We take a lot for granted nowadays. Automation, CRM tools, Wagamama deliveries via Deliveroo… the list goes on.

This hasn’t always been the case though. And for B2B in particular, the pace of change over the last decade has been staggering. I thought it’d be interesting to go all Darwin on our beloved industry and figure out how it evolved into what it is today.

The original open sauce

Believe it or not, the origins of marketing lie in Ancient Greek fish sauce: a 35 CE manufacturer branded his product so successfully that its reputation travelled as far as France.

Innovations kept coming, from unexpected places. B2B industry events, for example, hold the DNA of Medieval trade fairs, where merchants would show off their produce and craft.

And who can deny the importance of Gutenberg’s printing system? Broadsheets, flyers and newspapers quickly flooded Europe, filled to the brim with the world’s first print ads.

Fast-forward to 1895 and we see the birth of content marketing, with John Deere’s ‘The Furrow’ – a quarterly resource educating buyers on the latest hot-button news relating to, um, tractors.

The birth of modern marketing

The early 20th century is where modern marketing officially started. The Industrial Revolution saw the end of small, hyper-localised communities, and gave entrepreneurs the means to reach more people than ever before.

The innovations came thick and fast. We had the world’s first telemarketing firm, DialAmerica, in 1957, and 1978 saw the first electronic ad sent over a network of government and university computers. There are far too many significant advances to name them all.

Don’t get too comfortable

And then comes along the Information Age, changing everything, again.

IBM launched the first personal computer in 1981, followed by the internet a decade later, truly opening the floodgates: the word ‘webinar’ was trademarked in 1992; Yahoo and AltaVista became the first search engines in 1995, and LiveJournal pushed blogging towards the mainstream in 1999.

Instead of shouting from the rooftops, businesses could now leverage the new-found discoverability of the internet to build authentic relationships with their audiences based on knowledge and trust.

A new millennium

The year 2000 and onwards will be a familiar story for most of us. Search engines became increasingly refined as we learnt the importance of filing and ranking content. Furthermore, from 2003-2006, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube went live and soon became indispensable tools in any B2B marketer’s toolset.

As these tech powerhouses became more sophisticated at gathering data, their PPC platforms became incredibly powerful, offering targeting capabilities that went far beyond traditional advertising. Added to this was an increasingly mature marketing automation industry that boasted more than 110 vendors by 2010 – which brings us nicely to this very moment.

One the of most exciting things about B2B right now is that it’s becoming more like B2C every day. An unprecedented level of creativity is going into our campaigns, and we’re starting to talk to people rather than businesses. We’re finally bridging the gap between B2B and B2C.  

But what’s next, I hear you ask?

Now that we’re done looking at the past, it’s time to talk about the future. The world is generating unimaginable amounts of data and, as marketers, we’re becoming adept at soaking it up. We’re using it to learn more about our customers to create ever more personalised campaigns.  

But we can do more. Take content as an example. The term ‘content marketing’ was coined in 1996 – nearly a century after ‘The Furrow’ – but in these past 20 years or so, has anything really changed? We still read whitepapers. We still read blog posts. We still read eBooks.

It’s time for content to talk back. Very soon, there’s going to be an explosion of content experiences that use data to react to what the user wants at any moment in time. Just watch this space.

Don’t stop me now

Looking back, it’s surprising just how much of our roles can be traced back hundreds of years. Trade catalogues, direct mail, conventions, adverts – all marketing, disruptive or otherwise, has roots in our past. But we’re not content to live in the past. Marketing never stops changing because neither do our audiences.

Whether we’re sending social ads or writing an educational whitepaper series, we can now augment our operations using data, automating basic processes and honing the techniques of the past so that our message is more relevant, compelling, and on a larger scale than ever before.

This sure is an exciting time for B2B marketing. It’s now over to you to make history – get in touch if you want to discuss how.

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