There’s not a lot new with digital marketing

My first job out of Uni was at a direct marketing agency in leafy Cheltenham. My role there was a Media Planner/Buyer, working out from past results and the clients’ brief, what audiences to target and through which channels. Fast forward a number of untold years, and digital marketing is largely focused around two industry titans, Facebook and Google. Many people and groups, would lead you to believe that advertising on these two channels is very complex and often needs expert guidance not least because they are changing the rules every other week.

Let’s focus on Facebook. It is true that Facebook are constantly creating new ad formats or adding new targeting features, however, I’m going to say that to a traditional marketer, very little of this is new. A large number of concepts in Facebook can be matched back to techniques used in Traditional Direct Marketing(DM), but I’ll highlight just a few.

Custom Audiences

Take Custom Audiences for staters. This feature was released to all by Facebook in October 2013, and allows an advertiser to generate a specific target audience. This can be generated from known individuals uploaded from your database, or captured through the pixel on the website after undertaking a particular action. Once you have your audience, a good idea is to then use different creative and messaging to re-engage them. This theory is very old. In traditional DM, we would often take a ‘warm list’ of existing customers from the client and send them a tempting offer in the hope they would re-engage, maybe using a discount incentive. We would even use techniques like ‘Recency Frequency Value’ to determine what offer/message would appeal most based on their historic purchase behaviour.


Something else that can be done with a Custom Audience is to target ‘Lookalikes’. Here Facebook is taking what it knows about your existing audience, to try and find new people that it thinks are similar based on geo-demographic info and interests. In the traditional world, we called this propensity modelling. I worked on a number of Charity clients, who’s typical supporter is often aged 50+. To grow this supporter base, Charities would like to appear to those aged slightly younger, so we would model the existing client base, and identify what interests they would have had say 10 years sooner and then target those individuals.


Yes traditional DM had tracking. It’s that funny looking jumble of letters and numbers you see tucked away on the creative. It would indicate both the creative and audience helping us tie the results back. From here we could work out if that list of subscribers to the vintage car magazine really did respond to images of rolling hills and asking for a more expensive donation.

So is anything new?


What is different in today’s digital era is the immediacy of results, and the ability to test and pivot on the fly. When we ran a campaign in the traditional world, it could take three months (yes months), to get the results back. The results would then be shared and discussed with the client, and from the performance learnings, we would then plan the next campaign. This typically led to a client only having three campaigns per year. That’s eon’s in this day and age, and the word ‘agile’ simply didn’t exist.


With digital, we also have far greater control over when an ad will be seen. Want to promote your ‘Bet-in-Play’ client, makes perfect sense to have Facebook ads live just before, and during the big game on TV. With traditional DM, you had zero idea of when an individual would open your mail. Or if they even opened it at all.

What’s my point?

So considering all of this. I find it interesting when I’ve spoken to clients when they say they find it hard to understand Facebook ads when I know most of them are fully versed with the theory of direct marketing. What might also be a factor is that we have agencies and tech companies full of youth who would never have worked in a traditional DM environment and are coming across these theories for the first time.

Just apply good old theory and achieving decent results with Facebook shouldn’t be too hard.