The Evolution of Digital Marketing

When digital marketing started taking off a few years ago, it was largely product based, and most local businesses embarked on a journey of trial and error to figure out what digital marketing products worked best for them.

Eventually, the majority of business owners came to understand that they needed a website, but for the most part, these business websites were just a way for the business to display its products and services and contact information to prospective customers.

The vast majority of businesses didn’t know how to make their website drive leads. Instead, they spent money on products like Google Ad Words to drive traffic to their website, which, in a lot of cases, weren’t designed to turn visitors into customers.

As a result, many business owners became disillusioned with digital marketing, which felt to them like a lot of work, significant investment and a whole lot of fancy words no one had ever heard of—all for very little return. But some businesses learned how to make the Internet work for them and it became an enormous competitive advantage in the marketplace.

In fact, the Internet had become a hidden employee for businesses of all shapes and sizes, a 24/7 resource that could not be fired, was not constrained by things like privacy laws and ethics, and didn’t distinguish between what was true and what wasn’t. Whether a business was doing some kind of digital marketing or not, the Internet was working for them. And left unchecked, this tireless employee could actually do more harm than good.

It soon became clear that the businesses that managed the Internet effectively were the ones who had the greatest chance to succeed. And eventually, what was once a confusing mix of high-tech marketing products became a simple, definable list of management tasks that every business could accomplish either by hiring someone to do it for them, or by doing it themselves. Things like SEO and Blogging and Social Media which, on their own, were hard to understand and put into context, became parts of a single, coherent strategy to generate new customers and grow any business.

Doing business at the local level had always been about reaching clients when they were ready to make a buying decision. Air conditioning contractors didn’t advertise to convince people that air conditioning was a good invention. Their advertising assumed that the prospective client was in the market for an air conditioning unit either now or later, and needed to make a choice. This meant that every client a business secured was effectively taken from their competitors—and every client their competitors secured was taken from them. They were all reaching customers at the same phase of the buying cycle.

The Internet would change that. With a marketing program designed from the customer’s perspective instead of the business’s perspective, consumers could be reached very early in the buying process so that by the time they were ready to make a decision, a relationship with the business had already been formed.

This customer-centric approach, often referred to as inbound marketing, evolved from the fact that the customer, more than ever, was in control of the buying process. Businesses could no longer push out the information they wanted customers to know and expect to convert them at the same high rate. They needed to complement their marketing by pushing out the information the customers were actually looking for.

Effective digital marketing was really all about reaching customers at different points in the buying process with the right information, and forming a relationship with that potential customer before they made up their mind about where and what to buy.

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