The 5 biggest milestones in digital marketing history

Eva Maria Schmidt
Luglio 31, 2015

They say time flies when you’re having fun. Can you believe it’s already been 30 years since the first .com domain went online on March 15, 1985, registered by computer company Symbolics?

Thirty years!

Since then, the speed and extent of innovation and disruption brought to the marketing segment by digital technologies has been nothing short of staggering. Even looking back only five years, when the first Apple iPad and Instagram hit, can seem like a different era.

And that’s good, because marketers have never been more empowered to drive personalized customer dialogues and long-term loyalty with relevant, individualized content than today.

High time to say thanks! Let’s take a moment to celebrate the 5 biggest milestone events that shaped our industry:

1. The rise of the World Wide Web (1991)

Big things come in small packages. When Sir Tim Berners-Lee launched the first website of all time at CERN on August 6, 1991, the goal of the small, text-only site was mostly academic: “The WorldWideWeb (W3) is a wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents.”

As marketers soon realized, the Web also provides access to a large universe of customers, and the first Web banner ad sold as early as 1993.

Since then, it’s been all about engaging the customers – and getting clicks and eyeballs in all the right places. Today, building a new website to start a marketing campaign is still the first order of business for 48% of marketers (MarketingSherpa), while almost half of today’s customers judge the credibility of a company and product by looking at the website (NewsCred).

Why it matters: The World Wide Web provided the underlying infrastructure that took brand communications to a whole new level, changing the game from “push” to “pull” marketing, from preaching to storytelling, and from loose engagement metrics to cold, hard stats.

2. Email becomes mass communication tool (1994)

Move over, snail mail! Sending and receiving electronic mail is the status quo today – with over 4.1 billion email accounts (Radicati Group). But email used to be the privilege of a select few: In 1971, the first email was sent on the Web’s predecessor, military-funded ARPANET, between researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto.

Early email mostly served as a hub for academic networking (“I’m starting this company in my garage, could be huge!” – Steve). But the water-cooler vibe was short-lived and the first wave of SPAM hit the inboxes of some 400 ARPANET users as early as 1978.

Starting in 1994, commercial providers such as Yahoo!, Hotmail, AOL etc. took electronic mail into mainstream territory. Today, an estimated 122,500,453,020 emails are sent every hour (MarketingProfs). Ding! Ding! Ding! And while new channels are emerging all the time, McKinsey & Company found email nearly 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter.

Why it matters: By unlocking one-to-one personalized mail in real-time at a low cost, email has made the world a smaller place – and a much bigger playing field for marketers. Just make sure to use responsive email design!

3. The E-Commerce revolution (1994)

“What can you even buy on the Internet?” was the universal response, when e-commerce website Netmarket completed its first transaction on August 11, 1994. Choices were slim, and the first item sold on private online auctioning platform eBay in 1995 – a laser pointer – turned out to be broken!

Today, the only thing broken in e-commerce are sales records: Consumer purchases on the Internet reached $1.471 trillion in 2014 (eMarketer) and with an annual growth rate of 20% will reach $2.356 trillion in 2018.

With all types of products just a click away, companies like Seattle-based powerhouse Amazon, incorporated in 1994 by Jeff Bezos under the name Cadabra, are already offering 2-hour deliveries to customers in select area codes. And as more and more customers shop on mobile devices – 24.4% of overall ecommerce revenues by 2017 (ABI Research) – shipping is getting more nimble. Next up: Delivery by drones!

Why it matters: Every marketer knows that the beauty of e-commerce is only partly about shopping. Customers also fork over all kinds of actionable data – where they shop, what they buy – entirely for free.

4. Google’s creation of the SEO market (1998)

The concept of digital marketing can roughly be divided into two eras. Asking anyone before the rise of Google how to make money on the Internet, the loose answer would have been: “Advertisements”, “page views”, or “contacts”. The 1998 arrival of Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s Internet indexing engine radically shifted the focus towards search ranking and customer data.

Today, Google’s search engine handles almost six billion searches per day – and the most successful companies are taking no chances when it comes to ranking first on the search list.

In a business-to-business context, 57% of marketers named Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as the biggest factor for lead generation. And Google is king: It controls a whooping 67.6% of the U.S. search engine market, where users conduct 12 billion searches per month. Even competitors such as Amazon are currently spending an estimated $157.7 million in the U.S. for Google search ads.

Why it matters: As a seasoned marketing expert puts it,If you want traffic as a digital marketer, you go through Google.”

5. The social media takeover (2002)

Sometimes the future arrives a bit too early. Such was the case for, the world’s first social network site launched in 1997 – and shut down in 2000. Networks such as Friendster and MySpace attracted millions of users, before collegiate network “The Facebook” – founded by Mark Zuckerberg in his Harvard dorm room in 2004 – friended the entire world after going mainstream in 2006.

Fast forward to 2015 and Facebook counts 1.366 billion users worldwide. Mobile-friendly social messaging platforms such as Twitter and Instagram keep 288 million and 300 million users per month, respectively, thumbing away on their smartphones.

The social media revolution fundamentally changed the way brands speak to their customers – for better (#viralvideogold) or worse (#marketingfail). Today, more than 84% of all B2B marketers report using social media in their campaigns (Aberdeen). And the best in our industry rely on integrated solutions such as Selligent Social to keep the conversation moving and customers engaged across all channels and devices.

Why it matters: The rise of social media completes the cycle where customer data, not clicks per banner ad, are the new “oil” driving the digital economy.

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Photo Credits: Source – Shutterstock