What is Digital Marketing?


The use of the internet and other digital technology to support ‘modern marketing’ comes with a bewildering range of labels and jargon. It has been labelled 'digital marketing', 'internet marketing', 'e-marketing', 'online marketing' and 'web marketing' and these alternative terms have varied through time...

Digital Marketing is the term most frequently used today, and this is the term we focus on.

Definition of Digital Marketing

Here's a definition from digital-marketing guru Dave Chaffey:

"Achieving marketing objectives through applying digital technologies and media."

This definition can be expanded to explain that, in practice, digital marketing includes managing different forms of online company presence. 

These might include the company website, mobile apps and social media company pages. This is in conjunction with online communications techniques such as Search Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Display Advertising, Content Marketing, Email Marketing and partnership arrangements with other websites.

These techniques are used to support the objectives of acquiring new customers and providing services to existing customers that help build relationships. 

However, for digital marketing to be successful, these techniques still need to be integrated with traditional media such as print, TV and direct mail as part of multi-channel marketing communications. 

Indeed, according to the Financial Times: 

"Digital marketing extends beyond internet marketing to include channels that do not require the use of the internet."

Online Business Models

An organisation's website is usually at the centre of their digital marketing activities. The following tutorial introduces three main online business models that could be used by a website to deliver a return on investment.

The three models are:

  • Publishing
  • E-commerce
  • Lead Generation

It is worth noting, however, that a website will usually use a combination of several business models.

In summary...


The key characteristics of the publishing model are:

  • Indirect monetisation model
  • Connects & delivers audiences to advertisers
  • The 'product' is content: News & information, entertainment, etc.

Key characteristics:

  • Direct monetisation model
  • Online transaction for products, services, etc.
  • Tangible products for revenue
Lead Generation

Key characteristics:

  • Most indirect monetisation mode
  • Online capture of customer info (email, phone #, etc.)
  • Customer info used to drive further online engagement (e.g. email automation), offline transaction, etc.

Acquiring, Converting and Retaining Visitors

For a website to generate revenue through one or more of the above models, it needs one crucial thing above all else. Visitors. And after you've attracted visitors, you'll need ways to convince them to do what you want them to do - whether it's buying your products, completing a lead-capture form, or even just watching a video testimonial. Then, you'll then need ways to stay in touch with those visitors, keep them engaged, build a relationship, and bring them back again for more.

There is a plethora of digital marketing tools and techniques out there to help acquire, convert and retain visitors. A useful approach to help make sense of all the tools and channels is to group them according to three categories:

  • Paid media
  • Owned media
  • Earned media

Each provides opportunities to influence customers. None of these media types are new, but what is new is the increasing prominence of Owned and Earned media, while Paid always dominated in the past. This is a positive move as it poses questions about how best to measure the returns from social media and set the investment at the right level.

Here's a quick overview of each type of media...

Paid Media

Put simply, it’s all the advertising you pay for, including amongst other things:

  • Print ads
  • TV ads
  • Display ads
  • Paid search
  • Promoted posts on Facebook
  • Sponsored tweets

Basically anything that you’ve paid for in order to drive traffic to your ‘owned media’ properties.

The audience for Paid media is generally made up of strangers to brand and its services.  

Owned Media

All the stuff that belongs to your brand and you control:

  • Your website
  • Retail stores (online and offline)
  • Blogs
  • Social media channels
  • Apps
  • Magazines
  • Brochures

It’s down to their strength (quality, persuasiveness, relevance) that determines whether strangers driven to your Owned media by Paid media will become customers.

The strength of the Owned media experiences also determines whether your customers will then become fans of yours. Fans drive ‘earned media’.

Earned Media

This is the free publicity generated by your fans, followers, etc. You don't own it and you didn’t pay for it... you earned it… good work!

You might be hilarious on youTube, offer superior e-commerce experience, or your consistently engaging Twitter account has been good enough for someone to create a positive piece of content for you or share your original content further.

Earned media includes:

  • Retweets
  • Facebook Likes
  • YouTube comments
  • Shares
  • Revines
  • Bloggers writing about your product
  • Online reviews
  • Word of mouth

If a video ad that you paid to make is shared by someone on social media, then this ‘sharing’ is still an example of Earned media.

Unlike Paid or Owned media, you can’t really control Earned media. It’s in the hands of your ‘fans’. However, Earned media is how your brand might become wildly popular - so if you trust your brand and products, then you should trust in Earned media.

In Summary

You shouldn't assume that everything always happens in a straight line: Paid, then Owned, then Earned. Sometimes Paid can lead straight to Earned, or Earned to Owned. For example, a Facebook comment (Earned) can be the first time someone hears about a company and it drives them straight to your website (Owned) cutting out Paid altogether.

Here's a summary of the three media categories from Forrester:

To learn more about digital marketing, go to the top of the page and sign up for our resources or take a look at our Diploma in Digital Marketing.