If you work in the digital marketing world today, you probably know the ins and outs of what can be a very complex strategy with lots of moving parts.
But back in the 2000s, this wasn’t the case. When digital marketing (and what we know today as content marketing) was still in its infancy, there was a bit of a learning curve.
As new technologies and opportunities to connect with online audiences rolled out, marketers had to learn, experiment, and adapt quickly to fall into the “early adopter” category and get ahead of their competition.
But what did that look like?
I did some research and reached out to marketers to find out what digital marketing was like in the 2000s. Let’s take a look back at how far we’ve come.
Rudimentary Content Marketing Strategies in the 2000s
The new millennium brought a world of change for marketers as the internet became a more versatile tool.
“In the 2000s, content marketing started out with a few test programs that almost felt like novelty efforts, typically produced by one or two visionary marketers working away furtively. I imagine them in a dark closet, perhaps, working in secret, beads of sweat on their brow and giddy with excitement, because they knew they were on the front lines of something revolutionary and important.” -Ann Handley, MarketingProfs
Before the internet became what it is today, for marketers, it was new – and there were a lot of unanswered questions about how effective it was as a marketing tool.
Where radio, direct mail, and newspapers were the go-to mediums for marketing, the online space was still a bit of a question mark.
It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that marketing shifted into a web-centric model, according to research from marketer Andy Crestodina’s book Content Chemistry.
Until then, traditional marketing had the company as the central hub from which marketing efforts flowed out – and online assets were just one of many different media outlets that information was pushed out through.
However, once web-centric marketing gained traction, marketers realized the opportunities for having their efforts become a two-way flow (as seen in the image above.)
As they saw how their online efforts could complement each other, marketers started becoming more open to exploring and testing different online efforts, like ebooks, podcasts, and blogs.
So how’d that go? Let’s look at some of these tool/platform-specific efforts in greater detail.
The Rise of ebooks
When Seth Godin released his ebook Unleashing the Ideavirus in July of 2000 (for free!) he set in motion a whole new model for online marketing through education.
Today, this ebook has been downloaded more than one million times and was a major factor in boosting Godin’s career as a respected influencer, speaker, and writer around the globe.
Other marketers took note of this tactic and started promoting their own free ebooks to build subject matter authority. Eventually, they figured out how to turn these free assets into lead magnets (and were able to leverage them to grow large, engaged audiences.)
While blogging platforms originally took off in the late 90s, this medium didn’t really gain traction as a marketing tool until the early 2000s.
Microsoft introduced its blog Channel 9 in 2004 (which was aimed at developers) and other brands began to test the waters as well. In 2005, General Motors launched the GM FastLane Blog as was one of the first large-scale customer-facing blogs.
As these blogs took off, SMBs started to launch their own blogs to get in on the action. Marcus Sheridan of River Pools and Spas is an early pioneer in this realm: He used his company blog to answer consumer questions, and found that it worked well for traffic generation (because the posts ranked well in search results.) As a result, he was able to attribute more than a million dollars worth of revenue to those early blog posts.
But for the most part, early blogging in the 2000s wasn’t nearly as objective-driven and demand generation-centric as it is today. I asked a few seasoned digital marketers to share what they remember about this early state of content marketing and got similar but varied responses:
- Shayla Price, who’s been working in digital marketing since the early 2000s, said that when she managed a company blog back then, readers were highly engaged but the content was all over the place. “Companies posted on a whim and with no strategy. It was almost a side hobby…and the only real objective was to stay within company mission,” she said.
- Veteran growth marketer Sujan Patel said that his work with blogs in the the early 2000s was all about SEO and search engine ranking. “Content was much shorter–about 300-600 words with little to no data to back anything up,” he said. “There was much less competition (which allowed people to get away with low quality content), and the mission was solely to impact search engine rankings.”
- Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media said that early blogs were more experimental. “I tried things that I would never do again: Zombie-themed articles, a roundup of music clips made by marketers–even a poem about SEO,” he said. And yes, that poem still lives.
The common thread that ran through all of their responses was that early marketers jumped into blogging without much hesitation. They just did it. Even though they still didn’t have a defined ‘what’, ‘how’, or ‘why’ to their blogging efforts, most knew they needed to get on board and start experimenting with this new medium before they were too far behind everyone else.
By 2004, Apple’s iPod presented a new opportunity for content marketing: Podcasting. When subscription to podcasts was made available in the iTunes store in 2005, the growing market of iPod owners were becoming more and more interested in this new audio format–and marketers were, too.
Fidelity Investments was one of the first major companies to use podcasts for marketing with a launch in July 2005.
Popularity of podcasts continued to grow quickly as the 2000s rolled on. Just four years after their initial introduction (2008), 19% of Internet users in the US were already listening to podcasts–and that number has continued to grow since then.
By 2007, (after the introduction of YouTube in 2005) companies were starting to explore video as a marketing tool.
Blendtec became famous for their “Will it Blend?” videos in which they demonstrated their blenders liquefying everything from phones to soda cans. Watch one and you’ll see why these bizarre videos have amassed more than 6 million views.
Other brands like Pepsi, Old Spice, and Nike quickly hopped on board and launched successful video marketing efforts of their own, achieving the first instances of internet virality in this still fairly novel medium.
The Beginnings of Social Media
Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn launched early in the 2000s, but it took several years before they amassed large user bases that made them viable as potential marketing tools. In fact, Facebook didn’t even open to everyone over the age of 13 until 2006.
However, as time passed and more and more people signed up, marketers began to see these spaces as opportunities for engaging new audiences (especially a younger demographic.)
Before ads and business pages and complex display networks, marketers had to learn what worked by trial and error in these spaces.
The good part of this was that in the early days of these platforms, there were no algorithms that limited a brand’s reach or exposure, so there was an opportunity to reach target audiences for free (with organic traction).
2000s to Now: We’ve Come a Long Way
When you think about how far we’ve come in the world of content marketing in just a few decades, it makes you wonder where things will go in the years ahead.
Right now, content marketing is shifting largely from one-sided, long form blog content with highly specific goals to more engaging forms of content, which ranges from interactive lead generation tools like assessments and calculators to videos on YouTube channels and influencer partnerships.
It’s hard to say what the future holds for digital marketing (and what we know today as content marketing), but we can be sure that while it will evolve, it’s not going away.
What began as a trend has now found a deep foothold in the history of marketing, and it’s helping brands and individuals make money, build influence, and reach people who are online 24/7/365.
Want to learn more about marketing trends of the past? Check out Content Marketing Institute’s “This Old Marketing” podcast that takes a deep dive into the archives of marketing tactics.
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