How Marketing Technology Has Evolved

Technology and marketing go together like milk and cookies. Cheese and macaroni. Fish and chips. It’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when they didn’t go together. Surprisingly, there was.

Marketing companies that existed long ago didn’t point their noses in the direction of technology. They didn’t care to invest money in technological advancements. It hasn’t been until more recently that marketing has become more dependent on technology, making waves that have changed the trajectory of the future.

Let’s take a look at a brief history of the marriage of marketing and technology. Meet MarTech.

The 1980s

The beginning of digital marketing technology can be traced back to the 1980s. You remember: the time of big hair, bright-colored clothes and The Breakfast Club. This was about the time that computers (namely the Apple II and Commodore 64) were sophisticated enough to store masses of information such as customer data. This change facilitated a new way of thinking that strengthened the customer-brand relationship.

Robert and Kate Kestnbaum pioneered the first electronic databases that kept customers, prospects and commercial contacts in one central location. In 1986, the first database marketing software was introduced to the business world by the company ACT!. This software was designed to store large quantities of customer contact information.

Robert Shaw was the father of marketing automation, and together with the Kestnbaums, developed several database marketing solutions with brand new features such as telephone and field sales channel automation, campaign management and marketing analytics. The digital database from this time period change the buyer-seller relationship and allowed companies to track their customers. What lacked, however, was that this process was manual.

The 1990s

The 1990s picked right up from what the 80s brought, with the biggest change being that technology reached the hands of more people. Rather than being reserved for the wealthy, computers and cellphones were more accessible. In fact, by 1995, 16 million people used the Internet. By 1998, 41% of users checked regualrly (you’ve got mail!).

What exploded for businesses during this time period was CRM software, something that you’re probably very familiar with today. CRM software is a handy little system for tracking interactions with current and future customers. Back then it was called Sales Force Automation, and early innovators included Brock Control Systems, Unica and Tom Siebel.

In the late 1990s, CRM went through major changes when new vendors like Oracle, SAP and Baan entered the marketplace and created healthy competition. Vendors were expected to expand their service to include marketing, sales and service applications. In 1999, CRM software slowed and consolidated. With the help of the Internet, marketers could support a huge amount of customer data online.

One more exciting feat: the birth of cloud computing. was the first Software-as-a-Service company, and it delivered business applications from a website. Little did the company know that its ideas would serve as the blueprints for future marketing technology.

The 2000s

By now, there were over 558 million Internet users in the world. Google went public in 2004, and the iPhone was born in 2007. It’s hard to believe there was ever a time without the iPhone. But before its birth, things were grim for the dotcom world. In 2000, major stockholders like Dell and Cisco sold off their stock, and CRM companies that saw success in the 90s faced their demise. They either ran out of money, were acquired by larger companies or were liquidated completely. It wasn’t pretty.

Fortunately, there was a silver lining to it all: Software-as-a-Service companies changed their business models. Rather than focusing on the Internet as one channel for consumer communication, they made it the priority. By 2005, people were using the Internet to research products and make decisions, changing the relationship between buyer and seller. Marketers had to keep up.

In 2007, marketing automation became the solution for marketers that were struggling to keep up with consumer messaging. Marketing automation allowed marketers to launch multi-channel campaigns, segment their audiences and deliver highly personalized content. Sound familiar?

What held marketers back at the time was that marketing automation couldn’t keep up with consumer channels and devices. For instance, marketing automation did not plan for the birth of social media. LinkedIn, Yelp, Facebook, Gmail, YouTube and Twitter were all born between 2002 and 2006. To meet the unique demands of each channel, highly specialized software companies came onto the scene.

The 2010s

As we head to the current times, we see that the world is largely consumed by technology. We’re not just technology driven or tech savvy but tech dependent. You can probably name a few people, possibly even yourself, who can’t stand not to look at their phone every few minutes. In 2014, Americans spent 11 hours of their time online. That’s more than the recommended hours for sleep! And 67% of people admitted to checking their phones without a notification. Obsessive? Perhaps.

But marketers don’t have time to argue about the use of the Internet. They have to keep up with the latest expectations and demands from customers. One of these expectations is providing customers with a seamless experience on every channel and every device. The trouble is that most marketers are left feeling confused about which tools to incorporate into their marketing technology portfolio. Choice is good, but too much can be overwhelming.

Because there is so much confusion, many marketers admit that they aren’t confident in where to invest their money, if they’re making the right choices and if their marketing is effective. The biggest challenges that marketers face is knowing how to organize internally around these technologies and how to put the customer at the center of it all.


Marketing and technology have a solid relationship, and we don’t see them parting anytime soon – or ever, really. There was a time when they didn’t know each other. There was a time when they dated. Today, they have a mutually rewarding relationship where one benefits the other. Even though technology brings unique challenges for marketers, it’s what allows them to prioritize the customer experience on all channels and devices.