Smart Marketing: the Evolution of Marketing from the Barter Method to Social Media

Marketing as a concept is relatively new, however the practice has been going on since the dawn of mankind. While the strategies and tactics have changed, and will always change as technology and consumer behavior evolves, the basic principle of the exchange of value is the constant.

For many businesses, some marketing strategies and tactics may appear to be “trendy.” They dismiss more current marketing tools such as digital advertising and social media because they don’t really believe they will matter in a few years.

Unfortunately, for businesses trying to attract consumers between the ages of 10 – 65 (a pretty large age range), they only have a few years to capture those audiences and establish brand loyalty.

And those businesses don’t get to choose where their desired audiences receive their advertising.

The point of this article is to say that consumers inform Smart Marketing tactics, not the other way around. Below, we will take a look at Smart Marketing strategies and tactics over the centuries.

smartsite evolution of marketing infographic
Evolution of Sales and Marketing Infographic credited to SMstudy
At the Philistine marketplace in Ashkelon by Balage Balogh
At the Philistine marketplace in Ashkelon by Balage Balogh
Smart Marketing 1.0: the Marketplace & Barter System

Thousands of years ago, before the invention of coins and money for currency, the most common way humans attracted customers was through the barter system–the direct exchange of goods or services without the use of money. The hunters protected the tribe and the gatherers fed the tribe. In a barter system, you needed direct access to the person in order for the exchange to take place.

As societies grew and became more complex, the marketplace emerged. Again, direct access to the consumer was necessary in order for the exchange to take place. Only now, you may have competition within the busy, crowded, and noisy market, and the winner of the sale depended often on who shouted the loudest, who had the most attractive booth, and who had the best products and lowest prices.

Smart Marketing 1.0 meant being physically present, vocal, and willing to negotiate.

Smart marketing mass media marketing and industrial revolution
Early Ford model T advertisement
Smart Marketing 2.0: the Industrial Revolution & Mass Marketing

The Industrial Revolution and the rise of railroads and shipping routes changed the game. Now, businesses were focused on producing the most amount of product at the lowest cost, and then distributing or selling it to the largest audience possible, often referred to as mass marketing. This was followed by conventional mass media marketing. Think catalogs, newspapers, radio, and television.

These mediums, while they were once new and “trendy,” are still in use today and for the foreseeable future. Businesses that didn’t “get onboard,” would quickly be left behind.

Smart Marketing 2.0 meant advertising your products and services to of the largest audience possible within your distribution network.

Smart marketing internet age Tim Berners-Lee. Credit: ITU Pictures Flickr
Tim Berners-Lee. Credit: ITU Pictures Flickr
Smart Marketing 3.0: the Internet Age & Outbound Marketing

Tim Berners-Lee went live on the internet with the first website accessible to anyone with an internet browser in 1991. Pandoras box was opened, and most likely won’t close in any of our lifetimes. The World Wide Web gave rise to new opportunities for businesses. Now, anyone could trade with anyone else without having to go to a physical market square to do it. The dot-com bubble of 1995 – 2002 was a critical event that allowed the internet to become a viable marketing tool. It began with search marketing, prompting brands to create websites to establish an online presence.

As Google, Yahoo and MSN’s search engines evolved, companies turned to SEO strategies to remain at the top of search results.

Smart Marketing 3.0 meant establishing an online presence and telling the world who you are and what you sell.

Smart marketing web 2.0
Smart Marketing 4.0: Digital Connectedness

When web 2.0 sites – blogs in particular – increased in popularity, marketers began to recognize the potential of content marketing. Inbound marketing, where more value is added for the customer and business is earned, starts replacing age-old “buy, beg or bug” outbound marketing strategies.

In 2003 – 2004, the arrival social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and My Space initiates the shift of internet users from multiplayer online games into social networking sites. Eventually, businesses picked up on the positive effects of a social media site presence on e-commerce and started creating their own profiles on the popular networking sites.

In the years that followed, customer’s favorable attitude towards social media marketing slowly changed business marketing preference from the more aggressively-proactive outbound marketing to the more reactive inbound marketing.

Smart Marketing 4.0 meant attracting audiences to your brand by connecting with them on a personal level in the online worlds in which they spent the most time.

Smart marketing brand values and connectedness
Smart Marketing Today: Brand Values and Connectedness

Smart marketing executives utilize social media as part of their marketing strategies, and successful businesses utilize social media marketing for branding, lead generation, customer retention, research and e-commerce. Not only does social media manage to significantly reduce marketing expenses and the time needed to market products and services (all the major platforms allow you to have a page and profile for free), it also increases the effectiveness of marketing and overall customer satisfaction. 

Smart Marketing today means looking at the evolution of marketing, and recognizing that as a business, you need to be willing to meet customers where they are, not the other way around.

I frequently hear complaints from business leaders about how “fickle” millennials (1981-1996) are, and how they “don’t get” how to connect with the socially conscious GenZ (1997-2010). Well, just a heads up: these two population groups make up the largest living workforce in the United States, significantly out numbering Baby Boomers and Gen X.

You may not want to ignore them for very long.

Depending on your industry, you may need a combination of marketing tactics ranging from trade magazine ads to television spots to a blog to a social media strategy.

Smart Marketing today is about connecting your brand with the desired audiences identity.

Brands such as Toms, Warby Parker, Patagonia, and many others, have  built a deeply loyal customer base who is less interested in what they are selling, than in who they are as a company and how they connect with the customers values and lifestyle. Sounds kind of warm and fuzzy and soft?

It is. And it works. 

Smart Marketing in the future will require a an open mind, a pulse on consumer behavior, and a willingness to meet customers on their own turf. Happy marketing!

Elle Speicher is a co-owner and Creative Director for Smartsite Strategies, a full-service marketing agency based in Ligonier, PA. Elle’s topics of interest include marketing strategy, social media marketing, and website and graphic design. Elle lives on a farm in Westmoreland county, PA with her dog, two cats, and a horse. 

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