“Digital” versus “Interactive” terms for marketing & media

What is the difference between the interactive and digital marketing/media terms?

That is a question that I have asked myself periodically over the past several years and is a question I asked myself when naming Accendo Digital.  The two terms are often used in a synonymous manner; however, there are some differences. Here is my attempt to answer that question.

In short:

  • Digital = use of a digital platform
  • Interactive =  interactivity between an entity and target audience

Since both marketing and media can be digital or interactive, I see this applying to interactive marketing, interactive media, digital marketing and digital media.

Digital has its origin in the platform — emerging digital platforms — whereas Interactive has its origin with the inter-actions between two or more parties.

The term interactive became more widely used than digital in the earlier internet years, making it the incumbent term.  This is likely due to digital being considered a more technical term (digital clock, 010101 bits, etc) and therefore not as close to the surface for use in marketing and media.

The synonymous use of the two terms is likely caused by the inherent interactivity made possible by digital platforms. Digital enables interactivity. Some examples include blogs, email, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn, Zynga social games, mobile apps, text messaging, etc.  Compare this to the relative lack of interactivity of traditional radio, TV, newspaper, outdoor and direct mail 10-plus years ago…where the phone, car (in-person visit) and postal mail were vehicles for interactivity.  Several years ago, and even today, when I hear the term interactive marketing/media, I immediately associate it with marketing/media via digital platforms.  However, it is possible for marketing/media to be interactive without the use of digital platforms:

  • Radio (analog) can be highly interactive, with its listener phone call-ins hosted by a radio personality.
  • People make newspaper interactive by cutting out an article and giving it to someone, or by asking a friend for a bit of help while filling out a crossword puzzle.
  • TV personalities reach into the “mail bag” and read viewer feedback on-air, and reporters interview people for their perspective as they report a story on-air.

Today, digital platforms enable interactivity like never before and are now ubiquitous.  Digital has evolved from the highly technical (computer bits and bytes, data and voice networks, etc), to what that technology enables: interactivity and experiences among people.  With the emergence and wide usage of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, mobile apps, social gaming, etc., the digital term has transcended its reputation as something technical to something that is not only at the surface but is actively affecting how people interact every day. It is for this reason, that digital is now increasingly being used to describe the interactivity and experience enabled by digital platforms.

I named my company Accendo Digital instead of Accendo Interactive because of the focus on digital platforms and how they enable interactivity and affect the experiences of people with companies.  In my mind, digital has been redefined versus what it was 5+ years ago and it is not only safe to use with respect to marketing and media (audience level), but is now a preferred term as it narrows the focus to digital platforms with the assumption that digital is interactive.

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