What are the types of digital marketing?

I often get asked “What approach is right to take for my business?” The reality is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all and every business is different, however, some strategies can be cross-pollinated from client to client or industries and there are campaign pitfalls that can be avoided.

Article Info

February 20, 2024 23 mins

What we will cover

Types of digital marketing

Let’s explore some of the types of digital marketing that can be done, and think about whether they are right for your business, now, later or never. 

“Never” is an important consideration, marketing is best viewed as a series of experiments. Having a hypothesis and reviewing the results is vital to progress, but knowing what isn’t working needs to be viewed as a step forward, not back.

First off, let’s just get a few things in the correct order. A bit like our article on Goals, Strategy & Tactics. Let’s explore digital marketing from the top level down so we can understand how the parts of the puzzle come together. 

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing is the art of using digital (normally online) places, to promote products or services to potential customers.

Digital Marketing can be used across various platforms such as search engines, social media, email, websites, and native mobile apps. 

It involves a diverse range of strategies including search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

It is accessed via modern technology, like a Phone, PC/Mac or Tablet, which leaves a digital breadcrumb making it easy to measure the effectiveness of campaigns when compared to traditional approaches.

types of digital marketing - why tracking is key

Marketing pioneer John Wanamaker is famously attributed with the quote: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” – He died in 1922 and would’ve loved to have had the digital data we have nowadays at his fingertips to prioritise the different types of digital marketing available.

How does digital marketing differ from traditional marketing approaches?

Digital or otherwise, marketing is marketing. It is the process of understanding and meeting the needs of your desired customer, getting front of them and showcasing your products and services.

Sales is different. Sales deals with the transactional process of exchanging products or services for money. Traditionally sales roles would involve persuasion, negotiation, and closing deals in order to meet revenue targets.

The internet has blurred our understanding of these two functions somewhat. E-Commerce allows instant sales, and digital marketing has offered us so many more places to find our customers.

type of digital marketing - getting found

Unlike traditional marketing methods, the magic of digital marketing allows businesses to reach a global audience in a cost-effective manner, targeting specific demographics with tailored messages.

Sadly, digital marketing keeps up with (and has been a part of changing) our modern day expectations that we need instant gratification, enabling businesses to engage with their audience in real-time, tracking consumer behavior, crunching data, and adjusting strategies accordingly. 

As technology continues to evolve, digital marketing remains a dynamic and essential component of modern business strategies.

How many types of digital marketing are there?

As well as understanding all the different types of digital marketing, we are going to look at where they generally fit in the sales funnel. 

If the sales funnel is a new concept to you then you can get up to speed here. In short, you have top-of-funnel actions like advertising (when your customers don’t know you), through to the bottom-of-funnel actions (brochures, case studies) for those looking to make a buying decision.

As a generalisation, most of us do a job of bottom-of-the-funnel actions as it’s authentic and comfortable, and our businesses could just benefit from some wider outreach – but that can feel scary.

Let’s break down how many types of digital marketing there are and you can see the ones you are doing, and prepare for where the gaps are.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising

What is it?

You will likely be familiar with Google Ads, Bing Ads, and social media advertising platforms like Meta (Facebook & Insta), Pinterest and LinkedIn Ads.

PPC advertising involves paying for ad placements on search engines or social media platforms, where advertisers only pay when users click on their ads. 

How does it work?

You create an ad from text, images, video or all of the above and bid on keywords to show your ads.

It is an excellent place to start because Search is such a common way for customers to find products/Services, you will get instant visibility with ads, whereas Search Engine Optimisation can take years.

Top-of-funnel

It is generally considered top of the funnel because you may have no connection with these prospects yet. However, it depends on the ads, you can setup retargeting ads for those that have been on your website, so some campaigns may fall a bit further down the funnel. 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

What is it?

SEO involves optimising website content and structure to improve visibility in organic search engine results. SEO strategies focus on enhancing a website’s ranking for relevant keywords and phrases to increase organic traffic.

How does it work?

SEO proffessionals perform keyword research to outline what a website customer may be searching for, they will add content and optimise various aspects of their site, from words and headings to code and tags, even site structure, speed and links from other websites all play a part in search engine algorithms. 

This helps search engines understand the relevance and quality of the website’s content, ultimately leading to higher rankings in search results.

Top-of-funnel

SEO is considered top-of-the-funnel marketing because it targets users who are actively searching for information or solutions related to their needs or interests. It aims to capture users’ attention during the initial research phase of their buyer’s journey, before they’ve made a purchasing decision.

Content Marketing 

What is it?

Content marketing involves creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content. It’s similar to SEO, but not exclusively for search engines, for example, it can include blog posts, articles, videos, infographics, podcasts, newsletters and more.

How does it work?

When creating SEO content as part of a strategy, organisations often then begin to think of the needs, challenges, and interests of their target audience. By providing valuable information in content across many platforms, businesses aim to engage users and build brand awareness, credibility, and trust over time.

Top/Middle-of-funnel

Content marketing primarily operates at the top of the funnel by attracting users with informative or entertaining content. 

However, it also aims to capture users’ data where possible, (eg. an Email Address for a newsletter)  to encourage users to engage with the brand further, making this content more middle of the funnel.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) 

Just quickly before we move on, much like Content Marketing consisting of a range of activities, there’s another umbrella term for Paid, Content Marketing & S.E.O activities that has popped up. 

It’s called  Search Engine Marketing (SEM), and is about making your brand as visible on search engines as possible through a combination of all those techniques.

Moving away from search engines…

Social Media Marketing / Optimisation

What is it?

Social media marketing involves using social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok to promote products or services, engage with followers, and build brand awareness.

Due to the increase in content on these platforms, there are now companies specialising not just in content creation but optimising content and strategies like S.E.O is to search. 

How does it work?

Businesses create and share content on social media platforms to reach their target audience, interact with followers, and encourage engagement through likes, comments, shares, and direct messages. 

Social media marketing can be mixed up with paid social advertising, most social platforms offer ads, these are often the PPC model above, but instead of bidding on search terms you target specific demographics or interests.

Middle-of-funnel

Social media marketing operates at various stages of the funnel, from top-of-funnel brand awareness campaigns to ongoing engagement through follows. It allows businesses to reach users across different stages of the buyer’s journey, from initial discovery to consideration and conversion.

Video Marketing

What is it?

Much like social channels being a world to their own, it is worth taking a second to consider that YouTube is currently the second biggest search engine. 

Video marketing uses video content to promote products or services, share educational or entertaining content, and engage with audiences on platforms like YouTube & TikTok.

How does it work?

It could be any kind of content but with an aim to cut through the clutter and resonate with an audience, whether it’s product based, behind-the-scenes footage, or branded entertainment. 

Middle-of-funnel

Video marketing can be a top-of-funnel activity in terms of gaining new followers, however, because prospects make a commitment to follow and engage with the ongoing storytelling it is a middle-of-funnel activity.

Email Marketing

What is it?

We have all received them, email marketing is an email sent to a list of subscribers to promote products, share news or updates, nurture leads, and build customer relationships.

How does it work?

By collecting email addresses from prospects (or customers) through website sign-up forms. These forms are often promoted through various channels like social posts, events, onboarding docs and purchases.

These emails can create an ongoing conversation with your audience, and it is good practice to inform and not sell – you have been given access to a very private space (someone’s mailbox) and they can unsubscribe at any moment. 

Email marketing platforms can help you increase engagement by sending personalised emails or segmenting subscribers based on demographics, behaviour, or interests.

Middle-of-funnel

Because of the ongoing conversation, email marketing is middle to low in the funnel, often a prospect may engage with a brand several times before they subscribe to a newsletter.

Mobile Marketing

What is it?

Mobile marketing targets users on mobile devices through various channels like text messages (SMS), native apps (like WhatsApp or own brand), and location-based marketing to tailor messages to nearby audiences.

How does it work?

In many different ways, from a simple blanket text upselling a new offering, or creating a business community on WhatsApp, through to push notifications and adverts within mobile apps.

Middle-of-funnel

Because of the wide range of uses, mobile marketing operates at various stages of the funnel. Blanket texts to prospects are very different to someone using an app daily before they are prompted to subscribe. 

Webinars

What is it?

Webinars are live or pre-recorded online presentations, workshops, or seminars conducted online. 

They allow organisations to interact with a remote audience in real-time, and unlike a snappy ad or video, the expectation is this will be a specific topic, dealt with in a longer format.

How does it work?

Webinars are most commonly used to educate their audience, conduct workshop/training sessions, or engage in thought leadership. 

They typically feature a presenter or panel of experts who deliver the content and interact with attendees through Q&A sessions, polls, and chat features.

Bottom-of-funnel

Webinars can be effective at various stages of the funnel, they are sometimes used at the top of the funnel. But because they require an investment of time from the prospect, and likely a good understanding and interest of what the organisation does they are often towards the sales end of things.

Digital Brochures / Graphic design

What is it?

Digital brochures and graphics are electronic versions of their traditional printed counterparts that are designed for viewing on digital devices such as computers, tablets, or smartphones.

How does it work?

They provide information about a company, its products or services, and are often used for marketing or promotional purposes.

Bottom-of-funnel

Because of the often transactional nature of their content, they are often left with prospects during the sales process, meaning they are a useful tool right at the bottom of the funnel.

A slight reframe…

So far these activities are largely controllable by the organisation and manageable within the platforms we have discussed. 

We’re going to take a look at a few activities that require outside help in some way, for example, PR activities may involve some of the platforms and tactics from the list above, but their success lies within the connections the PR professional can nurture.

Online Public Relations (PR)

What is it?

PR involves managing a brand’s reputation and building relationships with media outlets. Given that the media is consumed digitally nowadays, online or digital PR may have connections with high-profile bloggers, online influencers, and digital platforms to generate positive coverage and publicity.

How does it work?

PR professionals can use a range of tactics, such as press releases, media pitches, influencer collaborations, and online events to gain exposure. They aim to create positive associations with their brand and manage any negative publicity that may arise.

Bottom-of-funnel

PR activities are particularly effective in the middle to bottom of the funnel, where businesses aim to build credibility, authority, and trust among their audience.

Positive coverage and endorsements from online media outlets, influencers, and digital platforms are powerful convincers for converting an audience into customers.

Influencer / Affiliate Marketing

What is it?

Influencer or Affiliate marketing is a collaborative strategy where someone external to a business promotes its products or services to their audience. 

Sometimes using unique affiliate links or codes, earning them a commission for each sale or referral they generate.

How does it work?

Brands identify influencers relevant to their industry, Michael Jordan to Nike for example, and negotiate terms. 

Influencers create content endorsing the brand’s offerings, given that the digital footprint is so easy to track, sales and conversions can be measured and, influencers/affiliates paid accordingly.

Bottom-of-funnel

Influencer affiliate marketing can be particularly effective at the bottom of the funnel, much like PR, influencers’ endorsements provide credibility and a huge following, thus driving conversions and sales.

Podcasts

What is it?

Podcasts are audio shows available for streaming or download often within specific podcast apps like Spotify. They a typically in a series format, cover a wide range of topics and are often hosted by experts in their respective fields.

How does it work?

Much like a webinar, it isn’t hard for anyone to record their own podcast and publish it to a platform. 

Like many digital platforms, the challenge isn’t creating the content, it is getting found for it. A strategy for guesting on existing podcasts relevant to their industry may be a more sensible approach for the eager podcaster.

Top-of-funnel

Guesting on podcasts is a top-of-the-funnel activity, given the depth of the conversation it can educate prospects and earn trust further down the funnel.

What is a digital marketing strategy?

A digital marketing strategy is a structured plan that outlines how businesses will use online channels like advertising, SEO, social media, email and content marketing to achieve a goal, often these goals may include brand awareness, lead generation, and increased sales.

When Vu started out in 2010, social media was in its infancy and creating websites was complex. Websites were what we did, almost exclusively.

As you can see from the exhaustive list above, it isn’t necessarily all about your own website anymore, individual sites like Facebook now house half of the world. 

types of digital marketing - doing a workshop

You no longer need to be just visible on the web, businesses can sustain themselves by reaching just a small proportion of their prospects within someone else’s website, like the metaverse.

But success isn’t that easy, these platforms limit your visibility in order to sell their own advertising, this makes your content and interactions the lure for more exposure and demands more of our time and attention within them.

In isolation it can be hard to prioritise conflicting demands and make measurable progress, your social media post won’t shout the loudest when you are busy, and when it’s quiet there’s no point turning to last month’s social post for the answer.

The answer? Create a strategy and prioritise as much time as you can afford every week. Once you start to line up the activities and campaigns you can see how much work is required, initially it may feel overwhelming but there are a few saving graces.

Content can be repurposed, not only can one blog be broken down into several social media posts, and each post tweaked for multiple platforms, but also, by creating a theme for your content, you can think about the messages you want to put out there, the type of platform it would best fit for (ie a blog, podcast or post).

Moreover, if you align your theme with what’s happening socially, you have every chance of creating more engagement with your messaging. This helps us meet the needs of different types of digital marketing by repurposing the same content. 

For a more detailed steer, our post on creating a marketing plan and a bit of research on special days might help. 

What is a digital marketing campaign?

A digital marketing campaign is an individual project, normally within a single online platform, for example, a social media advert or an individual newsletter. These are often aimed at achieving one of the specific marketing objectives within a strategy, such as increasing brand awareness, driving website traffic, or boosting sales.

Now that we have covered the kind of things you could do, and how they should fit within a strategy, we should probably talk about how to make those individual campaigns a success.

The first is understanding the common marketing goals, and which of the platforms may be a good fit for the goal. 

So, first let’s examine some common goals, when I researched this I found lots of terms that seemed to fall under the following four umbrellas, I have sorted these so you can choose to break down your goals further, or resort them if you think otherwise.

Goals:

  • Increase customer engagement
    • Improve customer retention and loyalty
    • Build and nurture relationships with prospects and customers
    • Enhance user experience and satisfaction
    • Provide customer support and assistance
    • Gather valuable customer insights and feedback
  • Boost sales and revenue
    • Drive foot traffic to physical locations
    • Encourage user-generated content and testimonials
    • Educate prospects about products or services
  • Generate more or better quality leads
    • Expand market reach
    • Increase app downloads and usage
  • Increase brand awareness
    • Increase online visibility and search engine rankings
      • Drive website traffic
    • Increase social media followers and engagement
    • Establish thought leadership or authority in the industry
    • Improve reputation and brand perception

 

So we have our 4 goals: Increase customer engagement, Boost sales and revenue, Generate more or better quality leads, Increase brand awareness. I have listed them in this order for a reason.

The goal “increase customer engagement” shows that marketing has role after the sales process, and can lead to frustrated marketing teams when they are siloed away in “lead generation”.

In order to do lead generation better they must get feedback on the process the customer has experienced, understand what was done well or important to them to ensure these actions are repeated.

There’s also an opportunity to understand what could be better and improve the product, service or process for the next customer. 

In terms of the sales funnel we discussed earlier, we can relate the other three to that journey.

  • Boost sales and revenue – Bottom-of-funnel (Sales)
  • Generate more or better quality leads – Middle-of-funnel (Consideration)
  • Increase brand awareness – Top-of-funnel (visibility)

Now, as promised, let’s look at our types of digital marketing activity and assign the primary goal they are associated with:

  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising: Boost sales and revenue
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Generate more or better quality leads
  • Content Marketing: Increase brand awareness
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Increase brand awareness
  • Social Media Marketing / Optimisation: Increase brand awareness
  • Video Marketing: Increase customer engagement
  • Email Marketing: Increase customer engagement
  • Mobile Marketing: Boost sales and revenue
  • Webinars: Generate more or better quality leads
  • Digital Brochures / Graphic design: Boost sales and revenue
  • Podcasts: Increase brand awareness
  • Online Public Relations (PR): Increase brand awareness
  • Influencer / Affiliate Marketing: Boost sales and revenue

So, let’s pause for a moment. On our journey of understanding the types of digital marketing we have sliced up the range of things that can be done, what activities might meet certain goals, and looked at how to go about setting a strategy and creating goal-focused campaigns.

Surely there can’t be anything else to consider? Well perhaps a couple of things… 

You may be feeling empowered to set some goals and try a few new things, which you should absolutely do, but it would be foolish to ignore the empty seat.

Famously Jeff Bezos leaves an empty seat at meetings so everyone in the room is reminded that the customer’s voice is all important.

Our marketing choices may tend to lean towards our preferences. Ie I may prefer Twitter to Instagram, so I will post there because I will enjoy that more, if my audience all hang out on Insta, this will, of course, be at the expense of my business, but absolutely in line with my preference.

After setting your business goals, and deciding to start building your marketing plan, as abstract is it might sound: be sure to try and step out of what will benefit you and your goals, and instead try to understand the needs of the customer and how to eradicate their pain points.

types of digital marketing - new app may be a game changer to the industry

Perhaps a new mobile app may seem the most expensive route market and one for further down the line, alternatively, it may be the unique edge over your competitors.

If you’re the market leader it may feel safe to do things as you always have, and that may be the best way, alternatively, be mindful that a new innovative startup may pop up with a new app or idea overnight.

The other thing we haven’t covered is the important role of tracking and reporting.

How does data analytics and tracking contribute to the effectiveness of digital marketing campaigns?

Data analytics and tracking of digital marketing campaigns enable real-time performance measurement. The main insight from effective tracking is to understand accurate ROI assessment. 

In order to improve a campaign’s effectiveness this data and various A/B testing can help us to reallocate budgets effectively, create targeted messaging and predictive analysis for forecasting trends and outcomes.

So it’s pretty vital. 

It’s also the bit that makes digital marketing so valued and trusted in comparison with traditional marketing methods.

Because it’s not just the conversion that gets tracked, it is every stage of the journey which enables us to analyse the leaky funnel and plug the gaps, rather than throw the funnel away and start again.

Let’s take radio advertising compared to Spotify ads.

Who gets the ad?

Radio: Estimated listeners

Spotify: Exact number of impressions

Who liked the ad?

Radio: Leads that mention it

Spotify: Exact click through

Who was interested?

Radio: No idea

Spotify: Exact click through

Who bought it?

Radio: Those that mention they heard of you from the radio 

Spotify: Exact value of online sales from the source of Spotify

Radio advertising may be exactly the right route to market, and Spotify may not be the type of digital marketing for you, all I am saying is that each stage of the journey from hearing an ad to buying a thing is trackable in the digital world.

As an agency, this is one of the most common problems we solve, organisations who have done many things for many years with no idea of how effective any of it is. Some of it is, but which bit?

In these circumstances, print is often an unknown, a modern approach to testing this better is to create individual QR codes that bring users back to the digital world. 

The reason it is effective is because it is user-friendly. If a company wants to sell something online, the user must work hard to find the page, but a QR code skips the fuss with a quick flick of the camera.

And the business now has an idea of how many people are interested, and can also track sales where the journey started with that QR Code to find out if it has been effective.

types of digital marketing - is it working?

It doesn’t take a huge stretch to measure the year-on-year impact either, with many businesses encouraged by the advertiser to run the ad they did last year, it is often at that point we ask, “Well, did it actually do anything?”. 

If you tracked last year’s QR code scans and sales values, then keeping a running tally every year of the results will tell you the story of growth or decline.

What is the best form of digital marketing?

The best form of digital marketing varies depending on the business’s goals, target audience, and industry. The most effective digital marketing strategy should have a series of goals, multiple platforms for prospects to find them on, different forms of content to engage with, and well-tracked campaigns.

The answer most people hope for is that there is some gold lurking where they haven’t yet looked, some virality waiting to explore and much like most stories in life, it takes years of hard work to become an overnight success.

Pragmatic, well-measured tests, done step-by-step is actually the right type of digital marketing.

Let’s finish with some potential pitfalls and how to avoid them.

What ethical considerations should businesses keep in mind when engaging in digital marketing activities?

Businesses should respect user data and privacy, being sure to prioritise transparency and usability when engaging in digital marketing. This includes obtaining consent, providing truthful and accurate information, avoiding deceptive practices and dark patterns, and respecting user preferences regarding opting out and removing data.

types of digital marketing - security and privacy is important

It sounds simple to say, just treat others like you would wish to be treated, but it really is that easy, roleplay your campaigns with the sincerity of being a customer not the business and you will find ways to help your customer extract themselves away from your business.

I have seen marketers turn to monsters when pursuing greater numbers of prospects & sales. It’s critical we avoid the hypocrisy that we are all someone else’s prospect and we don’t want to be herded down a sales funnel, we want to be valued and treated with respect.

Be original and transparent with your communication, think of innovative ways to solve your customer’s problems, communicate it truthfully and they will come, and they will tell others.

Trick, deceive, upset and annoy your customers, and they too, will tell others. 

How to start digital marketing?

Start by defining your business goals, researching your audience and setting some goals you’re trying to achieve. Work out a target in terms of financial turnover from your new customers, and assign a budget that is 10% of this. 

Create measurable campaigns and compelling content in line with your budget. Continuous improvement is possible by monitoring performance, analysing the data, and trying something different.

All of that sounds easy, because it is the simplification of a lot of understanding and hard work outlined above.

Don’t be intimidated, have a go and try a campaign, mentally create a sandbox for yourself to play in so you don’t feel the pressure to succeed straight away. You will discover as you learn, it isn’t overly complicated but it will demand your time.

Once you have got to grips with the fundamentals of marketing, you’re on a journey of discovery for the right types of digital marketing for your business, like so many things: It’s simple, but it may not be that easy.

Do you know anyone who may be interested in this project?

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