Without a doubt, I'm sure many of us have come across this term countless times...

But because of its broad coverage and usage across many different industries in various areas, it's been loosely used to define almost everything ‘digital’, to the point where the actual term loses its inherent meaning.

Thus, most of us end up being confused by the over-abundance of buzzwords such as ‘SEO’, ‘SEM’ and ‘content’ to name a few, alongside its various definitions which inhibits our understanding of its true value and the various benefits it brings to our lives.  

This then begs the question - what is digital marketing and why do people use it?  

In this article, we'll explore those points so you can get a better understanding of the various aspects surrounding digital marketing as a whole.

What is Digital Marketing?

To start things off, let's set a clear definition on what the term actually means.  

According to the American Marketing Association, digital marketing refers to any marketing activities executed through electronic devices and online channels, which includes:

  • Websites
  • Emails
  • Social media
  • Mobile phones
  • Applications
  • Blogs
  • Videos and other similar avenues

In essence, it is marketing in the digital (or online) world.

But unlike traditional marketing, it is not 'static' in the sense where communications are only 'one-way' between a business and its customers.  

Instead, it creates an avenue for the two to interact with each other, allowing one to immediately gauge the response and effectiveness of their marketing efforts in real-time.

And because our world is constantly transforming at a rapid pace, digital marketing will continuously evolve due to new innovations in various technologies and techniques, which affects the planning, utilization and execution of a business's marketing strategy in the digital space.  

Common Examples of Digital Marketing

Listed below are some of the most common examples of the various types (or disciplines) of digital marketing.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

The use of paid adverts on search engines to market your business.

Also known as (PPC) pay-per-click advertising, companies use this to reach their customers by driving traffic to their website generated from the clicks made by users when searching for a product or service.

They can come in the form of small, text-based ads, display or even product listings.  


Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The process of making your business's website appear in the top few search results based on a given keyword (i.e. ‘tennis shoes’).

The common notion is that users usually click on the first few links returned by the search engine while ignoring the rest at the bottom and the results from other pages.

This makes a website's 'search ranking' a crucial factor for businesses in reaching consumers, which can be improved by optimizing several aspects of your website.

Social Media Marketing

Creating and sharing content such as posts, images, videos and adverts to achieve a business's marketing goals, as shown in the example.

It is most commonly used to build brand awareness and social trust with consumers through engaging and relevant content.

Other aspects also include customer relationship building, community engagement and lead generation.

Content Marketing

Creating infographics, articles, whitepapers and other various forms of content to be used as a marketing asset in reaching potential customers.

For instance, Buffer's blog as shown above. Like social media marketing, content marketing involves creating content that is valuable, relevant and engaging to a business's target audience.

This can be done independently by employees of the business itself or through third party writing who specialize in such services.

One of its objectives is to create ‘backlinks’ on various pages or websites, so users will click on it and be directed to the site of the business and be introduced to its products and services.

Email Direct Marketing (EDM)

Sending promotional emails (or newsletters) about your products and services to potential prospects and customers.

Similarly to content marketing, EDM relies on the use of valuable and relevant content that is distributed to a business's target audience via email.

It combines beautifully-designed graphics with persuasive writing to create enticing offers that lead to website visits, lead generation and customer acquisition.

Besides that, it's also used to build brand awareness, trust and loyalty amongst customers (new or existing ones) as well.


Affiliate Marketing  

Partnering with other individuals and entities to promote your products and services.

For instance, Hubspot's partnership program shown above. This relies on leveraging the partnerships that are formed with established companies, publishers and blogs to market your business's offerings on their websites.

In return, the affiliates will receive a commission whenever they generate leads or sales for the business through users who complete the required actions tracked via an affiliate link.

Generally, businesses will look for those who operate in similar niches as that is where their audiences will most likely be found.  

Why Should You Use It?

Now that we've established the definition and some common examples, we can start looking at the reasons why one should ever consider using digital marketing.

As you know, consumers are increasingly spending more time on various online activities such as connecting with each other through social media, consuming their favorite content from various platforms or even shopping for all sorts of different products and services offered across the globe.

This indicates our heavy reliance on the internet and modern technology to habitually carry out our daily tasks and everyday routine.

With that in mind, it's clear that the majority of our lives revolve around being online (or rather in the digital space), which makes it ideal for businesses to market themselves there so they can reach consumers at where they are most likely to be found.  

Furthermore, our world has further shifted itself towards embracing this new reality (one of which can be attributed to the pandemic in 2020) as it has accelerated our adoption of these new technologies, resulting in the creation of a 'digital economy'.

According to MDEC, this refers to activities and transactions driven by the public and private sector to produce goods and services in relation to socio-economic functions for enhanced wealth creation, productivity and quality of life.    

Put simply, the traditional ways of running a business is no longer a viable solution in today's world, as companies can't afford to lose out on the opportunity costs of not being online and 'going digital'.  

What Happens When You Don't Use It

Prolonged over a period of time, those opportunity costs can eventually compound into negative consequences with long-lasting effects such as:


1) Loss of Relevance

Consumers rely on search engines and ecommerce platforms to discover new products and services.

By not being online, your business will suffer from a loss of relevance (similar to how old mobile phones are replaced by more innovative and advanced versions), as they forget about you and are no longer aware of your existence.  

2) Missed Revenue Opportunities

With a limited consumer base, you will miss out on potential opportunities to increase annual revenues from several streams of the digital channels available, alongside the ability to grow and expand globally.  

3) Increasing Costs

Compared to online advertisements, traditional methods (i.e. billboards) require substantial investments that can quickly push up costs in the long run, while limiting the amount of consumers you can potentially reach.  

4) Technological Disadvantage

Without modern digital tools (i.e. data analytics), businesses will be deprived of valuable insights on their customers changing behaviors and preferences, which plays a pivotal role in influencing the direction of the business and its strategy in various aspects (growth, marketing, operations etc).  

5) Competitive Disadvantage

With ever-increasing competition on both local and international fronts, companies that fail to adapt to the digital economy will not be able to readily develop and deploy innovative products that meet the needs of the market and consumers.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg as there are plenty more dire scenarios that could negatively impact businesses if they remain reluctant to change in the face of this digital era.  

With regards to that, going 'digital' (or some may call it digitalisation or digital transformation) can be one solution to such challenges. However, part of that solution will inevitably lead you to the use of digital marketing.

Benefits of Digital Marketing

So why use it? Here are the benefits.

1) Global Audience Reach  

It's no surprise that companies are exposed to a global audience when they take their businesses online.

By utilizing various digital marketing methods, one will be able to effectively reach this wide audience without the need of establishing a physical presence in the selected locations.  

As you know, search engines provide this international reach as businesses are able to market their products and services to customers from any country at minimal costs.

This is especially beneficial for startups and newly-found businesses as they can leverage on this to grow their customer’s awareness of their brand.

For instance, being active on social media to publicly promote your brand:

Based on your target audience, you can select a few platforms to begin with and focus on them before branching out to others.  

Popular platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn make great starting points for any business as they cater to a wide range of users with varying interests.

To do so, you can get started on various social media duties such as creating content, sharing it, engaging with customers and other tasks related to building an online presence for your business.

Picture by ContentCal

While easier said than done, there’s more to this than just simply posting or commenting as it requires strategies that are well-planned to help your business build a following so you can acquire new customers.  

For instance, McDonald's social media:

The type of content you create matters as customers respond differently to each type based on their demographics, interests, behaviors, browsing habits, reading preferences etc.

If young millennials are your customers, you could consider taking a visual approach by utilizing images and videos often within your post to attract them, such as Cadbury did.

If your audience is more mature, then they might like reading in-depth articles that provides actionable knowledge (such as McKinsey), which makes long-form content more suited to their liking.

But that’s not to say that each type of content only performs well within a specific audience as people tend to have a diverse range of interests that influences them to interact with content outside of their usual preferences.

Thus, having a healthy mix of variety (text posts, visuals or a combination of both) alongside some trial-and-error will yield results that help build trust and credibility amongst consumers.

Over time, you’ll begin to see progress in your social media efforts as more users begin to ‘like’ or ‘follow’ your business, which is a good indicator of increased brand awareness that eventually translates to acquiring new customers.

2) Extreme Flexibility

As mentioned above, traditional marketing requires a significant upfront investment. With digital marketing however, it provides a low barrier of entry as businesses can be flexible with their budget by tailoring it according to their needs.

For instance, PPC ads allow one to adjust different variables (audience reach, daily budget, duration etc) when creating an ad.  

This allows you to customize each marketing campaign based on your objectives (i.e. awareness, sales, lead generation, sign ups, downloads etc.) without a significant risk of overspending your budget.  

3) Cost-Effective      

When done right, it will not only result in an overall cost reduction for marketing but also a better ROI that leads to increased revenue and higher bottom-line profits.  

For instance, EDM allows one to create marketing campaigns that targets customers based on their readiness to purchase said products and services.  

Essentially, new prospects are introduced to various categories to profile their interests and preferences, while existing customers are followed up with products relevant to their previous purchases which also provides opportunities for up-selling and cross-selling.  

The best part? All of this is executed through sending emails alone which reduces total costs by focusing on targeting interested buyers without jeopardizing overall returns.

4) It Increases Revenue

Here, one needs to look at how they can increase the amount of users visiting their digital channels (i.e. websites or any other platforms that sell their offerings).

This can be done by driving ‘traffic’ to them via several avenues (search engines, soc med, websites, affiliate links etc.), which is achieved through SEO, SEM, and social media marketing to name a few.

For instance:

One of the main objectives in SEO is to ensure that your website appears as one of the first few results of a user’s search query.

That’s because most users only click on the results that appear within the first page and rarely go to the second, third and so forth.

Because of that, a website’s search ranking becomes one of the most important factors for businesses as it directly affects the amount of traffic they get, which influences how many visitors (or users) your website is exposed to on a monthly basis.

Afterwards, you’ll need to start ‘converting’ those visitors (sometimes referred to as ‘lead’ or prospects) into customers once they are on your site.

This can be done so by optimizing it’s UX (User Experience) to ensure the process of buying your products and services is as smooth as possible in terms of speed, usability and customer experience.

But why should one even begin to bother with those things in the first place?

To emphasize:

Speed - A slow loading website causes users to leave as customers are not willing to wait for something sluggish when they can get what they need from other websites instead.

Usability - If it’s not user-friendly (or if it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to), then customers will get frustrated and leave for another website. A common example is how easy it is to navigate between pages (i.e. product categories).

Customer Experience - Do the visuals look outdated? Are there too many words? Is it easily viewed on different devices?

Alongside other factors, these components will affect the overall experience customers have when they interact with your website, which influences their decision to purchase or leave your site.

5) Measurable Results    

This is a huge advantage as one can track whether their current marketing efforts are performing well and yielding the results they're looking for.

Not only that, but it also provides forecasts on how other activities are likely to perform in comparison with previous campaigns.  

For instance, social media platforms provide analytics that measures the reach and engagement of content created by the business, which affects the growth of it's online following to serve as an estimate of the brand's awareness amongst potential customers.  

This allows one to visualize what is currently working alongside the necessary improvements that need to be made.  

6) Brand Building    

Besides selling and customer acquisition, digital marketing allows one to build their brand up online while establishing themselves as a market leader and a customer favorite.

Often seen in social media, businesses with large followings and engagements (i.e. Starbucks) are usually good indicators of a strong brand, which influences customer loyalty that not only results in recurring sales but also the unique advantage it has over competitors as consumers will choose the products of their favorite brand over others.  

Moreover, businesses are also able to connect with their customers better to create relationships that are stronger and longer-lasting.  

For instance, making use of email marketing to provide timely, curated content to customers based on their recent purchase:


Shown above, Grammarly sends a thank you email after you’ve installed the windows version of their app, alongside several tips to get the most out of their features by linking their articles from their website on a periodic basis.

As simple as this sounds, helping customers whenever and wherever possible builds positive perceptions towards your business, which turns into loyalty as users can expect a pleasant brand experience whenever they interact with your business.

Besides that, email marketing can also be utilized to provide various incentives (i.e. loyalty programs, referrals, discounts etc.) to encourage continued interaction with a business and its offerings.  

As shown in Nike's example, doing so provides upsell and cross-sell opportunities as continued exposure to your brand offers consumers more options to obtain the products of their liking, while increasing the overall sales figure for your business.

Another solution is to utilize content marketing:

Similar to emails, businesses can leverage on creating articles, infographics, whitepapers, case studies and other relevant materials to provide their customers with valuable information about their products and services.

For instance, a SaaS company can create several informative and educational guides on their websites to help customers better understand how their products can help them solve their problems and achieve their desired results.

They can then promote the content to customers via several channels (application, social media, email, messaging etc.) when they encounter such difficulties throughout their usage of the company’s products.

Compounded over a long time, these digital assets help businesses create a seamless brand experience for customers as they can rely on the company to deliver exceptional products and services, ultimately contributing to the development of brand loyalty.

7) 24/7 Task Automation  

Digital marketing allows businesses to automate their marketing tasks up to a certain extent.

For instance, PPC advertising and EDM allows you to set a schedule for how long your ads should run within a given period of time.

This frees you up to focus on other aspects of the business without worrying whether said marketing activities have been executed.  

Another example is content marketing, in which creating valuable and high-quality content helps businesses get found through search queries that are relevant to the topic written.

From there, it acts as a 24/7 marketing asset that can be utilized for generating leads and sales constantly at very low costs.  


To summarize, digital marketing is any marketing activity that is executed through digital channels, which includes various disciplines such as:

  • Search Engine Marketing
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Content Marketing
  • Email Direct Marketing
  • Affiliate Marketing

By utilizing each of them, businesses are able to expand their reach to a global customer base at measurable and cost-effective scale, while building a reputable brand that operates 24/7 throughout the year.  

Another reason for its popularity is that businesses of any size, industry and model can benefit from using it as it helps them achieve their individual goals and objectives.  

Whether it's increasing revenue, reaching new customers or even building long-term loyalty, digital marketing is an effective solution for accomplishing such tasks in our increasingly innovative world.

Thus, it’s evermore important to capitalize on such tools whenever possible even if one isn’t quite capable at leveraging it just yet. With that being said, those looking for guidance on how to effectively incorporate digital marketing into their business strategy can do so with us in this section to enable their company's growth and success going forward.

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