History and future of marketing

History of marketing channels Once upon a time (i.e., prior to the Industrial Revolution) there was a world free of marketing.  People brought their goods and services to market in their local villages in what were hyper-local and largely closed economic ecosystems.  The rise of economics as a science in the late 19th century as well as the Second Industrial Revolution (circa 1850) gave birth to not only marketing as a discipline but retailing and advertising as well.

Fast forward to the first half of the 20th century and there is a focused interest and steady growth in the field of marketing.  In fact, in 1905 the University of Pennsylvania (my alma mater) offered one of the first courses focused on the topic entitled the “Marketing of Products” – three years before the Harvard Business School opened (yes, that is a shameless dig).  According to Robert Bartels’ The History of Marketing Thought, the maturation of marketing can be classified into several decade by decade trends:

  • 1900s: discovery of basic concepts and their exploration
  • 1910s: conceptualisation, classification and definition of terms
  • 1920s: integration on the basis of principles
  • 1930s: development of specialisation and variation in theory
  • 1940s: reappraisal in the light of new demands and a more scientific approach
  • 1950s: reconceptualisation in the light of managerialism, social development and quantitative approaches
  • 1960s: differentiation on bases such as managerialism, holismenvironmentalismsystems, and internationalism
  • 1970s: socialisation; the adaptation of marketing to social change

As you can see in the infographic above, the birth of the personal computer in the 1980s brought with it an explosion of innovation of marketing (i.e., desktop publishing, guerrilla marketing, relationship marketing, etc.).  Most of us are familiar with what happened in the 1990s and 2000s with the so-called “dot-com bubble” and the emergence of email as a business tool, as well as the invention of viral, social, and integrated marketing.

Now in the 2010s and beyond there is a nagging question on the minds of business professionals everywhere: “what’s next?”  Recently I was asked by a well-known global marketing services company to present my thoughts on “The Future of Marketing and the Role of Technology.”

In reviewing this nearly two months after the presentation, a few salient points come to mind:

  • The Greek philosopher Heraclitus was quoted as having said “nothing endures but change.”  While this is certainly true, the fundamentals of marketing have not and will not change (i.e., product, price, promotion, place).
  • Next-gen consumers are finicky about how, when and where you reach them but they’re more open to the right offer than ever.
  • Always be innovating and experimenting.  Much like Guy Kawasaki’s “don’t worry, be crappy” tenet you must be in the market trying new ideas and not worrying about missing the bulls eye.
  • Technology is not the answer, it is the question.  Too many companies have spend countless millions on a “social marketing strategy” when in reality they suffer from other more fundamental marketing ailments (e.g., marketing mix) that is impeding their ability to have a robust conversation with their customers and prospects.

Personally, the best gut-check I’ve employed over the past 20 years is a simple question: “am I interested in this idea because it provides value to my customers or because it is cool?”  Nine times out of ten when I’ve followed the former path rather than the latter, success has been attainable.

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