Traditional vs Data Driven Marketing • Digital Dot

Traditional vs Data Driven Marketing

Engage in any brief discussion with traditional or digital marketers, and you will inevitably ponder this question. Is traditional marketing dead? In turn, is data-driven marketing the future? As digitization continues, the debate of traditional vs data-driven marketing has persisted, with no seeming end in sight. We at Digital Dot NYC have explored both sides of this debate manifold, and can confidently agree this subject warrants discussion. So, let us use this article to explore it in some depth.

Defining our terms and identifying their nuance

First, as marketing dictates, let us be very specific about the terms we use. “Traditional” carries multiple meanings, and so does “data-driven” – with both sometimes devolving into all-encompassing buzzwords. Thus, both terms often see loose use, in part because they overlap with other concepts or include notable marketing subsets.

The typical meaning of “traditional” comes in juxtaposition to “digital”, as Whatagraph illustrates. In turn, it also doesn’t typically include data collection, and often relies on traditional outbound marketing tactics. With this in mind, we may pinpoint 3 exact qualities of traditional marketing:

  • Physical, not digital. Traditional marketing primarily relies on offline activities and material, such as radio and TV ads and in-person promotions.
  • Experimental, not data-driven. Because of this “colder”, in digital terms, approach, traditional marketing relies on trial and error to uncover room for improvement.
  • Typically outbound. Finally, in the inbound vs outbound spectrum, traditional marketing is typically decidedly outbound.

Then, data-driven marketing necessarily relies on digital platforms and solutions for data collection. In turn, it often ventures into inbound marketing tactics, exactly because it can afford the data to fuel them. Therefore, data-driven marketing is:

  • Data-driven marketing is, almost by definition, digital, relying on digital customer journeys for data collection. In turn, it often employs such technologies as AI to maximize efficiency.
  • Customer-centric, based on insights. Because of this advantage, data-driven marketing leverages insights to provide a truly personalized, customer-centric experience.
  • Typically inbound. Finally, data-driven marketing is typically more inbound, as it has a definitive affinity for such tactics.

The following illustration by BigData and iCrossing, cited by LBO, offers a useful overview of a typical data-driven marketing model:

An illustration of data-driven marketing in action.

Traditional vs data-driven marketing

While somewhat rudimentary, the above distinction between the two should now help us compare them more fairly – and more accurately.

Traditional marketing: the pros

First, as highlighted in our aforecited article, traditional and outbound marketing alike are not redundant. On the contrary, maintaining what provably works alongside innovation and digitization seems to offer the better, more prudent approach.

In line with this, traditional marketing offers such advantages as:

  • A local focus. Traditional marketing can still effectively attract local audiences. This is in part due to the perceived credibility of local media these audiences already consume and trust.
  • Accounting for older demographics. Similarly, older, typically less tech-savvy demographics still prefer traditional marketing tactics, and decipher them more easily.
  • Marketing diversification. Finally, in an era that dictates a digital presence, traditional marketing offers diversification for marketers to expand their reach.

Traditional marketing: the cons

That said, traditional marketing also has distinctive disadvantages, which somewhat explain why data-driven marketing continues to entice marketers. This is not an argument for discarding it altogether, by any means, but it is one that calls for attention.

Traditional marketing disadvantages include:

  • A more limited scope. A local focus naturally translates to a more limited scope, as traditional marketing cannot reasonably expand beyond premise-adjacent locations.
  • Judgment-driven. Lacking the data to truly make data-driven decisions, traditional marketing relies on personal judgment – often leading to higher failure rates.
  • Mostly outbound. Finally, as we covered above, traditional marketing has a much stronger outbound focus, which marketing trends do not favor.

It is these disadvantages that typically fuel the traditional vs data-driven marketing debate. For example, you may find Dan Lok citing them as he weighs in on the discussion in the following video:

Data-driven marketing: the pros

Having noted that data-driven marketing continues to entice marketers, let us now explore its advantages to explain this trend. A strict digital focus aside, data-driven marketing does indeed entail many, notable benefits.

To consolidate them, such benefits include:

  • A global scope. As Dan Lok excellently illustrates in the video above, data-driven digital marketing offers a global scope that can benefit businesses of all sizes. Even in cases where businesses prefer to maintain a local focus, it can still augment traffic and lead acquisition to holistically benefit marketing.
  • Data-driven customer experience. Due to its focus on customer insights and personalization, data-driven marketing offers an excellent asset toward achieving Hubspot’s flywheel model. In turn, this customer-centric approach enhances customer retention rates, while acquired insights allow for better-informed decision-making.
  • Spearheading inbound marketing. Finally, as we’ve covered manifold, data-driven marketing is definitively inbound marketing. For all its benefits, traditional, outbound marketing simply cannot meet the challenges of the digital era without diversification.

It is these main benefits, along with their substantive subsets, that lend credence to the marketing trends we’ve seen over the years.

Data-driven marketing: the cons

However, there would be no debate if data-driven marketing had no disadvantages to speak of. Indeed it does, even if most of them lie on practical grounds.

Some such disadvantages include:

  • A high skill and resource threshold. Digital, inbound, data-driven marketing requires sets of advanced skills and specialized solutions to fully leverage. While it typically offers excellent Return on Investment (ROI), these thresholds may discourage smaller businesses.
  • Intense competition. Moreover, this marketing field entails fierce competition. Dan Lok also touched on this factor when he asserted that “everybody could do the same thing”. Marketers indeed rush to embrace innovation, which produces the distinct downside of competition – which not all businesses can engage in.
  • A massive scope. Finally, smaller and local businesses may simply not value the benefits of data-driven marketing. For them, traditional marketing may suffice, and data-driven marketing’s larger scope and potential returns may not justify the resources and effort.

Evidently, such disadvantages hinge on practical factors and implementation. Nonetheless, they too fuel the debate, and likely understandably so.

Traditional vs data-driven marketing: reconciliation

Given these downsides and the need for diversification, the debate often ends on reconciliation. That is, that both approaches warrant attention, if not an integration for mutual benefit, as SmartInsights has found:

A graph on marketers' attempts to integrate traditional marketing into data-driven marketing.


These findings from 2016 remain true today. As we highlighted above, each approach serves a specific purpose, regardless of overall efficiency. Thus, many marketers now find that reconciling the two may offer a better, third solution. A solution which, arguably, better serves businesses that value local reach but still wish to innovate and modernize their marketing. After all, there is no reason why the two can’t synergize, with each addressing the other’s shortcomings.


To summarize, the longstanding traditional vs data-driven marketing debate offers no universal answers. Digitization does dictate a focus on inbound strategies and data-driven decisions, and traditional marketing has by all means fallen behind. However, much like with the inbound vs outbound debate, both sides have distinct advantages and subtle disadvantages to consider. Thus, you may consider both on a case-by-case basis and, ideally, strive to reconcile the two toward a course that best benefits your business.

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