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The History & Evolution of Digital Marketing

digital marketing

Author: Bizzman; Published on: December 10, 2019

In a global situation where over 45% of the total world population is active on social media networks and the number of active social media users increase by 350 million from 2018 to 2019, the art of attracting consumers is a critical one. Having mentioned that, it must be noted that this art is not a new one, what is new is the medium used. With such an uprise in the number of social media users, it is expected that every business professional must be familiar, if not good, at the many facets of Digital Marketing.

The advancement of technology in amalgamation of globalization of commerce has led to an ascend in digital marketing, or the practice of appealing consumers through a host of social media platforms. The Digital Marketing industry is a dynamic one and has been for a while. In understanding the history and evolution of Digital Marketing, hopeful digital marketers and business professionals can enter it with the skills they need for future success.

As Wikipedia states –

Digital marketing is an umbrella term for the marketing of products or services using digital technologies, mainly on the Internet, but also including mobile phones, display advertising, and any other digital medium.

The History of Digital Marketing

Some like to accredit Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi as the first digital marketer because he invented the radio. Others claim that the era of digital marketing began in 1971 when Ray Tomlinson sent the first email to himself (since no one else was using email back then).

Although both these instances represent significant moments in the evolution of technology, it’s a bit too much to say that they launched digital marketing as we know of it today.

The mass adoption of the internet as a regular part of the everyday life of humans is the single biggest occurrence that has affected marketing over the last three decades. Although early desktop publishing software in the first PCs instigated a rush in print marketing in the 1980s, the computers were little more than a puffed up typewriter.

Even though the history of Digital Marketing jumped off in the early 80s, it is safe to say that 1990 is the actual starting point for Digital Marketing. Why, you ask? Because that is when Archie, the first search engine was born and was an index for FTP sites (which happened after a few years, not immediately).

Evolution of Digital media marketing

According to the Digital Marketing Institute, a succession of technological developments at the turn of the 21st century set the stage for a modern and massive digital audience. Of these, the internet, big data and smartphones are considered the most significant.

Archie Query Form

Though it is often argued that Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) emerged with the launch of the first website in 1991, or when the first web search engine launched, the official saga of SEO began a bit later, around 1997.

According to Bob Heyman, author of “Digital Engagement,” we can thank none other than the manager of rock band Jefferson Starship for helping give birth to a new field that we would grow to know as “search engine optimization.”

It’s impossible to predict what the future of digital marketing holds, mainly because of its dynamic nature.  But to look forward and have a fair idea, it is important that we take a look back. Let us take a look at the three major technological advancements that have transformed the way we look at marketing: the internet, big data and smartphones.

 The internet

Although the theoretical origins of the internet go as far back as the 1960s, the World Wide Web was created by scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. His preliminary goal was to connect computer networks at his employer, CERN.  In 1991, the first individuals outside CERN were invited to join. In 1994, Netscape, the first successful mass-market browser, was released. In the couple of years following Netscape’s entry into the public sphere, the number of people using the web increased from 16 to a whopping 70 million people.

The swift expansion of internet users meant a changing digital landscape. The use of email, advanced search engines such as Yahoo! and Google, and the conception of e-commerce websites like Amazon and eBay paved new ways for businesses to reach clients. Email became a marketing tool and search engines became a way for consumers to find products and services. The earliest SEO techniques were also introduced, which included keyword stuffing, extreme tagging, and the use of backlinks.

Big data

The advent of digital activity gave a rise to new developments in data recording and storage technology. Online consumer activity could now be recorded, saved, and analyzed. This proved priceless to businesses, as it offered an insight about who their consumers were and their behavior which in turn allowed them to find ways that was the best to connect with them.  The emergence of social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter allowed big data to grow even more considerably, as users posted more and increasingly personal information on social media platforms.

Eventually, big data enabled businesses to track consumer patterns, create defined marketing strategies, and even offer predictive analytics. This further allowed them to connect with consumers on a more personal level than ever before.


Mobile phones made their first appearance in the 1970s and have continued to evolve ever since then. However, the first step into smartphone technology is accredited to the BlackBerry. Released in 2003, a Blackberry device allowed users to email through their devices for the first time, connect to each other via their messenger (BBM), and was preferred substantially by businesses and governments for the security of its network.

2007 saw the release of the first Apple iPhone. This indicated the beginning of the true era of smartphones and allowed marketers to reach their target consumers more accurately and directly, and stay connected for longer durations. Smartphones consequently led to a further rise in social media use, an occurrence that increased marketing opportunities even further.

The Evolution of Technology

In a very short period of time, technology has taken over the human life. Computers, smartphones, and tablets – we really can’t seem to operate normally without them, personally or professionally.


Websites and Blogging: Websites progressed hand in hand with internet. Suddenly, everyone had a Geocities or Tripod website dedicated to themselves. This is also the same time when the blogging frenzy started to set in on the consumer level with the introduction of “weblogs” (now known as “blogs”). Remember Xanga?

Floppy discs to USB and emails: Fast forward a few years and sharing information changed from CD-ROMs and floppy discs to USB sticks, flash drives, and saving documents on desktop/laptop and emailing it to contacts.


Since the days of dial-up, Internet has become readily available to most. Internet cafes and coffee shops aren’t so common anymore as well among users needing to access internet. Wi-Fi is available almost everywhere, and when it’s not, consumers have access to mobile data which every mobile service provider offers these days. Plus, there are apps for almost everything!

Messaging has evolved from simple text messages to images, videos, gifs, emojis, and bitmojies. In fact, with the spike in video-sharing (SnapChat, Instagram Stories, and Facebook Stories, etc.) , actual text is shrinking.

Furthermore, video calling applications such as Skype, FaceTime, Facebook Video Calling, etc. has enhanced higher-quality video and streaming capabilities. With more users engaging in web/video conferencing online, geographic barriers that once hindered communication are totally torn down. Instead, businesses can engage with consumers in a more humane manner, professionals can talk to each other face-to-face without the need for costly travel, people can connect to their loved ones across borders easily and effectively, and reaching out to people all over the world is faster and easier.

Latest Trends in Digital Marketing

As digital marketing trends evolve rapidly, digital marketing professionals must always stay up-to-date with the changes in order to easily become accustomed with budding technologies to remain at the top of their game. This will assist them in gaining a competitive edge and remain able to extend new ways to grow their businesses, generate leads and improve the relationship with their existing customers.

Having said that, in 2019, there are a few new developments that are gaining an upper hand in the world of digital marketing.

Voice Search

Voice search

Voice search is seeing a big upsurge in the number of users. In fact, several industry professionals have suggested that by 2020, 50% of all queries will be voice-based. Top names in the industry are devising strategies on how to deliver their promises using voice-enabled devices since they are reasonably priced and offer greater possibilities than ever before while more visitors are using voice search to interact with these brands.

Augmented and Virtual Reality Marketing

Augmented reality ads are one of the major applications that are now used by some businesses (Michael Kors, Lenskart, etc.) . It’s a way to bring static or imaginary environments into a more realistic experience, something that would integrate the “offer” with the “reality” of the buyer.



Chatbots have been rising in the few recent years and still persists in 2019. According to Grand View Research, 45% of end users prefer to use Chatbots as a major means of communication in customer service. Chatbots play a significant role in enhancing the consumer experience and allow marketers to better interact with their audience, effortlessly. They provide real-time assistance to the user, committed support and hands-on interactions where they ask questions to understand the real problem.

Social Media Stories

Social Media Applications such as Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube are the reasons why live content is the fastest growing segment of internet video traffic due to the extraordinary waves in the last few years. Live streaming content is free, less time-consuming, and viewers use your content based on your time not theirs.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine LearningArtificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine LearningWith global business leaders like Amazon, Microsoft and Google extending their resources in AI and machine learning, this trend is here to stay.


AI allows digital marketers to foresee future plausible patterns of their consumers based on composed data. With this data, the professionals can then establish how to better connect with their active consumers using different digital media channels such as direct mail, sales outreach, or digital advertising.

Case Study: KKR – IPL Team’s Digital Marketing Strategy

Not even the IPL team could stay far away from the digital world. Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) is the franchise representing Kolkata in the Indian Premier League (IPL), a Twenty20 cricket tournament whose co-owner is one of the famous film star – Shahrukh Khan.

KKR team has the most engagement with their fans and followers due to its digital marketing strategies.  During the initial days, KKR showed keen interest to gain followers over the internet and worked on various objective like how to increase brand awareness of KKR irrespective of Shahrukh Khan, how to stay tuned and connected with the fans and how to keep them updated with latest news & updates.

For engagement, first, they decided to create a video blog dedicated only to KKR fans named “Inside KKR” where fans can get through their news and their favorite players easily.

Secondly, they had a website blog and an official mobile app that kept fans engaged and updated with the latest news about the team.

They paid special attention to social media platforms as well as The digital marketing team at KKR has also organized a live screen Facebook chat at Facebook HQ in Hyderabad.

Players of KKR had queued sessions on Twitter with their fans and run special “Cheer for KKR campaign”. This is for the time that any sports team followed a digital idea.

Case Study – Paper Boat’s #FloatABoat campaign on social media

About Paper Boat –

Paper Boat, a popular name in Indian homes now, is known for selling traditional Indian drinks that are very common in the culture – golgappe ka pani, aam panna, jal jeera, and kokum. Highly popular in Indian culture, these drinks may be slightly tough to prepare at home. The drinks are packed in squishy pouches that are easy to carry and are part of the brand’s appeal in urban India.

Paper Boats


As Paper Boat mission states – the purpose of these drinks was to take you back in those memories and float a boot this monsoon. And, the same purpose is very well carried by the team through digital marketing campaigns. They created numerous innovative campaigns that approached the emotional side of the Indian audience and made them fall in love with the brand

#FloatABoat Campaign Strategy

One of Paper Boat’s campaigns especially stood out. The campaign was called #FloatABoat. The concept was simple and self-explanatory – Paper Boat asked its audience to make a paper boat (like almost all of us did as children), follow their social media pages, and share it on their pages by using the hashtag #FloatABoat.

Another aspect of this campaign was the claim made by Paper Boat to donate INR20 towards child education for every paper boat that was shared on their social media. This was done in participation with Parivaar, a West Bengal-based humanitarian service organization that works for the development of less fortunate children. #FloatABoat had the right blend of a cause campaign, one that not only helped establish Paper Boat’s brand proposition of ‘Drinks & Memories’, but also brought back childhood memories to the Indian crowd. Paper Boat launched the #FloatABoat Campaign during monsoon season with objective of tying up childhood, paper boats and schooling with a common thread. The brand tried to bring the three together for its cause campaign aimed to educate needy children.

In the second phase of the campaign, a letter was delivered to customers who purchased the product through Amazon and Paytm. This letter educated the reader about the cause and also gave them a playful reason to make a paper boat.

#FloatABoat on Twitter –

Float a boat

#FloatABoat on Video –

In a short video, Paper Boat conceptualized a school setting where parents, instead of children, attended a special class as the children played outside in the rain. The parents were given a couple of scrap papers, and to their surprise, they were asked to make paper boats and asked if they still remembered how to make them. While some of them succeeded, most of them didn’t. Towards the end of the campaign, the teachers asked the children to come in and help their parents to make the paper boats and the audio stated, ““Do you still remember how to make paper boats? Make one and stay like a child with every fold.”

#FloatABoat Campaign Results –

  • The videos loaded on YouTube got more than 40 thousand views in mere 5 months .
  • The brand now is available across 20,000 retail outlets including coffee chains such as Barista Lavazza, airlines such as Indigo and Jet Airways and hotels such as Westin and Trident
  • Keeping a track on the success, the company plans to launch more variants, at least 25 variants in total.
  • The campaign launched in the first half of July’15 and 231 boats were uploaded onto the site by mid July’15.
  • The Paper Boat donations went to approximately 805 children, housed by Parivaar Ashram

Case Study source –,, and Twitter

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