Marketing is a concept which exists since civilization and cultures have based their trading and selling upon communication in order to move products faster than others. The early definition of marketing defined the action of promoting products and services in order to increase the reach of the business in a population. With more recent development which succeeded the emergence of new technologies and ways of communication, marketing has evolved to become a commonly used modern sales tool, by incorporating market research and advertising along with communication.
China has evolved throughout history to possess the special social media landscape it has nowadays. WeChat, the most used social media in China became an efficient way of marketing and a commonly used sales tool for all the businesses who wishes to operate in the Chinese market. This new way of selling allowed companies to keep track on their marketing campaigns because of all the key performance indicators (KPIs) that are generated by the platforms. Many people seized the opportunity of the e-commerce and social media booms in China to enter the market as we can see with the emergence of new applications focusing on social commerce such as LittleRedBook or PinDuoDuo.
Let us take a look back at the evolution of marketing and its communication tools to better understand why social media marketing became an important factor for business. There have been major stages in the history of marketing, which are resumed below:
The Trade Era
This goes back to ancient history where our ancestors produced handmade goods for the purpose of trading with other population. These products were limited in supply and generally traded through exploration. The notion of brand did not exist and the awareness of a product was only made possible by word-of-mouth.
The Production-Orientation Era
Following the first industrial revolution, the production-orientation era emerged in society. This period corresponds to the one in which businesses were really production-oriented and in which marketing did not have an essential role to play in business. With the apparition of printed advertisement, magazines and posters, businesses started to communicate more and reach population in order to gain awareness and to grow but with a doubtful efficiency. Business had their way to spread the information but could not know how they acquired customers. Until 1930s, the idea that prevailed was that whenever a firm had a product in abundance, consumer response would be automatic and that little or even no promotional efforts were needed for the product to be successfully sold.
As long as the product was available and highly affordable, consumers would not hesitate to buy. Companies were trying to reduce the cost of production and basic products were emphasized over more complex ones. Production and manufacturing being the starting point, acceptability of the product would occur after the product was produced but the concept had its limits if products, sales and customers were to be excluded from the decision process.
The Product-Orientation Era
The orientation slowly shifted from production to product, where businesses understood that rather than quantity, a product of quality, performant and innovative at the same time would be way more reliable than a bad product. Competition eventually started to rise during this period as new businesses started to enter the market with products of different qualities. The common idea was that a good product will sell by itself, which means that there was no need for special marketing efforts if the product was really good.
Before the apparition of new media, traditional ways of marketing prevailed. The concept of marketing was still in its early stage of development and marketers had no way to measure the performance of their investments. Marketing departments at that time were given objectives to reachout year-on-year but the outcomes of the campaigns they have launched remained uncertain. Performance was eventually measured by looking at sales records and results.
The Sales-Orientation Era
As electricity appeared along with its ultra-fast adoption rate, new mediums of communication and advertisement emerged such as radio, television and telephone. Companies started to invest in such media in order to increase their sales as more and more people started to adopt these technologies. After 1950, Television Ads became the main way to promote a product to the population. With demand being surpassed by offers, businesses needed to find a way to compete for customers and this was where the concept of marketing really came into account.
The second industrial revolution paved the way for the sales orientation era. Businesses started to face more competition and focus needed to be shifted on selling rather than on manufacturing like the orientations of the last eras. Marketing, branding and sales became important aspects of business with efficiency based on sales-promotion, advertising and public-relations in order to move products more and faster. The main idea was that products needed to be sold and not bought, which meant that a good product alone could not be sold unless it was heavily promoted with added values and status-symbols. By producing the best possible product and meanwhile finding the buyer for it allowed companies to convince buyers through tactics of persuasion. Marketing started to be driven by sales and the importance of a marketing department increased as specific methods of communication impacted the business results of companies.
The Marketing-Orientation Era
As businesses started to flourish everywhere throughout the second half of the 20th century, a lot of markets saturated, pushing companies to rely more on marketers in order to perform marketing in a more strategic way. A marketing department within a company had the objectives to acquire valuable knowledge on customers in order to decide on how much to produce but also to choose the according channel of distribution and pricing strategies. The needs and wants of customers became the main aspects to fulfill for businesses by delivering satisfaction better than competitors were. Marketing knowledge became even more valuable with time as companies saw the importance of developing a general brand experience for their clients.
During this era, telemarketing emerged as a common tactic for marketing among commonly used media and performance of marketing campaigns could be measured by placing toll free numbers at the end of TV ads. This practice revolutionized marketing by allowing the sales to be traced back to a specific number used for each channel of sales. This way of selling has been efficient and adapted to its time and the philosophy of relationship marketing still prevails until nowadays but has evolved to include multiple additional aspects regarding the relationship towards consumers.
The Relationship-Marketing Era
Starting from the marketing orientation era, the focus of businesses shifted towards building customer loyalty and developing relationships with clients. Indeed, with the third industrial revolution also known as the digital revolution, ways of communication moved from mechanical and electronic technologies to digital technologies such as computers and records. Businesses began their digital transition with the necessity to have an online presence in order to be connected to their customers like never before.
“the cost of attracting a new customer is estimated to be five times the cost of keeping a current customer happy.” – (Kotler, 1997)
Instead of trying to acquire new customers, businesses started to harvest the relationship they could build with their actual customers. The fundamental task of business is thought to be the study and the understanding of the needs, wants, desires and values of potential consumers in order to meet the expectations and specifications of consumers to deliver superior value. Marketing eventually became an essential pre-requirement before launching a product in the market and all activities within an operating company were to be integrated in order to develop programs to satisfy the consumer. The strategy also shifted from short-range profit goals to long-range profit goals in order to establish a real relationship between the company and their clients.
The Social-Marketing Era
During 1970s and 1980s, the marketing concept underwent a significant refinement axed on the social aspect of consumers. Indeed, with the emergence of the digital age which allowed the development of modern days technologies such as the personal computer, the mobile phone, desktop publishing, online networks and search engines, reaching out to an audience became easier than ever notably with the first cases of commercial spam and email marketing. The industry faced fundamental changes in its history and the apparition of social media in the early 21th century is yet the biggest change of it.
With its extremely rapid adoption rate and growth, social media became so popular that in 2019, an estimated 3.5 billion people which represents 45% of the world’s population were social media users. Businesses quickly realized the necessity to have a presence on the social media as people shifted from traditional media in favor of online media. The acquisition of customers through social media and blogs increased and it became a key method to get real customers and leads but also to keep a strong relationship with them. The concept of marketing evolved in a way where companies do not only care for consumer satisfaction, but also for their social welfare with the introduction of social responsibilities.
The era of social marketing has changed marketing field in a fundamental way. Through the internet and social media, businesses could easily reach out and stay in contact with their clients. Communication and social media are key ideas of this era as it concentrates on social interaction and a real-time connection with clients. Businesses are connected to current and potential customers 24/7 and engagement is a critical success factor. The core concept of social media is a place where people can interact with others, with the first functionalities of it being messaging and texting. Soon, more advanced features were introduced along the various updates such as market places and financial features which made people rely increasingly more on the capabilities and conveniences of these new media. Most of the social media have a built-in data analytic tool, which enable companies to track the progress, success, and engagement of ad campaigns.
Social media marketing has many valuable benefits for a company:
1. It increases brand awareness and loyalty
2. It Increases chances and rates of conversion
3. It higher the brand authority
4. It increases inbound traffic
5. It decreases marketing costs and track the performance
6. It increases the SEO and rank
7. It offers customer a richer experience
8. It enables the company to get valuable insights from their customers
9. It increases the sales revenue
By having a presence on social media, brands are connecting with their customers and potential ones. By bringing value to their audience, businesses can leverage this channel to increase their sales and establish a strong brand awareness and image.