Global digital media has experience change at a phenomenal pace. The constantly evolving digital technologies along with their use by consumers have changed not just how people access information, but also their mode of communication and interaction 'with one another on a global scale ' (Ryan and Jones 2012, p. 8). The Financial Times (n.d.) defines digital marketing as 'the marketing of products or services using digital channels to reach consumers (n.p.). According to Pride and Ferrell (2016), digital marketing makes use of various digital media like mobile phones, interactive channels (for instance, Facebook and Twitter), and the internet 'to develop communication and exchanges with customers' (p. 284). The main goal of digital marketing is to promote brands via different types of digital media, including search engine marketing, mobile phones, and social media marketing, among other types of digital media. The premise of the current essay is to explore the macro and micro perspectives on digital marketing, with a view to determining whether digital marketing is a force for good or evil.
Critical Evaluation of Macro and Micro Perspectives on Digital Marketing
Benefits of Digital Marketing
The theories of utilitarianism and duty-based ethics are useful in explaining the ethical issues surrounding digital marketing. Egoism is a central tenet of utilitarianism, in which benefits are sought for a single organisation or individual, as opposed to many. Most digital media marketing relies on utilitarian theory to realise low search costs and targeted advertising. However, there is the risk of reduced privacy. On the other hand, duty-based ethics hinges on the argument that reasons or intentions, as opposed to consequences, determine whether a decision is unethical or ethical. Digital media has thus raised various ethical issues, including concerns about transparency, vulnerable consumers, and the costs vs. benefits debate. Carr (2010) opines that eroding of personal privacy through the use of digital marketing strategies could result in a society that no longer values the idea of privacy.
Nonetheless, digital marketing appears to have resulted in more good than harm. A key benefit of digital marketing is that it enables customers and marketers to share information. Through digital media, websites, and social networks, consumers have a wide platform upon which they get to learn everything that they need to know about the products and services they consume. This has in turn transformed the manner in which marketers develop and communicate relationships. For example, today's marketers rely on digital marketing to forge relationships with such stakeholders as employees, customers, and customers (De Prato and Simon, 2015). Consequently, marketers have been compelled to adjust conventional marketing strategies to suit the requirements of the increasingly growing digital world. By using such digital marketing platforms as social media, marketers are in a better position to develop innovative forms of communication with consumers. Another benefit of digital marketing is that it allows businesses to maintain a competitive advantage relative it their rivals. For this reason, a growing number of small businesses are turning to digital media as an inexpensive communication channel to reach new markets by way of developing innovative strategies.
Large companies such as Target have also turned to digital marketing as a means of increasing the brand awareness and sales of their products through the use of company websites and online catalogues. In this way, the company supplements its brick-and-mortar stores. We also have other companies like Alibaba and Amazon that rely on online platforms to sell their products as they lack physical stores. Amazon uses email marketing to send personalised messages to target consumers (Digital Training Academy, 2017). This is borne out of a realisation that when you become aware of the customers’ interests and target them appropriately, this is likely to increase sales. Amazon has also employed a powerful, yet simple reach engine on its site, that enables customers to locate products efficiently and quickly (Digital Training Academy, 2017).
Already, these online stores are giving the traditional brick-and-mortar companies a run for their money as they reach out to a very large consumer base, not to mention that they are in a position to sell their products at a much lower price than competitors due to the less operating costs involved. Alibaba has embraced digital media to become the largest B2B (business-to-business) portal in the world, with 443 million users and a presence in 190 countries (Chen, 2017).
In addition, social networking sites offer additional product features, including being able to view daily deals, thereby advancing digital marketing. Additionally, some social medial sites and corporate websites have been designed in such a manner as to provide consumers with feedback mechanisms through which they get to voice their complaints, ask questions, communicate their desires and needs, and indicate product and service preferences (Pride and Ferrell, 2016).
Digital marketing approaches and solutions also afford marketers the agility to build and promote brands faster than traditional media. A proficient digital marketer also needs to possess the agility to learn, test, discover, exploit, and deploy various approaches and solutions to marketing, as they evolve (Pride and Ferrell, 2016). Additionally, marketers need the same agility to swiftly discard solutions and methods that are no longer effective, and embrace better methods or solutions.
Data is vital for the development of digital marketing strategy. "Big data" describes huge data sets capable of computational analysis with the aim of revealing patterns and trends of human behaviour. Big data thus allows marketers to find a target audience, judge and appeal to them. Big data also allows digital marketers to identify specific moments and touchpoints that usually influence a purchase decision (Barocas and Nissenbaum, 2014). Additionally, it enables marketers to identify specific product features that customers find appealing, the sites where they dedicate more time online, as well as the offers or deals that they regard as important online. Big data allows marketers to implement location marketing, a strategy that companies like Uber have used to great advantage. The ability of consumers to share their location history not only provides Uber with valuable information on customer behaviour, but also enables the company to provide customers with transport services near them (Wadlow, 2016).
De Prato and Simon (2015) describe big data as data generated when individuals utilise technology in its varied forms, including social media and their internet, as well as the information that users give while using such websites as Facebook. The advent of Big Data has resulted in the flourishing of target marketing.
Christiansen (2011) opines that ads that target a specific group of consumers tend to be more effective as opposed to one that is directed at the mass market. Such big companies as Facebook and Google exchange data on users anonymously and this has helped in the growth of target marketing. Couldy and Turow (2014) note that the use of big data enables digital marketers to personalise marketing, so that product prices and advertisements are targeted to a specific individual based on big data.
Digital marketing tools such as online advertising enable digital marketers to use the internet as a platform to send 'customised marketing communications to selected target markets on a customised basis' (Chitty et al., 2014, p. 224). Consumers also benefit from the enhanced interactivity of online advertising. For example, users have access to the information they view as being relevant. In a matter of seconds, a website may provide varying types or choices of information based on the varying responses that customers key in. Consequently, a strong marketer-customer relationship develops through two-way communication (Chitty et al., 2014).
Digital marketing technologies are highly accessible, and this enables digital marketers to respond to consumers' queries regardless of the time of day or geographical location. Consumers from diverse locations characterised by different time zones may contact a company for service information or pre-purchase information (Pride and Ferrell, 2011). Accessibility means that such consumers are always sure of obtaining the response or information needed, something that may not be possible when a retail branch or call center might have closed for the day. Digital marketing technologies allow marketers to track consumer behaviour by recording and examining their interactions in order to identify behavioural patterns. The insights gained from such behavioural tracking allow marketers to develop more efficient and targeted marketing campaigns in the future.
Digital marketing also tends to be more cost-effective in comparison with traditional marketing which is characterised by inefficiencies. Consequently, digital marketing enables companies to reach customers at a relatively lower cost (Ryan and Jones, 2012). At the same time, digital media permits the deeper formation of customer-marketer relationships because the market intimately understands consumer needs. This is because digital media such as electronic interaction permits the development of a consumer database that may contain the wants, desires, and preferences of the consumer.
Limitations of Digital Marketing
Despite all its benefits, digital marketing is not without its fair share of evils. For example, Song et al. (2016) are of the view that on account of big data, it has become increasingly harder to control the issue of privacy. Boyd and Crawford (2012) some consumers view big data as a real threat to their privacy and while websites claim to store the data collected anonymously, they can still recognise an individual based on their behaviour when they visit their website and this could have an implication on the kind of treatment people get in the marketplace (Barocas and Nissenbaum, 2014). The increased reliance of digital marketers on technology to gather consumer information has raised various ethical and legal issues. According to Pride and Ferrell (2015), 'Privacy is one of the most significant issues, involving the use of personal information that companies collect from website visitors in their efforts to foster a long-term relationship with customers (p. 305). Collection of personal information, especially where this happens without the users’ knowledge, is also likely to amount to a violation of users' privacy. There is also the issue of hacking, whereby hackers may gain unauthorised access to various websites where users have shared their personal information and steal such information to commit identity theft. The increased use of digital marketing strategies has also seen the number of online frauds increase, as criminals turn to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to conduct fraudulent activities.
Even as businesses strive hard to ensure the privacy of consumer information, cloud computing companies are faced with even more challenges in protecting the privacy of customers. For instance, Play.com, an online retailer, received numerous complaints from its customers regarding the personal information that they had shared on the company’s database having found its way to a third-party marketing agency (Marketing Week, 2011). This is an indication of the growing tensions that digital marketers face between privacy and personalization (Kobsa, 2007) as a result of the increased reliance on internet technologies as tools for marketing. While users may consent to provide data to marketers for specified objectives, they are still concerned about the issue of the security of such personal information (Yu and Song, 2016). Companies must therefore balance the need of using Big Data for personalization purposes on the one hand, and ensure consumer privacy, on the other hand (Cavanillas et al., 2016). The implication made is that whereas digital marketing is a force for good, it could also be a source of evil if not correctly used and monitored.
Digital marketing through the use of such new media as social media (Facebook and Twitter), the internet, e-mail, and company websites has really revolutionised the way companies conduct their business. One of the key benefits of digital marketing is the wide geographical reach that the digital marketer has over the prospective consumer at any given hour or day. In addition, digital media enable marketers to customise and personalise messages to specific target markets, thereby increasing the possibility of realising sales. Besides, digital marketing technologies are highly accessible, enable marketers to develop customised ads, and give prompt responses to consumer concerns. Besides, marketers can use Big Data to track consumer behaviour and target market campaigns. However, this has raised ethical issues, especially the violation of users' privacy where websites collect information without the users' consent. This demands that companies balance consumer privacy issues with their desire for personalised marketing strategies.
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