Digital marketing is a revolutionary way for companies, big and small, to market their wares to consumers. From endless options to scalable budgets, digital marketing has transformed the way companies present themselves to consumers.
However, the digital marketplace is hardly the same as it’s always been. Nor will it always remain in its current state. Digital marketing has, from the beginning, been in a cycle of rapid evolution. Here is a brief overview of some of the biggest ways digital marketing has changed over the past few decades, as well as some thoughts on where each change could head in the future.
From Communication to Content
The genesis of digital marketing lines up with the beginning of broader internet accessibility in the early 1990s. In fact, the first click banner appeared as early as 1993. It kicked off an era of paid advertisements and click-driven traffic for years to come.
It wasn’t long afterward that Google launched, bringing the power of search to the then-untamed wilderness of the internet. This collision of connectivity and searchability led to an explosion in internet usage — and digital marketing along with it.
However, for a long time, the focus for most online advertising tended to be on paid search results and banners and blocks of ads that were present alongside information. The internet was often used as a form of communication and basic information discovery. This didn’t immediately mesh with advertising in a deeper or comprehensive manner.
However, as time has gone on, the idea of advertisements and the internet has shifted into a new arena: content marketing.
And this isn’t just referencing activities like keyword stuffing where the goal is to trick search engines into prioritizing your content on SERPs. Marketers have come to prioritize quality content as a way to reach customers. One piece of content that is valuable to your target demographic can increase brand awareness and customer loyalty.
At the same time, when used well, content marketing can also boost other areas of digital marketing, such as SEO, social media, and email. For instance, digital marketing agency Hennessey Digital explains that a single piece of content “can help you generate organic traffic (through SEO), clicks (through email), backlinks (again, through SEO), and engagement (on social media).”
The internet is still the same communicative tool it always has been. However, the way that marketers use it to communicate their marketing messages through content has changed dramatically. On top of that, content is poised to stay front and center far into the future as it continues to meet the needs of consumers and businesses alike.
From Confusion to Standardization
When marketing went digital it suffered from a lack of accessibility for many businesses. If a company couldn’t afford to hire an IT staff, it struggled to maintain a website. And that doesn’t even touch on the challenge of promoting advertisements and the steady development of digital marketing collateral required in the digital marketing space.
Over time, this problem of over-complexity and a lack of standardization has been thoroughly addressed. Digital marketing has benefited from a plethora of apps and tools that have been created with marketers in mind. Customer relationship management (CRM) tools help keep customer data organized. Social media management platforms streamline company social pages. Website builders have made it quick, easy, and affordable to build an e-commerce store.
There is still a decent amount of work that has to take place, but for even the smallest marketing teams, accessing the power of digital marketing has become easy — at least when compared to the past. Not only that but technologies like AI and machine learning promise to continue the simplification process far into the future.
From Cookies to Data Analysis
In the beginning, the internet was an anonymous space. Anyone who wished to preserve their privacy could do so with relative ease. Over time, though, data and information have become abundantly available. This has created issues in areas like cybersecurity, but it’s a boon for marketers everywhere.
The first internet cookie was created in 1994, but it took nearly a decade for more significant amounts of information to become available. Then social networking sites began to appear around the turn of the century. Sites like Friendster and Myspace popped up early only to be replaced in the early 2000s by industry regulars like Facebook and LinkedIn.
As consumers began using the internet for personal networking, the amount of available data increased. The arrival of smartphones only accelerated this tendency until marketers found themselves faced with an ever-growing mountain of data.
This has led to two critical developments in modern digital marketing. First, it has allowed marketers to target their efforts with never-before-seen precision. Marketing tools now equipped with sophisticated analytics enable marketers to personalize each message they send.
The second major factor is transparency. As marketers have collected data in increasing amounts, it has placed a certain degree of responsibility on both the marketing teams as well as the companies that they represent. This is easiest to see with brands like Google and Apple, which sit on mountains of information at all times. But even smaller organizations have had to consider how they will safeguard and utilize their customers’ information in a legal and respectful manner.
Both the concepts of transparency and individualization are still gaining momentum. As calls for corporate social responsibility continue to mount, transparency becomes more important by the day. At the same time, the ability to personalize and tailor each marketing message has proven to be so effective — 72% of consumers only engage with personalized messages — that it’s difficult to see it going away any time soon.
From content marketing to standardization to data analytics, digital marketing has come a long way from its humble beginnings. And yet, there is still endless potential for the digital marketing space to grow and flourish in the future.
The question is, what new topics or innovative technologies will drive the furthering evolution of digital marketing? It’s an answer that only time will truly tell.