The Seven Eras of Marketing!

Guru-in-a-Bottle---marketinYou may not realise it but marketing had its roots when we were starting to emerge from the caves! In fact, there have been seven distinct phases of marketing since those times.

Here’s a quick tour of where we’ve come from and also what’s around the corner in 2014.

Simple trade era

This was when everything available was made or harvested by hand and was in limited supply. Here, the main activity was ‘hunter/gatherer’ and basic commodities ruled the day. Nothing really changed from the time homo sapiens first came out of their caves until the early nineteenth century (‘pre-industrial revolution phase’). The earliest manifestation of “marketing” was the branding of animals to signify ownership by farmers on adjoining lands. And the earliest example of a “trademark” appeared in the Roman Empire where blacksmiths used distinctive marks in order to distinguish the swords they made for their customers.

Production era

It wasn’t until the 1860s through to the 1920s that mass production techniques increased the availability of consumer goods. This was the era of “if you build it, they’ll come” marketing. Brand owners thrived because there were few alternatives available. The situation continued as a result of the First and Second World Wars where disruption to the supply chain and rationing of basic items became a way of life. As Henry Ford once said: “Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants, so long as it’s black.”

Sales era

There then followed the sales era (1920-1940s) after pent up consumer demand had become saturated. It’s at this point that the practice of modern marketing first began. No longer could brand owners easily sell everything they produced and competition for market share intensified. In 1928, US business guru Napoleon Hill wrote ‘The Law of Success’ where he argued that only through real and consistent belief can a business achieve its goals. Companies now had to work a lot harder to sell their products and services than they’d done before. Coupled with this, products were becoming commoditized and price had become a key factor in attracting consumers.

Marketing department era

The economic boom that followed post-WWII (1940s-1960s) precipitated the emergence of the marketing department era. It was at this point that traditional manufacturers realised that the “hard sell” wasn’t going to work with the new generation “baby boom” consumers. In addition, increasing affluence levels amongst the middle class meant they had more bargaining power at their disposal. Brand owners started to consolidate marketing-related activities such as advertising and sponsorship; sales and price promotions and public relations into a single department. These new departments battled with increased commoditization that was now starting to drive down profit margins.

Marketing company era

From the 1960s through to the early 90s brand owners had started to take seriously how they created products and services around the needs of customers and this became the new mantra for marketing. This marked a sharp break with the past where efficiencies in production and sales had been a big priority for brand owners to this point. No longer was marketing to be compartmentalized – instead it was now the heartbeat of a successful company. All employees were now involved in “marketing” and in this new world ‘the customer is king’.

Relationship marketing era

Since the mid-90s, brand owners have increasingly depended on the quality of data to help drive their businesses forward and switched their thinking to building long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships with customers and clients. In 1993, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers ushered in this new era with the publication of The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time’. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and data-mining became the buzz-words for marketers. Getting all systems in sync to capture information about each individual customer’s behaviour became the pursuit of brand owners like Microsoft and Visa.

Collaboration era

This is where we’ve ended up as we turn into 2014.

The art and science of marketing is now about focusing on real-time connections and social exchanges but the big difference is that it’s the consumer, rather than the brand owner, who’s now in the driving seat. Marketers must now earn the permission and trust in order to facilitate a meaningful dialogue and to collaborate profitably with those customers and clients.

The year ahead will be about information exchange, collaboration and innovation and taken together these will lay the foundations for the next phase in the evolution of marketing.


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