Digital Marketing and Its Evolution Over the Past 30 Years

Digital marketing is primarily considered a fast-paced industry that is known for keeping up with the latest trends. The last 30 years, however, have really shown how fast this industry is moving.

Over the past 30 years, we have gone from simply establishing an online presence with a website to creating business social media pages. We now have a digital marketing world where we have artificial intelligence (AI) tools fielding consumer queries, influencers providing guidance on the latest styles, and a nearly endless ability to engage and connect with customers. Keywords and web analytics help to ensure that our marketing efforts show up on search engine results pages, and a high ranking on Google is the desired place to be.

Digital marketers have had a lot to learn. They are always keeping an eye out for the next best practice but monitor the protection of consumer information.

While in many aspects, a business having a website seems to be a barebone minimum that has been around forever, the reality is that the first business websites started in the early 1990s, around 30 years ago – Ryan Shelley,

The Early Days of Digital Marketing

We have come a long way in the past 30 years. Websites were initially designed in a one-dimensional manner and were intended merely to provide consumers with information. Due to often slow internet speeds, consumers had to wait for sites to load and some of today’s graphics could not have existed with the internet speeds of 30 years ago.

According to Vegard Ottervig of Econic, “No special design or page structure was present, but the basic HTML tags for headers, paragraphs, and links made their debut.” These websites may seem basic by today’s standards, but they were the start of digital marketing. 

The early 2000s brought platforms such as MySpace and Facebook, which were mainly used for making personal connections at that time. By 2010, multiple social media networks appeared on the web, and each site had unique attributes. YouTube, Instagram and Twitter were some of the more popular networks.

As social media started becoming more popular, the technical capabilities of digital marketing also grew. Websites became more aesthetically pleasing and robust, which allowed for three aspects of digital marketing to grow.

First, with the ability for two-way communication, marketers could now engage directly with consumers. They could more easily receive feedback on products and services, and they could take care of customer issues in real time.

Second, with their enhanced technical capabilities, digital marketers could stay consistent with branding efforts and even reinforce a brand’s image on a company’s websites. Third, businesses were able to get an understanding of consumer behavior through increased personal connections.

The Rise of Social Media Marketing

Between 2010 and 2023, much changed from a business perspective. As social media popularity has grown amongst consumers, so has the use of social media marketing in business.

Digital marketing via social media enables better relationships between businesses and conumers.

When social media hit the digital marketing world, marketers took communication one step further and could now engage with consumers. They could answer customer questions faster, produce content that solicited reactions (such as likes and shares) and easily monitor which activities got consumers to react. As a result, marketers developed a better understand of what consumers actually wanted.

This use of social media marketing is not limited to just large corporations. Statista reported that in 2021, 91.9% of U.S. marketers in companies larger than 100 employees were expected to use social media marketing.

Like web design, social media efforts have improved the relationships between a business and its customers. CNBC noted in 2018 that the average airline responds to a Twitter complaint in a time period between five minutes and five hours. A business that can provide a fast response time has clearly spent some time on its digital marketing strategy.

Influencer Marketing Is a Regular Part of Today’s Digital Marketing

One of the latest digital marketing trends to get consumer attention is influencer marketing. As you scroll through your social media pages, you may notice that many ads are not from certain companies.

Instead, the ads you often see are product recommendations by individuals with a large social media following; these people are otherwise known as influencers. The ads are typically related to products relevant to what the influencer is known for.

For example, a fitness enthusiast may recommend a specific workout product, a protein shake or fitness apparel. By contrast, a food blogger may recommend a specific food brand or cookware.

This type of digital marketing resonates more with everyday consumers than celebrity endorsements, which were more common in the past. Since these influencers have expertise in their respective industries, they are often viewed as more credible than traditional celebrities.

Marketing Insider Group reports that influencer marketing has grown to a billion-dollar industry. They also report that by the end of 2020, 86% of companies had influencer marketing as part of their budget, which is impressive for a strategy that was virtually unheard of 10 years ago.  

One of the reasons we have seen such fast-paced progression in digital marketing is that with each new digital tool, marketers can better understand consumers. When online platforms started evolving, they offered additional convenience for businesses and consumers, but those platforms led to better personal connections and enhanced communication.

Increased communication, in turn, allowed for better analysis of consumer behavior through the use of online tools with a lot of monitoring ability. For instance, TikTok, a social media platform popular for creating videos set to music, has impressed many marketers with its ability to target certain audiences by understanding their online behavior.

Forbes notes that simply by scrolling through the TikTok app, it can better understand customer interests. For example, TikTok sees what types of videos consumers stop on and how long they stay watching each video.

TikTok also monitors what content is skipped to understand consumer interests. Every time someone uses this type of app, more information can be collected to make the customer experience more personalized and more enjoyable. 

The Next Trends in Digital Marketing

With all of the technological enhancements in the digital marketing world, many people are wondering what could be next. Many trends in the industry will likely continue in more enhanced forms. For example, we have seen an increase in convenience and more time has been saved for both businesses and consumers.

Another trend that will continue is personalization. Platforms such as TikTok and Facebook has gained popularity with their enhanced ability to show the content that interests users.

Personalized experiences will gain traction in other areas as well. Think of online shopping apps predicting what items consumers will want to buy, similar to Amazon’s “Products Related to This Item.”

Alternatively, your grocery app remembering previously purchased items, knowing that many consumers are brand-loyal, is a way to show personalization while the user is in the app. These marketing strategies save time and help personalize shopping experiences, and I believe we will be seeing more of this personalized experience in the future.

Today’s Marketers Must Keep Up with Trends and Understand How Technology Enhances Marketing

Digital marketing is an exciting industry that is regularly evolving through technological enhancements. It is always essential to keep an eye on the latest trends and consider how they may enhance current marketing efforts. While all trends do not work for all markets, keeping an open mind and considering what a chosen market will respond to favorably is critical knowledge for businesses.

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