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Cart horses to dash buttons: Key innovations that changed the face of marketing and sales in the last century

This is a photo of the Old City Market Square in Los Angeles, dated circa 1900.

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Look at the unorganized haphazardly parked horse carts. Imagine the sounds of traders shouting their lungs out to sell their wares.

Now look at the peaceful surroundings around you. You have technology to thank for the comfort of buying everything you want while sitting wherever you are. No haggling, no thieving, no drama, just simple and easy transactions.

Today, technology has prevailed over theatrics. From horse-drawn carts to ecommerce websites to the latest dash buttons by Amazon, we have come a long way.

So how did the journey go? What were some of the key innovations that changed the face of marketing and sales in the last century? I’ll make an attempt to answer these questions in the most concise, yet informative way in this article.

1800s

Even though trade and barter can be traced back to early civilization, marketing was an unknown concept in the early 1800s. Merchants only sold what they found. Post offices doubled up as stores in towns whereas mercantile establishments or emporiums were found in the more developed cities with large populations, but these were none too clean.

There was no supply-demand model or market equilibrium principle and no one had heard of customer service!

However, things started changing swiftly towards the late 1800s. Department stores were introduced in some parts of United States like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. These stores were for upscale customers and had “no-haggling” policies.

The advertising and marketing scene during these times was largely print-oriented, with handbills, broadsides and newspapers being the only available options. By 1825, magazines were common in America but they relied more on subscription than advertisements.

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Post the civil war, the expansion of railroads and the invention of the refrigerated boxcar, it became possible to extend marketing boundaries and sell products throughout the country. Department stores had become all the rage. It was around this time that Harry Gordon Selfridge popularized the famous slogan “The customer is always right!”

1900s

After the Great Depression ended in 1940, markets opened for luxury and high end items. By this time, concepts for supply-demand, customer satisfaction and marketing were understood and being adopted by firms.

In 1900 major advertisers recognized the potential of advertising in popular magazines and started showcasing their merchandise in them. In 1910, National Geographic pioneered the four-color editorial, and soon half-tone ads became all the rage.

Motion pictures were introduced during this time, but the medium was not used for sales or marketing. In contrast, radio relied heavily on sponsorship for revenue.

By 1956, television had gone mainstream and in less than a decade after the introduction of network television, TV advertising had become one of the key influencers in the marketplace.

The total network, spot and local advertisement expenditure in 1963 was $1.7 billion. Television and direct mail were widely used for direct marketing. Around the same time, computers arrived on the scene, but it was not until 1980s that computers became personal.

But even before personal computers were widely adopted, someone had discovered email marketing. Gary Thuerk, the marketing manager of DEC (now known as the Father of Spam), sent 400 emails via the Arpanet to promote his machines in 1978. That was the beginning of email marketing as we know it today.

The Turn of the 2nd Millennium

A report by Forrester Research predicted in 1998 that “advertisers will increasingly migrate to online business-to-business sites.”

And that has become the truth of today’s marketing.

Though we have newspapers, magazines, TV ads and billboards even today, the inclination seems to be shifting towards digital or online marketing with all types and sizes of businesses recognizing the potential of internet.

Until the 1990s, B2B and B2C marketing was mostly done through direct mail or telephones. However, email marketing proved to be a more cost-effective and direct way of communication. Soon, more companies than ever jumped onto the bandwagon and started sending unsolicited mails left, right and center.

Present Day

Today, we have so many more ways of marketing than before. From social media to video advertising, cold-calling to content marketing, PPC to native advertising, display retargeting to programmatic advertising, this generation has seen more marketing tactics than any other. Phew!

This seems to be one of the reasons why the focus of industry is on creating an advanced technological solution that blends together marketing, automation, management and intelligence in one complete package.

We still aren’t there yet, though. At the moment, we have various SaaS providers catering to channel-specific pigeonholes. For instance,

  • Mention lets you identify and monitor conversations about your brand on social media, categorize them by time, location, language or sentiment, and respond to them in real-time.
  • GetResponse gives you the full power of email marketing, with list builders, action-based triggers, responsive templates, landing page integration, and performance metrics to boot.
  • Buzzsumo helps you crack content marketing by discovering the content that resonates best with your audience, identifying formats that would work for you, and connecting with influencers in your niche.

Although, the all-in-one solution for marketing seems to be a distant dream so far, an IDC report predicts that marketing software will be one of the fastest growing areas in high-tech, swelling to nearly $33 billion by 2018.

Armed with all this new information, you might easily wonder if technology is the future of marketing. But let me get this straight right away: there is more to this marketing generation than technology.

Today’s marketing strategies are decidedly more clever and good at crafting considerate, tactful and sensitive marketing messages. We have seen some amazing guerrilla marketing strategies which are incredibly creative and leave lasting impressions wherever they run.

In terms of sales and production too, millennials have seen more innovations and re-inventions than their predecessors. Customized products and experiences have become the norm rather than the exception. Selling and discovery has become personalized. Why, things like customized bath products – literally the privilege of kings and queens a century ago – are so cheaply and easily available over the internet you don’t even think twice about them.

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Add to that, techno-savvy marketing evangelists are churning out new ideas that make browsing and buying easier than ever. Consider the new $5 dash buttons from Amazon that allow you to buy daily needs with a single click. It is a prime example of how simple buying and selling has been made easy.

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So the future marketing is decidedly more complex than using new technologies. It is a sum all of everything from buying experience, customer service, and creative thinking.

When you compare the present day markets and marketing methods with those of the early centuries, you feel overwhelmed at all changes that have taken place in the last couple or so decades.

From smelly streets to smart selling, we’ve really come a long way through the journey of marketing and sales.

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