How to sell digital traditionalists

Tech has changed how we do business. Any business. All the business. There is no getting away from it. And the marketing industry is arguably one of the most fundamentally affected.  Digital represents so much more scope, more targeting, more transparency and when done right, great value for money. But what happens when you need to sell digital to a non-believer? To extol the virtues of digital media to senior executives whose loyalty is to traditional media? 

It’s easy to understand why media traditionalists may be reticent to embrace all things digital. Whether it’s the fear of the unknown (or simply: the unknown – if they’re not on social media, they’re unlikely to get it). An attachment to push media.  Or possibly, the concern that with digital comes direct exposure to the public. And, with that, the risk of bad publicity if you get it wrong. All in all, there are certainly some obstacles.

But the fact remains that industries are embracing digital media. Brands can, therefore, choose to lead their field. To simply keep in step. Or to be left behind.

So, if your diehard traditionalist CEO thinks that “having a website” is enough to constitute the totality of digital marketing, how do we go about convincing them that really, digital media is a must? 

Here are our top five tips to sell digital:

1. Show the landscape

The most compelling way to showcase the wins that digital can offer is to layout the landscape. Firstly, update them on how many users there are for social media in the UK alone:

Facebook: 39m users

Twitter 13.7m

Instagram 23m

LinkedIn 25m


Do some research on your brand’s competitors and peers. Gather data on what they are doing digitally. What platforms they are on. Who is talking about them (and you)? Track conversations online. Draw some conclusions on the power their activity or otherwise is offering them. Most likely it will be clear that inactivity is not an option. If traditional media is keeping you on par with competitors, but digitally they are ahead, very soon the inactivity cost is too high.

2. Set a slow path

Don’t rush. Make a plan that takes things step-by-step. Establish a small budget, clear measurements of success, and as much ‘control’ as possible. Fans of traditional media make the case that budgets are fixed and more controlled.  They fear that a digital budget will run way beyond what is first imagined. Ensure that is not the case. Regularly check performance and adjust the campaign. Use this testing period to establish best practice. That way you can put together as compelling a case as possible to move to the next level.

If you’re putting some spend behind a boosted social media post or ad, walk them through your targeting.  Show them the potential reach of a tiny £50 or £100 spend to warm them up to the idea.  It’s seriously low risk and your budget will be completely under your control. Sometimes it has to be seen to be believed.

3. Set Goals and Measure EVERYTHING

Traditional media gives comfort and around exposure, opportunities to see, readership etc (albeit we know the arguments that some of these numbers are falling dramatically).  If you’re going to stand a chance of convincing them towards digital, you’ll need to knock their socks off with numbers. This is where digital is fantastic. You can show off data till the cows come home.  Don’t over-bamboozle your traditionalist with analytics wizardry. Keep things simple. Agree the communications goals and organisational business goals you want to achieve. These could include web click-throughs, video views, growth in followers or sales leads, and even cold hard sales.  Once it’s clear that digital means business, you’ll have doubters in the palm of your hand.

4. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

Social media, in particular, can be terrifying to someone who doesn’t live in that world.  All they will relate to is the horror stories of hoards of angry people turning to Twitter when their flight is cancelled. Or the moment someone finds a caterpillar in their loaf of bread and the photo “goes viral”.

Fear can be a real passion-killer for digital newbies and it can be difficult to sell the merits of digital to a traditionalist.  Again, show them the numbers for their competitors. They’ve built a ready-made audience of people interested in their brand. Show examples of organisations who do it well. Or how it’s being done by others they consider to be peers or competitors in the business world.

If a personal account is a step too far, perhaps ghostwriting on their behalf could be an option if they’re still nervous. Very busy senior execs can also be afraid of the time required to participate on social media. Outsourcing is an option but it can limit the level of personal engagement which is so much a part of social media, so moderate expectations accordingly.

In order to convince your traditionalist to give the company a presence on social media, demonstrate the safety measures you’re putting in place first.  Take time to establish very clear guidelines to inform the creation and roll-out of any social media or digital campaign. From style sheet to community care, KPIs to tone of voice and content development, the more detailed the better. When you have your protocols and any approval processes in place, make sure that the whole team has access and is properly trained on them.

5. Consider outsourcing

If your strengths lie in traditional and not yet in the world of digital marketing, you could consider outsourcing projects to an external expert. By doing so, it could take the heat off you while you find your way and learn the ropes, without undertaking the in-house overheads of recruitment and employment before you’re ready.

Whatever the path to persuasion, embracing digital as integral to any media campaign is no longer a matter of taste but a bare essential of just keeping up. 

Vicki Caddy

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