According to an April 2014 study presented on Emarketer.com1, in 2013 time spent with digital media in the US has surpassed all traditional media for the first time.

So why are so many small businesses still doing most of their advertising on traditional media? There are many reasons. But one of the biggest reasons is lack of time.

Remember how excited everyone got about email marketing, and then social media? The promise was it would cost less and work better. While the promise of getting better results is proving to be true for many, the promise of costing less is becoming elusive to many small businesses because of the time involved in learning the complicated digital world. As a result, many small businesses end up staying with what they know.

Perhaps the simplest and one of the most effective forms of digital marketing is email marketing. But the challenge of building and maintaining a good mailing list and creating successful e-letters take much time. Social media can be daunting due to the huge number of social media outlets, and the time it takes to learn how to utilize and manage social media campaigns. Not only does the time spent to create, launch, and manage a campaign cost money, much of the online media world has been raising rates to a level comparable to traditional media.

Therefore, the challenge for small businesses is to understand that online advertising can often give much better results, but the cost may be as much as traditional advertising.

To help understand why online digital can cost as much as a comparable traditional media campaign, below is a chart showing the economics of placing a radio campaign compare to a comparable online search campaign.


The chart shows the steps involved for an advertising company to create a radio campaign and an online search campaign, each reaching the same number of impressions.

If a small business wanted to place their own traditional media, they could probably spend less than an hour with their radio rep. The radio rep then creates the ad, places it, and all the advertiser has to do is write a check for the air-time.

However, if the same business tried to create and launch an online search campaign, first they would need to learn how to work with Google Adwords (The basic Adwords manual has over 340 pages, and is full of new terms and concepts that need to be understood). Then they would need to spend many hours researching keywords, creating ads and setting parameters for their campaign (Campaign parameters are settings made to determine things like type of campaign, where the ads will appear geographically, on what devices, target audience, budgets, etc.). Then they would have to monitor their campaign every few days to make sure the campaign is performing properly and to make sure it stays within budget. If their ads are not performing as well as they should, (Google has benchmarks for campaign performance) they will have to redesign the ads, change keywords, and/or change the campaign parameters to improve the campaign performance.

So why would anyone use digital at all if it costs as much as traditional? Because if you don’t, you will be missing a huge audience that some of your competitors and most national businesses are reaching. Plus, you can track results, enabling you to better determine your results, which in turn enables you to continuously improve the performance of your campaign.

All in all, most advertisers need to be putting as much as half or more of their budget into some form of digital. This does not include what you spend on Search Engine Optimization. (See article on SEO here)

So if you are a small business that advertises and do not have the time or interest in creating and managing your own digital marketing, you can hire a professional for about the same or less than the cost of buying your own traditional advertising.