing is that they tend to assume that the only reason a company would engage in the activity is to generate new sales. But is this assumption fair?

Although it’s true that digital marketing involves trying to achieve marketing objectives through the application of digital technologies and media, that definition tends to simplify why firms engage in the practice. Some companies, for instance, use digital marketing not only to promote their products and services but also to improve the customer experience. Companies are increasingly recognising that building customer loyalty is about more than the timely deployment of relevant marketing at appropriate stages in the buying cycle, but about building genuine partnerships and trust. And whereas in the past, building trust on a per-customer basis would have been prohibitively expensive, digital tools and automation are making that a possibility.

Types of Digital Marketing

Traditional Versus Digital: A Valid Distinction?

There is also a tendency when trying to define digital marketing to compare it to “traditional marketing” – or marketing on platforms like television, radio and billboards. The idea is that digital marketing is a separate entity that exists on the internet, in blogs and on social, while traditional marketing encompasses all the channels companies used before the advent of the internet. 

But a simple application of the definition of digital marketing reveals this to be a conceptually unhelpful distinction. A company can quite reasonably apply digital marketing techniques to a television commercial, for instance, by using data gathered from on-demand streaming services. And, equally, a company can launch an email campaign without having considered the full scope of the digital opportunity. In short, digital marketing and traditional marketing are not mutually exclusive, and using digital platforms is not always sufficient to qualify as digital marketing.

What is Digital Marketing

The Expanding Complexity Of Digital Marketing

As technology develops and companies innovate, the domain of what we call “digital marketing” expands. Companies new to the field will be mesmerised by the sheer volume of data and jargon on the subject. 

The realm of digital marketing is expanding in two main areas: data and channels. Every 18 months or so, the volume of data created (and recorded) by humanity doubles. Companies know that those data are valuable for their digital marketing efforts, but they often fail to capture them, and when they do, they don’t know how to use them effectively. Today’s digital marketing is the application of data science technologies to marketing method using data from a range of disparate sources, such as location data, website traffic data, and data from social media activity. 

Digital marketing is also becoming multi-channel, as we discussed above. It’s not just about marketing through these channels, but connecting them together in a way that enhances the customer experience. Customers don’t want a fragmented experience when they switch from customer support on the phone to web chat: they want the company to have a profile on them which allows them to move seamlessly between channels.

What is Digital Marketing


So, if we had to define digital marketing in a single, concise sentence, what might that definition be?

We might say that digital marketing is:“The application of digital tools and methods to enhance customer experience throughout all parts of the buying cycle, regardless of customer origin or platform.”

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