The history of marketing dates back centuries, perhaps even light years: ever since people have had something to sell, there has been a need to put it in front of an audience. From the simple days of the physical marketplace, to the heavily digitalised world of e-commerce, over time the notion of buying and selling has been intertwined with changes in society and advances in technology – always growing and searching for the best way to get people to buy what you’re selling.

After 25 years in the industry, JAZ has witnessed the steady growth of digital marketing first-hand, and there’s really only one thing we can say for certain: if you stay in the game, you’ll get left behind. For as technology advances, so too do the possibilities grow, and as marketing professionals we have seen trends come and go, new tactics and tools add, improve, and replace, and brand standards, graphic design, and the web constantly keep us occupied.

So how has the world of marketing changed between then and now? First of all, Google got smarter. While early search engines like Yahoo! made momentous strides in the evolution of online search, it wasn’t until Google was launched in 1998 that the golden era of modern marketing was born. From AdWords to content targeting services and more, Google changed the way the world conducted and marketed their business online. And with advanced ranking algorithms thrown into the mix, browsing online suddenly became all the more personal, and a marketer’s dream. Being able to specifically target users and develop clever and creative strategies based on their search patterns, interests and online personalities soon led to a whole new way of selling and communicating. A brand can now reach virtually anyone, anywhere at any time, and that’s truly a powerful thing.

Once Google began revolutionising digital marketing, the optimization of websites for search engines became an essential tool that’s now used worldwide. The beauty of SEO is that it is cultivated by you – the user – and put forth on the digital stage through patterns in keywords, backlinks, coding and more. It’s given us the ability to be “present” in a very public and overcrowded domain, and acts as a vital cog in a greater (and larger) machine that’s powered by a multitude of channels and strategies.

What came next was the start of a new era for digital marketing, one of ‘connectedness’ that saw social media grow from being a simple tool to communicate with friends, to an avenue through which once can connect with brands, spread news, have a voice, buy and sell, and influence a wider audience. Both large companies and small businesses equally jumped on board, and brand reputation has never been as important since. And how could it be? With billions of users spread across channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest, targeted advertising has transitioned into a digital landscape that never sleeps, with social media remaining one of the most vital parts of any marketing strategy.

Aside from changing trends and new technologies, one of the most prevalent changes to marketing over time is that it has become much less aggressive. Gone are the days of blind, obnoxious targeting – where information saturation was the norm, and potential customers were contacted without permission – in the hopes of reaching someone who just might be interested in what you were selling. Back in those days, the nature of the beast became an excuse for interruptions – regardless of whether you were interested in a product or service, or not. From intrusive pop-ups demanding your email address, to bounce pages, spam, and annoying ads, communicating with customers wasn’t always as seamless or sophisticated as it is today. Back then, “impressions” were those of a physical response to an advertisement or marketed product, with the number of times someone saw your brand largely determining their awareness of it, and likelihood to come back.

Today people do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic” (Seth Godin). Marketing professionals have learned to generate content in a less intrusive, naturally more appealing way. With better research under foot and more resources than we know what to do with, the future of digital marketing is one that will constantly evolve, and rely on strategy, creativity, and an element of ‘realness’ to go far. The content marketing of today is truly based on understanding your audience, so that you can appeal to their interests with customized content and information. It’s all about giving: in our world we have to earn the trust of our consumers by focusing more on what we give – good content, great conversation, and even better service – rather than on the take. And with social media now a platform in which everything is conducted in real time, everyone has the ability of becoming an influencer online.