Professional Studies for Screen-Based Media
Foundation Degree South West
Defining Marketing

A brief history of marketing


In some ways marketing is as old as civilization itself. You may have seen films based in ancient Greece or Rome with images of bustling market stalls and traders actively engaged in persuasive communications. Of course these traders would not have called their activities marketing and their activities may seem far removed from someone ordering airline tickets via a website.

The concept of marketing that we now see has more to do with developments during the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. This was a period of rapid social change driven by technological and scientific innovation (see BBC history website). One result was that for the first time the production of goods was separated from their consumption. Mass production, developing transport infrastructure and growing mass media meant that producers needed to, and could develop more sophisticated ways of managing the distribution of goods.

The production orientation era
For much of the industrial revolution goods were generally scarce and producers could sell pretty much all that they could produce, as long as people could afford to buy them. Their focus was therefore on production and distribution at the lowest possible cost and what marketing management that there was considered these issues (for example, reducing distribution costs, opening new markets).

The sales orientation era
From the start of the twentieth century to the period following the Second World War (although the development was interrupted by the wars) competition grew and the focus of marketing turned to selling. Communications, advertising and branding started to become more important (see archive at the History of Advertising Trust website) as companies needed to sell the increasing outputs of production in an increasingly crowded market. Marketing was therefore still a 'slave' to production, but focussed on distribution, communication and persuading customers that one manufacturer°s goods were better than another°s.

The marketing orientation era
From the 1960s onwards most markets have become saturated (the size of the market remains the same). This means that there is now intense competition for customers. The sophistication of marketing management has therefore developed into what we now see in a modern marketing department. Marketers are involved at a strategic level within the organisation and therefore inform an organisation about what should be produced, where it should be sold, how much should be charged for it and how it should be communicated to consumers. Modern marketers research markets and consumers. They attempt to understand consumer needs (and potential needs) and allocate organisational resources appropriately to meet these needs. Modern marketers are particularly interested in brands. They are also increasingly interested in ensuring that employees understand marketing, i.e. that everyone within the organisation involves themselves with marketing activities.

So what might you take from this very brief historical perspective?

Firstly, consider that marketing started as an inward looking discipline – focussing on what the organisation produced. Now marketing is outward looking. It brings an understanding of markets and of consumers into the organisation.

Secondly, you might consider that the marketing that you are familiar with today is, in fact, a very recent development – marketing is still a very new subject. You might also note that although we can talk about a ‘marketing orientation’, many organisations – especially small and medium enterprise – act as though they are still in the period of production or sales orientation. In the absence of a good understanding of marketing, organisations may still focus on production or sales.

Thirdly, modern definitions of marketing hide the fact that the development of modern marketing management has not been a coordinated process. Origins in production and managing distribution mean that manufacturers have been quicker to adopt marketing practice than, say, the service sector, including banks and much of the tourism industry.

Finally you might consider that marketing has changed rapidly over this century and it continues to change. The sorts of activities that you might be involved with at the end of your marketing career might be very different from the marketing we see today. As a professional marketer you should be particularly sensitive to changes in society, technology, and the world economy.

If you are interested in history, the Zenithmedia timeline provides a good overview of the major media developments that have influenced marketing