“It was 20 years ago today…” How marketing has changed

computer less office
There was no digital technology in the office where I first started work. There are many more marketing tools available now.

Andrew Jacobs’ blog post about the changes he’s witnessed in learning and development over the last 20 years has inspired me to write about some of the changes I’ve seen in the not quite 20 years (argh) that I’ve been in marketing.

I’ve also had a recent blast of activity in LinkedIn where I’ve connected up with a lot of lovely people from my early career.  Thank you LinkedIn for putting me back in touch with them and reminding me of those times.

It really doesn’t seem that long ago that I first started working in a marketing role at Royal Mail as part of my degree placement year but of course it is.  Tempus fugit.

At first glance it seems that so much has changed in marketing since then but there are also a lot of things that have remained the same.  Here’s my snapshot.

4 things that have changed in marketing

1.  Unthinkable as it may seem now when I first started in the big world of work not everyone had a computer.  I was a lowly placement student and got by just fine with a pen and notepad.  And the typing pool.  Now my tools of the trade are a smart phone, ipad and highly portable laptop.  I still love my pen and notepad though.

2.  The internet hadn’t been invented 20 years ago, never mind the social media platforms of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, Slideshare, Pinterest et al.  Our shop window was a literal one – the post offices and callers offices that are still (just about) here today – and the call centres and postmen our brand ambassadors.  We had no websites or virtual presence then.

3.  Long lead times meant that campaigns took a great deal of time to execute.  Strong project management skills were held in high regard, probably more so than creativity.  Our below the line activity took the form of direct mail (naturally) and we did a lot of above the line work in the form of TV ads, radio and press campaigns.  Planning was done months in advance and every single element of a campaign was scrutinised and debated before execution.  Immediacy and responsiveness were not front of mind in our marketing campaigns.

4.  The tone of voice we used in our comns was more formal than now.  While this is still a characteristic of the Royal Mail brand today I think that, as a society, we’re less formal and deferential than we used to be.  As consumers we don’t think organisations command respect just because they’ve been in business for decades (how agile are you?).  Customers have more choice and can shop around at the drop of a hat nowadays – a shift of balance has occurred.

4 things that remain the same in marketing

1.  Writing skills are as important for the marketer as they ever were.  Every marketer needs to be able to blog as well as create frequent and timely social media conversations with customers and prospects.  In the past you may have been able to rely on a colleague to copy check, amend or even rewrite your messages but no more.  If you can’t put your message into words easily, quickly and with confidence yourself then you’re not able to exploit social media platforms – the most powerful communication channels available nowadays.

2.  Being clear what you want to say, to whom, and how, are still founding principles of good marketing.  Distinguishing who is a stakeholder, who is an influencer, who is a budget holder etc, is just as important as it always was.  Mix this up and you risk wasting time, offending and, potentially, losing a sale.  Good targeting and segmentation is still key.

3.  Images are probably more important now than they ever were.  Flickr, Pinterest and Facebook are the successes they are because of our love of photos.  If a picture paints a thousand words, and in today’s online world we see an awful lot of words, then selecting the right image is critical.  Marketers now have to have a good eye for design and know what images and visuals work and what don’t.

4.  The immediacy and transparency that social media gives means that managing how your brand is viewed, if you can, is still important.  Reputation management, as it is called nowadays, has become much harder.  As consumers we talk openly online about our experiences of companies, products and services without too much thought, sometimes naming and shaming to get action.  For the marketer this is like herding cats – not easy.   However, there is also a theory that more than half of active Twitter users follow companies, brands or products on social networks and 79% of them are more likely to recommend the brands that they follow.  Get it right and you have an army of ambassadors working for you.

These are just some of my thoughts and reflections.  What do you think has changed in the last 20 years in the field of marketing and what’s stayed the same?  Please share your comments below.

PS.  I was half way through writing this post when the very wonderful Hubspot published an ebook this week called 100 ideas that changed marketing.  A fantastic, much more in-depth read than my little retrospective here.

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