What is digital marketing?

I set myself the task of answering the question: ‘What is digital marketing?’ And more specifically coming up with an explanation that beginners will understand that isn’t going to confuse or make it too complicated. Here at Digital Marketing for Graduates, we’re aiming to help you get your first job in digital marketing so we should be able to help you out with an explanation of what exactly you will be getting yourself into.

Do you understand the difference between digital marketing, internet marketing, online marketing, e-marketing and web marketing? Are they one in the same, or do they describe slightly different things?

I’ve scoured the internet and turned to digital marketing gurus and websites, digital marketing books and digital marketing institutions to help me come up with an explanation for you. Here’s what I found out…

What is Digital Marketing by Wikipedia

For the sake of being thorough I’m including the Wikipedia definition, as that’s where most people start:

‘Digital marketing is an umbrella term for the marketing of products or services using digital technologies, mainly on the Internet, but also including mobile phones, display advertising, and any other digital medium.’

We’re going to skip over this for now, because Wikipedia is only a free encyclopaedia and although the information is often reliable, in the quest for the ultimate definition, I think the better people to look to are the digital marketing gurus and practitioners themselves. So what is digital marketing (from the experts)…

what is digital marketingDave Chaffey, founder of Smart Insights

I turned to Dave Chaffey first of all, as he was one of the most respected marketers in the UK when I first started out in marketing back in 2003.

In his book, Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice, Dave Chaffey, describes digital marketing as:

‘Achieving marketing objectives through applying digital technologies and media.’

This sounds pretty straightforward, yet is a rather broad definition. He goes on to provide more substance by explaining that the practise of digital marketing is a combination of three things. Firstly, it’s managing a company’s online presence (website, mobile apps, social media pages etc.) and secondly it’s using various communication techniques such as social media marketing (SMM), search engine optimisation (SEO), online advertising, email marketing and affiliate or partnership marketing to reach prospects and latterly using E-CRM (customer relationship management software) and marketing automation to develop the customer relationship to meet the business objectives of acquiring new customers. He also points out that digital marketing should not be viewed in a vacuum and a multichannel communication plan would see digital marketing integrated with more traditional marketing and media such as print, TV and direct mail.

what is digital marketingNeil Patel, Co-founder of CrazyEgg

I’m moving on to Neil Patel co-founder of analytics companies KISSmetrics and CrazyEgg because I think it will be useful to hear from someone who creates the tools people in our industry use. Plus, isn’t it entirely possible that book content is pretty out of date when our industry moves so fast?

So what does Neil Patel think?

Neil Patel suggests that digital marketing has actually been around well over 100 years when an Italian called Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first radio signals. He dismisses the Wikipedia definition as crappy and also posits that digital marketing has nothing to do with the internet; ‘digital marketing is more than Facebook ads and social media blasts.’

So what it is it?

‘Digital marketing is any form of marketing products or services that involves electronic devices.’

He explains that digital marketing is about electronic communication on electronic devices and can be performed both online and offline. He asserts that both kinds of marketing are of equal importance. For online marketing he more of less agrees with Dave Chaffey on the main categories of marketing: (social media marketing (SMM), search engine optimisation (SEO), online advertising, email marketing and affiliates). But, for what he’s calling offline digital marketing he includes radio advertising, television marketing, phone marketing (think calling and texting). This list below borrowed straight from his post shows you how he is classifying the various marketing channels:

Online marketing

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Search engine marketing (SEM)
  • Content marketing
  • Social Media Marketing (SMM)
  • Pay-per-click advertising (PPC)
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Email marketing

Offline marketing

Enhanced offline marketing

  • Electronic billboards
  • Digital product demos
  • Digital product samples

Radio marketing

  • Radio commercials
  • Show sponsoring

TV marketing

  • TV commercials
  • Tele-shopping
  • Super Bowl commercials

Phone marketing

  • Cold calling
  • Text message marketing (giveaways, coupons, loyalty programs)
  • QR codes

So Neil Patel’s distinctions definitely seem to make sense, and he has covered most digital marketing techniques and topics. Next I thought it might be good to see what the marketing institutions and member bodies have to say. Afterall, they are the ones who provide marketing training for the industry.

UK Marketing Membership Organisations

Now you’d think the digital marketing training courses from The Institute of Digital Marketing, The Chartered Institute of Marketing and The Digital Marketing Institute would be good people to answer the question what is digital marketing?, and could add some weight to what we’ve found out so far…

Alas, none of the course pages seem to provide a succinct definition of digital marketing for their prospective students. I’ve had a good root through their introductory and beginner courses and they all clearly assume you know what digital marketing is:

what is digital marketingIDM – Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing

Be qualified to plan, manage and evaluate digital campaigns in social media, search, email, affiliate and more, and learn to confidently integrate them with your organisation’s wider marketing strategy

what is digital marketingCIM – Introduction To Digital Marketing

Every marketer needs to understand how to exploit digital marketing assets, tools and techniques in order to improve their customer value proposition and help achieve their organisational objectives. This means designing an accessible, usable and value-adding website and using a range of inter-related digital marketing tools and techniques – integrated with traditional tools and techniques – to drive traffic, conversion, engagement and referrals.

what is digital marketingDMI – Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing

Strengthen your skillset and progress along a digital marketing career path, the Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing is our cornerstone certification and can provide you with an introduction to key digital specialisms, from mobile and social media marketing to Email, PPC and SEO.

Digital Marketing Training Course Materials

the-art-of-digital-marketingAs I was looking at the training courses on offer for beginners I stumbled across The Art of Digital Marketing by Ian Dodson which is billed as the supporting material for the Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing by the DMI. The book is a self-professed ‘fountain of knowledge, jam-packed with all the information you need to start your digital marketing journey.’

Sounds like a good place to take a look. Maybe the course descriptions don’t provide a definition, but this book surely will…?

So I started by taking a look at chapter 1 where I’d typically expect to find my definition.

Unfortunately, no concrete definition, but an interesting chapter nonetheless that talks more generally about digital marketing. Ian Dobson seems to be signed up to Dave Chaffey’s school of thought and is talking specifically about the Internet and Online Marketing. He goes on to assert that actually everything you do should be customer led, which, in fact, is a great piece of advice and in my mind should be part of any definition:

“…[Digital channels] are interaction channels that facilitate a two way conversation. By taking the time to find out what your customers are doing online, your digital activities will become radically more effective.’

My conclusion in the quest for the ultimate digital marketing definition

The quest to find the ultimate definition of digital marketing hasn’t really worked out how I thought it would when I started. In fact, the varying definitions coupled with the apparent reluctance to actually define it by some goes to show that it’s an incredibly nuanced and complicated field.

It’s also a field that is growing at the speed of light where techniques are updated and practices change daily as the industry front runners continue to push the boundaries. Think about technologies like Snapchat, and Instagram growing their audiences like wildfire, and how companies are able to seemingly follow you around the internet and how we all have a mobile phone in our hand almost 100% of our waking hours. Who knows what will be next, but one thing’s for sure it will be exciting and you will be a part of it.

So if you’re just starting out, keep reading. It’s a really good idea to read the best digital marketing blogs regularly and stay as up-to-date as you can.

All that said, I’m not one for wishy washy conclusions and so I recommend Neil Patel’s definition as the one that resonates most with me as a practising digital marketer. His blog on the subject: Digital Marketing Made Simple is certainly worth reading from beginning to end. Thanks Neil!

Thanks for reading the article — I hope it helps inspire you to get stuck in to a career in digital marketing. If you enjoyed the read, please share it or recommend it so others can find us as well 🙂

About post author

Hello. My name is Lucy Smith. I recently quit my full-time Marketing Director role at a tech start-up in London, (after 13 years hard graft getting there), in favour of starting up on my own. Why? The journey from graduating with a 2:1 in Media and Cultural Studies to Marketing Director hasn't all been plain sailing, but is has been challenging and tremendous fun. A career path that I heartily recommend to anyone who will listen. Digital Marketing For Graduates is my brain-child. I'd like to give something back, as well as have the experience of starting my own business. I will give it my all. Provide and source the very best information I can, but I know I can't do it all alone. For Digital Marketing For Grads to evolve I will need some help. Please get in touch if you'd like to be part of the idea.
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