The Marketing Technology Revolution
Technology and marketing are inseparable. There are ~1,876 marketing technology vendors out there today, and 60% of marketers expect their companies to increase investments in technology this year.

It wasn’t always this way.

This brief history chronicles the explosive evolution in digital marketing technology, and explores the factors, companies, and innovations that fueled it.

IBM launches first personal computer.

first ibm personal cpu

SQL was adopted as a standard by the ANSI.

sql server

100mb is the storage capacity of computers.


robert kestenbaum
Robert Kestenbaum

robert kestenbaum
Kate Kestnbaum

robert kestenbaum
Robert Shaw

The beginnings of digital marketing technology can be traced back to the 1980s, when computers became sophisticated enough to store huge volumes of customer information.

This shift in technology corresponded with a shift in mindset from pushing product to “relationship marketing,” which prioritized customer connections. Marketers abandoned their limited offline techniques like list brokering in favor of database marketing.

Pioneered by Robert and Kate Kestnbaum, database marketers kept an electronic database of customers, prospects, and all commercial contacts.

By 1986, ACT!, a contact and customer management company, introduced the first database marketing software to the business world. It was essentially a digital rolodex, only it could store large volumes of customer contact information.

Together with Robert Shaw, the father of marketing automation, Robert Kestenbaum went on to develop several landmark database marketing solutions for BT and Barclays. Shaw incorporated new features into these database marketing models, including telephone and field sales channel automation, contact strategy optimization, campaign management, marketing resource management, and marketing analytics.

The digital databases of the 1980s transformed buyer-seller relationships, allowing brands to track their consumers like never before. But the process was still a manual one. The popularity of personal computers and the advent of server/client architecture at the turn of the decade paved the way for an explosive growth in revolutionary marketing technology in the 1990s: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software.

future marketing tech

What does the future hold?
Download "The Future of Marketing Technology" to find out.
16 Million

The number of Internet users worldwide in 1995.

ethernet port
30 Minutes

The average time Americans spent online in 1996.

web surfing

Users who checked regularly in 1998.

aol in the nineties

CRM software, a system for tracking interactions with current and future customers, exploded in the 1990s.

In it’s earliest form, CRM -- then called Sales Force Automation, or SFA -- automated the features of database marketing, including interaction tracking and inventory control, providing companies with more useful customer information.

Early innovators included Brock Control Systems, Unica and Tom Siebel. Seibel left Oracle to found Siebel Systems, which became the leading SFA provider in the early 90s market.

CRM went through a massive overhaul in the late 1990s when vendors like Oracle, SAP, and Baan entered the market. This competition compelled vendors to expand their service offering to include marketing, sales and, and service applications.

In 1999, the crowded CRM landscape consolidated significantly thanks to a number of high-value acquisitions. And with the birth of the Internet, emerging eCRM vendors, which allowed marketers to support vast amounts of customer data online, maximized the competition in the landscape.

Instead of feeding information into a static database for future reference, eCRM players in the dotcom era like Broadbase and Kana, allowed marketers to continuously update customer understanding of customer needs, and prioritize their experience.

But with this advanced new technology came new challenges. Marketers found that they were data rich and information poor. They could track and store a lot of customer information. But didn’t have the support to make sense of it all.

Customer Contacts Contact with customer made through the retail store, phone, and fax. All of the traditional methods are used in addition to Internet, email, wireless, and PDA technologies.
System Interface Implements the use of ERP systems, emphasis is on the back-end. Geared more toward front end, which interacts with the back-end through use of ERP systems, data warehouses, and data marts.
Client Systems Client must download various applications to view the web-enabled applications. No download requirements because the client uses the browser.
Personalization of information Views differ based on the audience, and personalized views are not available. Individual personalization requires program changes. Personalized individual views based on purchase history and preferences. Individual has ability to customize view.
System Focus Created for internal use, the system designed based on job function and products. Created for external use, the system is designed based on customer needs.

That trend changed in 1999 with the birth of the first Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company,

Scott Brinker, marketing technologist, co-founder, and CTO of ion interactive, inc., says that “Salesforce shifted the trajectory of software as a service offering.”

Salesforce was the first company to deliver business applications from a website, now commonly called “cloud computing.” This web-centric model served as the blueprint for the future of marketing technology.

Scott Brinker “Salesforce shifted the trajectory of software as a service offering.”
- Scott Brinker

future marketing tech

What does the future hold?
Download "The Future of Marketing Technology" to find out.

558 million Internet users worldwide.

internet router

The iPhone is born.

iphone launch

Google goes public.

google 2004

On March 10, 2000, the dotcom bubble hit its peak then burst the following weekend when major stockholders like Dell and Cisco sold off the majority of their stock. Many of the CRM companies that boomed in the 90s were hit hard. They either ran out of capital, liquidated completely, or were acquired by larger companies.

But the burst wasn’t all bad. It prompted SaaS leaders like PeopleSoft, Oracle, SAP, and Siebel to re-think their business models. Instead of treating the Internet as one of many channels with which to communicate with customers, they followed’s lead, and began to make it a foundational aspect of their services.

By the mid-2000s, digital behavior changed the power dynamic between buyer and seller dramatically. Users began researching products and making decisions about them online, and on their phones, before ever talking to a salesperson.

Marketers suddenly found themselves in uncharted territory.They were scrambling to track the digital body language of their prospects, and struggled to take responsibility for a larger portion of the buying cycle.

Mayur Gupta "If there was one thing that put the consumer right at the center and in control, it was the smartphone... it allowed the consumer to make choices on the go, and that power shift enabled brands to reinvent themselves."
- Mayur Gupta

In 2007, marketing companies like Marketo, Pardot, and Act On offered a solution to this conundrum: marketing automation.

Marketing automation, which enabled marketers to launch multi-channel campaigns, segment their audiences, and serve up highly personalized content, was an attempt to get a handle on the Wild West of the Web. It was the first technology built by marketers for marketers that was rooted in digital.

But while marketing automation was an important development, it couldn’t adapt fast enough to the exponential evolution of consumer channels and devices.

Social media, for example, was still in its infancy in the mid-2000s. Marketing automation did not plan for social to emerge as one of the leading marketing outlets of the 21st century.

Meagen Eisenberg “When I switched out of product marketing into lead generation, I realized I needed marketing automation.”
- Meagen Eisenberg

Social Media Timeline

LinkedIn founded
December 2002
Yelp launches
October, 2004
Zuckerberg starts Facebook
Febuary, 2004
Gmail launches
April, 2004
YouTube founded
February, 2005
Twitter born
March, 2006

To meet the channel-specific needs of marketers, new, highly-specialized software companies began popping up. By the end of the decade, the marketing technology landscape mushroomed. By 2010, marketers had software solutions available for social, mobile, search, and analytics. But this proliferation of choices wasn’t without its consequences.

Rebecca Lieb “You have people who specialize in analytics, and people who specialize in email and paid search, and organic search and social media. Now the challenge is to break down the wall between all of these digital specializations and integrate with offline efforts.”
- Rebecca Lieb

future marketing tech

What does the future hold?
Download "The Future of Marketing Technology" to find out.
11 Hours

Time Americans spend online daily in 2014.

ethernet port
250 Milliseconds

User load time expectation in 2014.

web surfing

People who check their phone without a notification.

checking phone

Over the past decade, consumers have transformed from being, as Mayur Gupta puts it, “tech-savvy to tech-dependent.” And as a result, they expect a seamless user experience from brands across every device and every digital channel. This expectation has prompted both a diversification of marketing technology and a consolidation of it.

Big fish like Adobe, Oracle, IBM, and Google have acquired hundreds of smaller technology companies in a race to become the most comprehensive solution.

Google Acquisitions

Year (2000s)

Yet new marketing technology companies continue to flood the space every day, serving the younger subcategories of video, social, search, paid ads, influencer marketing, content management, and more.

What’s going on? Scott Brinker attributes this apparent contradiction to integration opportunities:

“There’s a lot of effort to try to get to standardized platforms that become the foundation of marketing systems. But a lot of these foundational systems are also opening up their APIs, making it easier for a lot of other small companies to create innovative, specialized technologies that plug into their environments.”
- Scott Brinker

Currently, the diversification rate far-surpasses the consolidation rate. In just three years, the number of marketing technology vendors has grown from ~100 to ~1,876.

Marketers are plagued with a paradox of choice. Despite the slew of solutions at their disposal, they’re more stumped than ever over what tools to incorporate into their marketing technology stack, why they’re important, and how to organize internally around technology to deliver meaningful results.

Many make their decisions based on the technologies they’ve already invested in.

“Integration capabilities is one of my requirements when I evaluate software so I can simplify the number of things I need to log in to.”
- Meagen Eisenberg

But most still feel untethered. While 60% of marketers expect their companies will invest in marketing technology this year, that investment is not matched by confidence:

The Confidence Gap

48% of marketers feel highly proficient in digital marketing.

68% of marketers feel more pressured to show return on investment on marketing spend.

Only 40% of marketers think their company's marketing is effective.

To help calm the chaos and empower marketers, industry thought leaders, like Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group, have presented different models for aligning needs with technology.

“I see things heading toward integration. With all of this fragmentation and all of these different workflow scenarios, we’re going to be seeing the development of stacks.”
- Rebecca Lieb

Integration has emerged as the most desirable feature of marketing technology. According to research by Signal, 96% of marketers said that a fully integrated marketing technology would have a positive effect on their goals, and 88% said it was crucial to helping them continue to innovate.

But despite this shift toward integration, marketers still face major challenges, namely:

1. How to organize internally around all of these technologies

2. How to put the customer (and not the tool or technology) at the center of the marketing experience

“If you look at most of the talk that’s out there, it’s around either the [marketing] technology, or applying the technology to achieve some sort of customer experience...both really important things. But how does an organization of any real size, structure themselves to actually absorb and execute that technology at scale?”
- Scott Brinker

Change management is hard. And most organizations are slow to adopt it. But there are shifts happening today at the executive level that suggest we’re moving in the right direction. According to Gartner, 70% of companies have already incorporated a brand new C-suite role that will be key to unifying technologies: The Chief Marketing Technologist (CMT).

CMTs are responsible not only for identifying what technologies to invest in, but also for figuring out how these technologies and the teams that use them can strategically align around—and prioritize—the customer experience.

The major disconnect today is that marketers still organize around channels, and consumers don’t. Consumers expect a seamless experience across all channels and devices. And if marketers want to create an omnichannel experience, they need to use adaptable, omnichannel technologies.

By examining the trends today, we can piece together an exciting new future for marketing technology.

The Future...

The future is unknown. But we can still make predictions.

future marketing tech

In “The Future of Marketing Technology,” we explore what the marketing technology landscape will look like in the next 10-15 years, and what roles, skills, and internal changes companies will need to make to adapt to this landscape.

Ready to create omnichannel, consumer-led marketing experiences?