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A History of Marketing Analytics: The Digital Revolution

Last updated: April 16, 2020



As we explored in our first post in this series on the history of marketing analytics, marketing in one form or another has been around for centuries. However, the need to base marketing efforts on actionable data is a comparatively new phenomenon, but revolutionary in the way marketers conducted campaigns.

Recently, we’ve seen the next great marketing revolution take shape. We’re talking of course, about the emergence of digital technology into the marketing landscape.

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Digital marketing has completely transformed the way consumers and marketers interact, but when did digital marketing first enter the scene and how has it progressed? More importantly, how has digital technology influenced marketing measurement?  

The Digital Revolution and the Birth of Modern Marketing

Prior to the emergence of digital technology, marketing efforts were limited to a relatively small mix of print and broadcast channels. When the first wireless phone was invented in 1972, it kicked off a wave of emerging technologies. In its wake, the first personal computer entered the new digital scene in 1975. It didn’t take long for advertisers to recognize the new opportunity, however, and in 1978, the first SPAM message was sent to 400 users.

From there, digital technology—and the subsequent advertising used to capitalize on those technologies—exploded. Soon, everyone had their own personal computer, interconnected to each other via a new communications technology: the modern internet. By the early 90’s, the first search engines emerged to help users navigate the web, bringing with them early variations of search engine optimization and advertising.

As technology progressed, more opportunities for online advertising emerged. Smartphones and tablets allowed for highly sophisticated browsing and engagement on-the-go, and marketers were quick to leverage the new opportunities for better marketing and revenue growth. As the digital landscape continued to evolve, marketers found themselves trying to reach consumers with a variety of touchpoints across a number of different digital channels. This complex digital marketing mix meant marketers needed to rethink how they measured the impact of their brand messages. As a result, digital attribution was born.

The Emergence and Evolution of Digital Attribution Models

Digital technology brought new opportunities for rapid, granular marketing measurements. Prior to this, marketing mix modeling (MMM) was the preferred measurement technique for print and broadcast media. However, it relied on long-term measurements and provided broad insights into the overall effectiveness of marketing efforts. With digital, marketers could see engagements faster, and needed marketing measurements that could keep up.

As technology evolved, consumers were gaining access to a wider variety of digital devices—both in-home and on-the-go. Subsequently, marketers found themselves engaging with consumers across these channels, which in turn meant marketing measurement efforts were growing equally complex. With digital channels however, marketers could see when and where consumers were engaging with their marketing. This level of visibility was a result of leveraging attribution models to better understand the impact these channels had on driving conversions.

Initially, digital attribution was rudimentary. Marketers looked at the digital channels immediately preceding a conversion, known as  “last click” or “last touch” measurements, and assigned those channels with the most value for optimizing a campaign. However, as consumers began engaging with media across a number of devices, the marketing mix used to engage consumers grew complex. In order to understand which ads were driving revenue across the digital mix, marketers adopted multi-touch attribution, which scored multiple touchpoints across the consumer’s path to purchase.

As flaws in attribution models were identified, marketers began adopting lift studies, which as the name implies, “lifts” the consumer touchpoints across a specific digital channel (like mobile for example), and scores the value of each touchpoint in increments—the greater the role of the touchpoint, the greater value that would be placed on that touchpoint.

The Shift Toward Omnichannel Marketing Attribution

While digital attribution models are effective at measuring the digital marketing landscape, consumers still engage with the print and broadcast media that’s been around for decades. Today, the digital revolution has made it possible to leverage effective marketing analytics platforms that expand marketing measurement capabilities well past digital attribution.

Now, marketers can accurately measure their efforts across the marketing mix as part of an omnichannel marketing attribution strategy—which provides marketers with a 360º view of their marketing efforts—online and offline. Thanks to the digital revolution, marketing measurements can now help marketers provide fluid, personalized experiences that are tailored to individual shoppers.

Final Thoughts

Since digital technology first entered the stage, it revolutionized the way consumers and brands interact. What’s more, the role of marketing measurements grew as the number of channels exploded. As a result, marketers were able to gain previously unimaginable insights into the behaviors of the consumers they engaged with. As technology evolved, so did the measurements and capabilities of marketers—culminating in the modern omnichannel marketing we know today.

It’s an exciting time in marketing, and fortunately, the evolution of digital marketing is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Written by Marketing Evolution