What Is Digital Marketing?

What Is Digital Marketing?

7 min read

Stories are a captivating way to educate, evoke emotions, and push you to think about things in a different way. Whether it comes from a book, a movie, or even a conversation with a friend, stories help to create a personal connection. It not surprising that many of the most memorable marketing campaigns often tell a story. It’s difficult not to get inspired by Apple’s Think Different campaign, or be amused by Volkswagen’s classic advertisements from the early 60’s. They tell a story to capture your attention and help you empathize with their approach and ideals.

Traditional marketing has been telling stories since the dawn of modern advertising 1, but there have always been limitations in the way they were told. Due to the physical nature of printed materials and processes behind broadcast television most marketing has been passive. A person has no way to physically engage with what they are experiencing, which limits their engagement. Due to the way traditional marketing is distributed, audiences are more difficult to reach, and tracking the results of these materials is complicated and often incomplete.

Digital marketing shares the same foundation as these traditional methods, but provides a wider range of capabilities. By leveraging the functionality of digital devices it is possible to deliver more engaging and targeted marketing that provides more value to both marketers and their audiences. Many of these advantages wouldn’t be possible without the interactive capabilities provided by the technology.

Interactivity and Animation

Digital devices offer countless ways to interact, and these interactions can be used to improve the overall experience. Webcams, keyboards, microphones, touch screens, gyroscopes, and geolocation are a few of the tools you have available for your digital marketing. You can use these actions

Imagine a social media contest that allows you to use your webcam to upload a photo.

This interaction provides a few benefits:

  1. Doesn’t require a separate camera for taking a photo
  2. Avoids the tedious process of uploading a photo
  3. Lowers the barrier to entry

This example uses interaction to benefit the person using it, avoiding frustration they may encounter and therefore increasing the chances that more people would upload photos. Enhancing this experience with photo filters, customizable borders, or the ability to add props would add additional points of interaction, increase it’s usefulness, and also make it more playful.

The way things interact and animate go a long way to setting a mood and help driving the emotion of the story you are telling. Providing the wrong interactions2 or animations can make your tactics feel unbalanced and derail the story you are trying to tell. Here is a simple example of social media icons that use animation in an effective way:

See the Pen Social Buttons by Levi Neuland (@levineuland) on CodePen.

The animation is simple, but offers the following benefits:

  1. Draws your attention
  2. Lets you know that circular icons can be interacted with
  3. Add a sense of smoothness

When you hover over these icons the color expands from the center smoothly. The expansion of the color represents the reach you get when interacting with social media3, while the smooth transition implies the ease that taking this action will be. Not unlike playing smooth Jazz in an office lobby, these small touches go a long way to setting the mood for the overall experience.

There is a wide range of animations you have at your disposal to evoke certain moods or emotions. Here are a few examples that can give you an idea of what is possible:

See the Pen Animate.css by Levi Neuland (@levineuland) on CodePen.

Targeting and Customization

Digital marketing offers great flexibility to target your tactics to specific groups of people. You can narrow it down to specific age ranges, genders, and geographic locations. In extreme cases it’s possible to target an individual person, assuming you have specific identifying criteria on hand.

Once you’ve targeted your audience you can adjust the messaging to speak directly to their needs. For print campaigns creating variants adds additional cost and logistical overhead to the campaign. With digital tactics, you can use the data you have to easily serve custom messaging. The more closely you can speak about a person’s situation, the more likely they are to pay attention and take action. This has the added bonus of letting you skip certain audience members past content that would be irrelevant.

As an example, imagine you are running an email campaign that is advertising a sale on toasters. If someone has already bought a toaster from you, they shouldn’t be shown the same ad. If you showed everyone the same ad you’re wasting ad impressions on a people that are extremely unlikely to purchase a toaster. Using the data you have, you can segment the audience that has already bought a toaster and send them an email that promotes a sale on blenders.

It’s very easy to get drunk with the power of having all of this data to customize your marketing, but using it inappropriately can make your marketing come across as creepy or invasive. Speak to your targeted audience in a way that is respectful to the relationship you have with them. The way you communicate with an existing customer is very different from someone who has never heard of you. Only use information that your audience has willingly provided, and avoid purchasing contact lists from third parties. If you cross this line you’re at risk of alienating many people who will be put off by what you try promote in the future.

Analytics Dashboard

Tracking Results

With any marketing campaign it’s important to understand the path that people take through your tactics and messaging to eventually achieve your goals. Knowing this path also allows you to track the success and failure of each step along the way. Setting up tracking/analytics software will allow you to monitor performance of your entire campaign and provide you with key metrics that demonstrate the value it generates.

Tracking can help you answer questions such as:

  • What are the most engaging headlines/pages/ads?
  • Which tactics are stopping people dead in their tracks?
  • How many people reached our established goals?
  • How much revenue did this ad generate?

You can use the data captured and your campaign’s performance to make educated decisions on what to adjust. Unlike print advertisements, most forms of digital marketing can be adjusted on the fly for minimal cost. A particular banner advertisement not performing? Change the creative, show it to a different audience segment, or pull it entirely and invest the money in tactics that are working. Using conversion optimization techniques such as A/B testing coupled with your analytics helps to squeeze the most value out of your campaign.

Not tracking your digital marketing efforts a shotgun approach. You might be able to tell if it was successful in your end goals, but you won’t know what individual elements missed the mark. Equipped with this knowledge you can improve the success of the next campaign and easily convince your clients of the value of your marketing efforts.

Take It Slow

This only scratches the surface of the opportunities you have with digital marketing. As you move forward you will encounter highly technical jargon, enormous amounts of data, and complex tactics that will overwhelm you. It scared me too at first, but once you get your toes wet you’ll be amazed by the vast arsenal of tactics and data you have at your disposal.

Digital marketing is still in its infancy. We are all still discovering how it can enhance the stories we want to tell. It’s a great time to be exploring this uncharted territory, and I’m glad you’re coming along for the ride.


  1. Which many people attribute to Thomas J. Barratt. He used tag lines, brand association, celebrity endorsement, and testimonials to market soap for A&F Pears.
    He started using these tactics in the late 1800’s, making them over two-hundred years old! 

  2. An example of a wrong interaction would be a “Share To Tumblr” link on a Law Firm’s website. Lawyers and their potential clients are not likely to be sharing legal knowledge on Tumblr, unless it’s an animated GIF and being spoken by a character from My Little Pony 

  3. The idea of the expanding animation representing social media reach is a bit of a stretch, and I would never say that line out loud in front of any client. The animation is ultimately a design decision, and if you’re forced to defend it with rationale then there are probably bigger issues at stake. 

Published on February 28th, 2014

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