In many ways, the history of marketing can be traced back to the beginning of trade and commerce itself. Going even further, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that marketing establishes its roots in the very history of human communication. Human constructs such as society, culture, civilization, and commerce are built upon our unique ability to transfer complex concepts to one another. Thus, marketing can be defined broadly, but adequately, as communication that facilitates and supports commerce.
Marketing technology advancement therefore follows closely behind the advancement of communication technology. When new ways of transferring information are discovered, they are quickly adopted as methods to promote, improve, and facilitate the transfer of goods or services. Like methods of communication, marketing technology develops over decades and centuries. Up until very recently, it has largely been unchanged.
Like communication periods, the actual methods used for marketing don’t die out per se. It’s true that mediums do sometimes come and go, but often the actual method is adjusted to fit the changing needs and trends of different eras instead of being completely replaced.
It’s beneficial for marketers to understand the evolution of marketing technology; doing so distills the buzzy marketing terms of today down to their original purposes – namely, communication crafted in order to support commerce. At the same time, seeing how marketing methods have been largely unchanged over the course of centuries magnifies the impact of what’s coming next. The advent of predictive technology and data-driven insights marks a new, exciting chapter for marketing. In this four-part series, we’ll discuss the evolution of marketing from prehistoric times to where we are today.
Word of Mouth Period
The first tool in the prehistoric marketer’s proverbial tool belt was language and voice. One can imagine that, in the early days of human civilization, marketing was primarily through word of mouth. The location, quality, price, and availability of a certain product or service could be only learned by direct verbal contact with the actual purveyor, or someone who had been in their direct contact. You knew Sven had axes and they were the sharpest – because Sven told you so.
In ancient China, between 11th and 7th century BC, there is evidence that oral poetry and bamboo flute jingles were used to sell candy. Meanwhile, in Ancient Greece, ladies of the night wore studded sandals that produced clicking sounds and left unique tracks that clientele could follow. Later, in Europe, as cities grew and central marketplaces developed, town criers were used to advertise the location of certain merchants and if they had any deals.
As mentioned earlier, it’s quite obvious that word-of-mouth marketing is still incredibly important for marketers today. One can argue that the new advent of Social Media marketing is just an extension of the kind of marketing communication used by the earliest producers and consumers. Influencers on Twitter and Facebook could still be considered town criers, for instance – their opinions and statements have a direct impact on their audience. The only difference is that their messages have exponential reach, thanks to the amplifying effect of the Internet.
In the next installment, we’ll discuss the impact of the written word as a marketing tool, as well as its evolution over time.