The Evolution Of Marketing


There is a sense in which the evolution of marketing is really about the de-evolution of markets, about monkeys becoming humans, then becoming monkeys again, you might say. Because where once producers and consumers shared a vital connection and saw each other as essential parts of the same community, all of that was lost for many years. That connection has now been re-established, thanks to the Internet, and this is roughly how that happened.

The Once and Future Market

Once upon a time, marketing was just that: A personal, one-to-one conversation in the marketplace between producer and consumer, or in this case, a farmer and his customer. 'How's it going?' says the farmer. 'Not bad,' says the customer, 'but I could really use a little more fiber in my diet.' 'Oh,' says the farmer, 'I've got some fresh corn. Here, try some.' The customer could actually see the farmer, look him in the eye, get to know him pretty well -- perhaps even by talking to other buyers about the farmer and his wares. 'Is this guy okay? Is his food really organic? How does he treat his cows?' The farmer, on the other hand, could talk to the customer and hear what she needed, which him plan for future growth and more sales. Speaking strictly in terms of marketing, those were the days.

A New Market Opens

Then about 260 years ago, a guy named Josiah Wedgewood did some really great stuff. First, he figured out how to mass produce pottery. Instead of making one-of-a-kind dishes and cups and plates and so on, Wedgewood could make bunches in a single day. Not only that, he could make them all alike, so that you could recognize his handiwork when you went to visit someone else. A pretty neat trick. So Wedgewood became the world's very first brand, also a neat trick. 'This is great,' said Wedgewood, 'let's sell a lot of these!' So he hired the first three traveling salesmen, which was also the very first example of mass marketing. And then the money rolled in. Note that all Wedgewood knew for sure about his customers was that they used pottery. All Wedgewood's customers knew about him was that he made pottery. 

A Larger, Darker, Colder Market

Mass marketing came in with the rise of print media, and was mostly found in newspapers and books. But it didn't become a force in everyone's lives until the Golden Age of Radio. At this point, marketing was no longer a few guys dragging around some cups and saucers, but a vast manufacturing sector reaching out to virtually everyone on the planet. And they did so through short radio plays that featured a lot of snappy music, vignettes that more or less reproduced and even expanded upon the message of print ads. The average person had almost no access to those manufacturers, which was too bad, because the manufacturers had almost no access to the consumers. And this was bad in itself, because competition with other producers was always increasing, and producers need to find new ways to increase their sales. The only way to do that was to get to know the customers a little better, and so market research was born. In marketing terms, the public was Out There, somewhere, faceless and unpredictable. And to most people, producers were a faceless and powerful minority who had no interest in who they were or what they had to say. 

Not in Kansas Anymore

And then along came television, which would be the greatest single catalyst to the evolution marketing until the dawn of the Information Age. With television, producers could control their brand to a great degree, and guided by intensive market research and advances in the social sciences, could get even greater results. Consumerism had arrived, and suddenly we all had to keep up with the Joneses. But television was even further from that farmer in the marketplace, and a lot of people found they had no need for television advertising, and even less trust in the products themselves. Producers found there were limits to what you could achieve with focus groups and telephone interviews. In a broad sense, producers still had no idea who the consumers were. They had demographic guides, and knew how and where they could put ads that would wind up in front of, say, women between the ages of 25 and 52, but they only had the shallowest of notions about who those women were and what they actually wanted. Advertising was a massive concern, and manufacturing was a land of giants and legends, and consumers had even less access to producers than ever.  

Back to the Aboriginal Market

All of this changed with the advent of the Internet. Computer-assisted phone interviews became computer-assisted personal interviews and quickly morphed into computer-assisted web interviews. Data mining has arrived, and now the most important and powerful person on the planet is the individual consumer. Suddenly, manufacturers are no longer standing over consumers with giant megaphones, blindly shouting about the advantages of their products, but are standing in the market once again, talking with their customers, learning about what those customers want and what works for them. And the conversation is a lot like the conversation that occurred way back in that original market, where the buyer is not only talking to the seller, but sharing information with other buyers. And speaking strictly in marketing terms, these are the good old days.

And where do we go from here? The future is inbound marketing, where the consumer rules, and the producer couldn't be happier. Great things are about to happen. Stay tuned!

Juan P Duran