There are few industries in which change happens as fast as in marketing – and few where it is as vital to stay ahead of that change. To understand the way that it continues to shape our world today – and so make better use of it – it’s useful to know something of its history.
For many centuries, the only means that people had of advertising their businesses was through word of mouth. Then came the marking of goods, like an early version of the trademark, and then signs to promote market stalls or permanent premises. It was centuries more before the adoption of flyers for marketing purposes and adverts in newsletters. The invention of the printing press and the subsequent development of newspapers and catalogues made it suddenly possible for businesses to reach much larger audiences, but it was with television that mass marketing really took off. Then came the internet, changing the game again.
When computers were first adopted as a marketing tool, they were used mainly for storing and analysing customer data. Although this didn’t make the same impression on most people like the appearance of new forms of advertising, it actually revolutionised the way the business worked. Previously, it had been impossible to work with very large data sets, and even working with smaller ones was slow and laborious. Computers made market research both more efficient and more affordable. It meant that strategy was no longer approached as an art, based on the instincts of a few feted gurus, but became something that business owners could devise for themselves.
The advance of the internet was incredibly important for small businesses because it made it possible to reach large audiences for a fraction of the cost of television advertising. Previously, radio had been the most affordable option, but this was never ideal for those who had products that they wanted customers to see. Today, it’s easy to make marketing videos and get them out there on platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo. How many people then view them depends on how much effort you make to generate publicity.
Whereas early marketing techniques offered very little control and involved sending out a single message with little idea who would see it, as technology has improved, it has become possible to identify and target particular market segments with increasing precision. You can now target people based on traditional demographics or based on their individual profiles and shopping habits, with computers doing the hard work of processing all this. As well as reducing wasted effort, this has made advertising far more appealing to the consumer, because now it’s much more likely to feel relevant and interesting.
Observing these trends doesn’t tell us what technologies will emerge in the future, but it does help us understand how the industry is likely to develop. With this in mind, you can think more productively about how marketing technology can best be used to serve you.