A Brief History of Digital Marketing: Techniques and Technology from the Eighties Onward
With a new decade upon us, entrepreneurs the world over are excited about the amount of potential and possibilities waiting to be discovered. What new technologies are going to be released, what new strategies are going to be developed, and how can we harness it all for the good of our business ventures?
Staring off toward the horizon is all well and good, but it’s important to look back at how far we’ve come so we can properly appreciate where we’re going. With that in mind, I thought I’d put together a little retrospective on the history of digital marketing, to show you readers how much the industry has evolved in such a relatively short time.
Technology had advanced enough that computers were becoming more affordable and accessible, both for companies and consumers alike. While personal computers primarily served as word processors and gaming stations, marketing companies began filling databases with customer information, such as contacts, prospects, sales figures, etc.
Organizing the information like this enabled brands to track their customers and analyze the data far more meticulously, assisting in the development and management of new marketing strategies. It was around this time when the market began shifting from the mindset of “selling a product” to “connecting with the customer,” a transition that was aided immensely by having so much carefully arranged data to make use of.
Mind you, this information may have been stored digitally, but it was still being analyzed manually and applied to campaigns centered around print and television ads.
It wasn’t until the release of the World Wide Web and the dot com boom that a new marketing opportunity presented itself: web advertising.
Savvy websites began selling advertising space on their pages, allowing them to earn revenue to fund expansion while providing brands an exciting new frontier to reach consumers. Initially, websites charged flat rates for posting ads on their sites, much the way print publications did. In time, the Cost Per Impression Measurement (CPM) was developed to provide more accurate figures on how specific ads were performing, a metric that revolutionized the market.
Speaking of revolutions, Customer Relationship Management Software (CRM) would grow extremely popular in the nineties, improving and refining the use of marketing databases that began in the eighties. The market for CRM became very crowded, especially when companies were able to start storing their data online. This high demand led to the birth of Software as a Service companies, which licensed their programs for other businesses to use instead of leaving them to develop their own unique models.
Things were really looking up for digital marketing, but for every peak, there is a valley.
The dot com bust of the early aughts was a major setback, one that claimed many promising companies. It was a shame to see so many end up liquidated, though some escaped the same fate by being acquired by bigger and better established competitors. Those that managed to survive had to rethink their tactics, utilize new tools, and I’m pleased to say they most certainly did.
Smartphones and Social Media really came into their own during this decade, creating a new era of web usage and data sharing. Now that consumers could browse popular sites from the palm of their hand, brands had to ensure they were posting the right kinds of ads on the right kinds of platforms in order to reach their demographics.
Thanks to advancing technology, marketers were able to employ automation tools to track user habits and tailor marketing materials to best suit individual preferences, allowing them to distribute personalized ads across multiple platforms.
With the strong foundation that the previous three decades had laid out for it, digital marketing was able to grow like never before, with online ad spending surpassing that of traditional media like print and television.
The wide access to tools and technology meant a surge of independent entrepreneurs and small companies could find their place on the market, either by offering marketing services or offering a service relevant to marketers (data collection, analytics, innovation, etc.) Large companies occasionally turn to contracting these smaller companies in order to improve their own operations, if not simply purchase the companies to act as a small, specialized division of the brand as a whole.
Companies need as many experts as they can afford, as it was during this decade when agile marketing really took off as a successful model. Brands that were able to quickly and efficiently capitalize on fads or trends as they happened were viewed as relevant and respectable, whereas brands that failed to make proper use of trends or attempted to capitalize on a fad after it was no longer popular were seen as outdated and desperate.
Millennial and Gen Z age groups became major online demographics, and analysts noted their fondness for interactive marketing campaigns. They enjoy taking part in contests and sharing pictures accompanied by hashtags, as not only does it assist them in building up their own online recognition, but it also gives a more personal association to the brands they interact with.
2020s and Beyond
As we’re only just beginning the new year, let alone the new decade, the practices and principles of the 2010s are still in effect. It’s far too early to predict what exactly will be the big trends and techniques that shape the era, though experts have a few predictions.
The success of social media influencers is expected to become a mainstay of digital marketing, and consumers’ love of review sites that let them thoroughly research products or services before they purchase means maintaining positive public image will be critical. We’re also seeing artificial intelligence become a factor, as predictive models and analysis programs are expected to begin utilizing such technology sooner rather than later.
I for one am eager to explore where this new decade takes the industry, and I’ll be sure to share whatever knowledge I gain with all of you here.