The History of Marketing

It can be such a confusing, intimidating, perplexing and unapproachable part of business.

But, it’s very necessary.

The product is good, but it’s only good enough if it gets in front of the right people.

“The number one rule in merchandising is that if they can’t see it, they can’t buy it,” said Lindsay Anvik, CEO of See Endless, who’s been a featured business expert on MSNBC’s ‘Your Business.’

There are many forms of business, obviously, and hence, many forms of marketing. Merchandising is a form of marketing for retail stores, but an overall marketing plan, no matter your business, is key to success.

It’s been said that automobile racing didn’t begin when the first automobile was built. It began when the second one was built. The same can somewhat be said for marketing: marketing wasn’t created, until someone had something to sell.

In today’s fast-paced world, everybody gets that. Marketing is important.

But how did the funky aspect of marketing a product get started?

Some historians trace marketing back to antiquity, where packaging was branded and advertising accompanied different products in Pompeii.

The Middle Ages also show forms of marketing when market towns in England and Europe began to pop up. Some historians have said that the term “marketing” may have first been used in the context of these market towns.

There is also evidence of marketing in 17th and 18th century Europe. Scholars have said as trade between countries grew, individuals and companies often carried out formal and informal research on trade conditions.

The Gutenberg Press was invented in 1493, and mass printing was made possible for the first time. Magazines first emerged in the mid-1700s, and the first billboards appeared in the 1860s.

But in the modern era, Harry Gordon Selfridge is often credited as a pioneer in marketing. Selfridge was American-born, but became a retail magnate who founded the London-based department store, Selfridges, in 1909. He ran Selfridges for 20 years, and the retail store became one of the most respected and wealthy retail chains in the United Kingdom.

His approach to growing his retail giant wasn’t earth-shattering by today’s marketing standards, but at the time, he was doing unheard of tactics to help magnify the Selfridges brand. His first approach to making shopping at Selfridges unique, was to make shopping for pleasure, rather than necessity.

He used advertising to bring customers in, and his stores included restaurants, a library, reading and writing rooms, special reception rooms for French, German and American customers, a First Aid Room, and a science room with soft lights and deep chairs, all intended to keep customers in the store as long as possible.

His staff at Selfridges were taught to assist customers, and to sell the merchandise. He also managed to have the privilege of having the number “1” as its own phone number. Customers would have to simply ask the operator for Gerrard 1 to be connected to Selfridges’ operators.

Selfridge’s impact on the business was felt around the world. It had such an effect, that colleges and universities began to offer classes on the practice. Marketing courses first appeared in the early 1900s at the University of Michigan, and many historians credit the school with the first marketing courses in the country. Other schools followed, including the University of Illinois, the University of Pennsylvania and the Harvard Business School.

Selfridge was onto something, obviously, and it opened the door to other big thinkers who wanted to expand their business.

As businesses continued to grow, and marketing became an integral part of the growth, a direct focus was made on the “sell-as-much-as-we-can” philosophy with little concern for building long-term relationships. But that trend started to change in the 1950s when companies began to see that narrow and self-centered approach towards customers work against them. As competition grew stiffer, companies started to look to the buyer side of the transaction for ways to improve, and grow relationships.

Understanding the needs of customers.

That’s what businesses began to grasp in the 1950s, and it changed the way goods and services were marketed around the world. It’s a marketing concept that changed the approach of first learning what their customer wanted, rather than selling at any cost. Once a company discovered what their customer wanted, only then should they initiate the process of developing and marketing goods and services.

It was revolutionary, and the concept continues to be the approach of most marketing approaches today.

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