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Without advertising, no one would know about the products and services you have to offer. There are different ways to get that information in front of the consumer: traditional marketing and content marketing. A well-rounded marketing plan will incorporate both tactics, but the challenge is choosing the right advertising style to achieve your goal.

Before you pronounce traditional marketing outdated or content marketing as the only way to go currently, let’s take a good look at the difference between these two strategies, specifically comparing content marketing vs traditional marketing.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach that focuses on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and engage a target audience. It is a long-term marketing strategy that aims to build and nurture relationships with customers by providing them with informative, entertaining, or educational content.

Content marketing is often used in conjunction with other digital marketing strategies, such as search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, and email marketing. It is an effective way to build brand awareness, foster customer loyalty, and drive conversions by providing value to your audience through content.

What is traditional marketing?

Traditional marketing refers to conventional marketing methods and channels that existed before the digital age. These marketing techniques rely on offline or traditional media to promote products or services. While digital marketing has gained prominence in recent years, traditional marketing methods are still used by many businesses to reach their target audience.

While digital marketing has become increasingly popular due to its cost-effectiveness and ability to target specific audiences, traditional marketing methods are still relevant for businesses that want to reach a local or broad demographic through established and trusted channels. Many companies choose to use a combination of traditional and digital marketing strategies to achieve their marketing goals.

The key differences between traditional marketing and content marketing

Traditional marketing and content marketing are two distinct approaches to reaching and engaging with an audience. Here are the key differences between them:

Nature of content:

  • Traditional Marketing: Traditional marketing relies on promotional content that is often interruptive. This includes advertisements, billboards, direct mail, and telemarketing. The focus is on product or service promotion.
  • Content Marketing: Content marketing emphasizes creating valuable, relevant, and non-promotional content. The content is typically educational, entertaining, or informative, and it aims to provide value to the audience beyond direct sales pitches.

Communication style:

  • Traditional Marketing: Traditional marketing is typically one-way communication. Businesses push their messages to the audience without expecting immediate feedback or interaction.
  • Content Marketing: Content marketing encourages two-way communication. It aims to engage the audience in conversations, comments, and discussions. It values feedback and interaction with the audience.

Mediums and channels:

  • Traditional Marketing: Traditional marketing primarily uses offline channels, such as print media, TV, radio, billboards, and direct mail.
  • Content Marketing: Content marketing leverages online channels, such as websites, blogs, social media, email newsletters, videos, podcasts, and more. It can also include offline channels like magazines, but the focus is on creating digital content.

Cost and scalability:

  • Traditional Marketing: Traditional marketing campaigns, especially on television or in print media, can be expensive. Costs may vary based on the reach and duration of the campaign.
  • Content Marketing: Content marketing is often more cost-effective. Creating and distributing digital content is generally less expensive, and it can be easily scaled up or down to suit the budget and goals.


  • Traditional Marketing: Traditional marketing can be challenging to measure accurately. Metrics such as the number of magazine ad views or TV viewership can provide insights, but tracking ROI can be complex.
  • Content Marketing: Content marketing provides more robust measurement and analytics options. You can track website traffic, engagement metrics, conversion rates, and other KPIs to assess the performance of content marketing efforts.

Audience targeting:

  • Traditional Marketing: Traditional marketing often has a broad target audience. While there is some demographic targeting, the focus is on reaching a wide range of consumers.
  • Content Marketing: Content marketing allows for precise audience targeting. Content can be tailored to specific demographics, interests, and segments, making it more relevant to the intended audience.

Longevity of content:

  • Traditional Marketing: Traditional marketing content has a limited lifespan. Once an ad airs or a print campaign ends, the message is no longer accessible to the audience.
  • Content Marketing: Content marketing content can have a longer lifespan. Blog posts, videos, and other digital content can remain available and relevant for an extended period, continuing to attract and engage audiences over time.

Traditional Marketing Channels vs. Content Marketing Channels

The first and most obvious difference between content marketing and traditional marketing is the means of distribution.

Traditional marketing uses the following mediums to get its message out:

  • TV and radio commercials
  • Newspaper and magazine ads
  • Banner ads
  • Direct mail advertisements, brochures, fliers
  • Billboards and signs

Content marketing uses entirely different distribution channels. According to the Content Marketing Institute, social media is the most popular way to publish content, with 92 percent of marketers using this tactic. Other popular distribution methods include:

  • Email newsletters
  • Website articles
  • Blog posts—either your own blog or guest posts
  • Infographics
  • Videos, webinars, and podcasts
  • White papers and ebooks

Both marketing tactics come with their share of advantages and disadvantages.

For instance, traditional marketing tactics—particularly TV and radio space—give you access to extremely vast audiences. On the other hand, the typical cost of a 30-second TV commercial ranges from $397,898 for a spot on “Monday Night Football” and $158,411 for “Grey’s Anatomy.”

In contrast, content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional venues making it an extremely viable option for small businesses. But it’s also much harder to draw attention to something like a YouTube video than a TV commercial.

Tell vs. Give

Traditional marketing is about telling the audience about your product or service, why they need it, and how to get it. Businesses who use this method seek out the demographic audience to persuade them to make a purchase and provide little or no value in return.

Content marketing takes a completely different approach. Rather than placing your offerings before the consumer, you’re publishing material that your target demographic finds useful or interesting. Maybe it’s a funny video, a how-to guide or an inspiring case study that relates to your product. With this approach, you’re creating a situation in which you give the audience something of value—and if you’ve done your job, they will come back to you when they need your product or service.

The Red Bull Stratos Jump is a great example of Red Bull building brand awareness with an exciting event rather than directly marketing their beverage. 

They wound up with an impressive ROI: 

  • During the lead-up to this event, Red Bull’s YouTube channel gained 87,801 subscribers. 
  • Their Facebook page got over 83,000 shares. 
  • In the following six months sales rose 7 percent (to $1.6 billion).

Dialogue vs. Monologue

Traditional marketing tends to be one-sided. You send out fliers or run an advertisement on television and people will see it, but there is no way for them to interact with your brand. There is no venue for their questions or comments.

Content marketing is interactive. Thanks to the nature of the Internet, this strategy provides an opportunity to have a dialogue with your customers (or potential customers), rather than merely force them to listen to your monologue. This forum allows the audience to research brands and products much more easily before making a purchase.

Generalized vs. Personalized

Traditional advertisements are meant to be viewed by a vast audience. The most-watched TV event in history was the 2015 Super Bowl which drew in an audience of 114.4 million viewers. Because traditional marketing channels feature such large audiences, and because commercials and advertisements are likely to play over several months or even years, they are designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

On the other hand, because content marketing is about earning the reader’s trust, the content needs to be directed towards a smaller, more specific audience so that it speaks to them directly and gives them a reason to engage with it.

For instance, a magazine advertisement for a garden center might feature an image of the large selection of plants, flowers, and seeds that it carries rather than appeal to one specific group of gardeners. It casts as wide a net as possible to make an impression on everyone, from vegetable gardeners to landscapers, from experts to beginners.

A content marketing campaign for the same garden center would look quite different. Perhaps there would be a series of blog posts on the proper care of roses aimed at rose gardeners. For the landscapers, you could publish articles that cover industry news and business tips. Rather than trying to please a broad group with one type of content, a content marketing campaign should provide something of value to several smaller audiences.

Stationary vs. Shareable

Traditional marketing is meant to establish awareness through self-promotion and because it doesn’t tend to offer anything of value, it’s not easily shareable. You may remark to a friend to keep a lookout for a funny TV commercial, but you can’t pass it on to her (unless you find it on YouTube, which then crosses the line into content marketing).

With content marketing, because you’ve offered the viewer something funny, informative or inspiring, and done so in an interactive forum like social media, it’s a lot easier to share this content. And because people share what makes them look good, the better the content, the more exposure it will get.

AspectsContent MarketingTraditional Marketing
Tell Vs GiveFocuses on giving value to the audience by offering useful or interesting content.
Content is intended to provide something of value to the target demographic.
Primarily focuses on telling the audience about the product or service without offering immediate value in return.
Dialogue Vs MonologueAllows for interactive engagement with the audience, fostering a two-way conversation.
Provides a platform for questions, comments, and feedback from customers.
Tends to be one-sided, with limited scope for audience interaction or dialogue.
Generalized Vs PersonalizedTailored to specific demographics or segments, focusing on personalized content.
Content marketing addresses individual needs and interests.
Designed for a broad, mass audience, aiming to appeal to a wide range of people.
Traditional marketing commercials and ads often target a vast, generalized audience.

The takeaway

So, does one marketing tactic automatically preclude you from using the other? Not at all. Many successful companies make use of both traditional and content marketing.

CocaCola is a prime example of this. This brand has long been known for traditional advertisements that tell a story—everything from jolly St. Nick enjoying a Coke at Christmas to images of smiling families sharing a frosty soda. However, CocaCola is also aiming to double its sales by 2020 with Content 2020, a content marketing plan that seeks to continue this storytelling tradition more interactively.

Consider the types of marketing channels your company has access to, the budget you have devoted to various marketing campaigns, the audience you need to target, and which type of marketing they are more likely to be receptive to. Then take advantage of the best of both worlds!

  • Minal Agarwal

    Minal is the Director of Brand Marketing at Bluehost. With over 15 years of business experience in the technology industry, she strives to create solutions and content that fulfill a customer's needs. She is a dog mom and a stickler for calendaring.

    Masters in Marketing Management
    Previous Experience
    Strategic Partnerships, Customer Success, Events and Community
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