Ginger Conlon of The Drum: What is the Most Significant Moment in the 25 Year History of Digital Marketing?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate on a panel focused on the future of customer experience at Oracle’s MCX (Modern Customer Experience) event held in Vegas.  The panel was a lot of fun because I got to sit on the panel with a couple of old friends and CRM industry thought leaders — Beagle Research managing partner Denis Pombriant, and Ginger Conlon, US Editor of The Drum.

After the panel I spent some time with Ginger to discuss an intriguing question based on the upcoming 25th anniversary of the first digital display ads being run on websites — what has been the most significant moment in the 25 year history of digital marketing?

Ginger and I take a shot at answering that, but as you’ll see below it’s kind of hard to narrow it down to one moment or thing.  You can read our attempt at answering the question with the edited transcript below. To see the full conversation you can watch the video below or the play the embedded SoundCloud player.

Ginger Conlon of The Drum: What is the Most Significant Moment in the 25 Year History of Digital Marketing?Small Business Trends:  I’m here, still at Oracle MCX, with Ginger Conlon, the U.S. editor for The Drum, and a longtime friend. I knew her before she was playing with drums. Thanks for joining me.

Ginger Conlon:  Thank you, Brent. I love the on-the-fly interview.

Small Business Trends:  Yeah.

Ginger Conlon:  Or conversation. Because I’m going to ask you questions, too.

Small Business Trends:  Oh, so you’re going to turn the tables, okay. But that’s okay.

Ginger Conlon:  It’s what I do.

Small Business Trends:  That’s exactly what you do. Matter of fact, I have a big question that you are asking a few people around a really interesting digital marketing topic, because it’s kind of what you do, right?

Ginger Conlon:  It’s what I do, but also this October is the 25th anniversary of digital marketing, and basically kicking off in mid-October with that 25th anniversary of the first banner ad. There is one banner ad that is known to be the first, but there were actually a handful of about 12 I think launched that same day.

Small Business Trends:  Wait a minute. There hadn’t been any banner ads before this one day, and then just on this one day, 12 from different areas, from different people all on the same day?

Ginger Conlon:  Kicked off.

Small Business Trends:  That’s kind of strange.

Ginger Conlon:  Yeah. I’m not sure of the history of how it all worked, that’s one of the things I’m going to be looking further into this year, but we’re going to be carrying the theme throughout the year at The Drum, so you’ll see different articles; and so one of the questions I’m kicking off with is asking people from their point of view in the market, what do you think was the most significant moment in digital marketing over that past 25 years?

Small Business Trends:  So we’re going back to basically 1994? That was before Google too, right?

Ginger Conlon:  It was… The funny thing that the first banner ad is it says something like, “Click here, you may not yet, but you will.”

Small Business Trends:  Really? That’s kind of cool.

Ginger Conlon:  It was almost predictive.

Small Business Trends:  Way to work that in there. All right. I was thinking about a couple of things. I was thinking about the first email marketing campaign, and how that’s changed the world of marketing … and spam. Then, I mentioned Google, because I was thinking about search, and then I was thinking on top of search, there’s Google Ad Words, and that kind of changed everything too.

Ginger Conlon:  Yeah.

Small Business Trends:  If I were to pick one over the other, I would pick the … go off the board and go with the unsubscribe list. Only because all these other things have inundated us, and flooded us with ads, and emails, and spam, and from a consumer perspective I like having some choice and some power over the messaging that comes to me at this point.

But really, I’m going to go with actually I’m going to go with search.

Ginger Conlon:  Yeah.

Small Business Trends:  Because that … It changed so many things. It wasn’t even Google that started it, but it was Google that kind of perfected it and got our attention. Then on top of search, you do have Ad Words, and that really changed the game. So I’m going to have to say search.

Ginger Conlon:  Yeah, well that’s interesting too, because they’re searching Google, but then if you think about how searches evolved even within sites, within Amazon, or Facebook, or Instagram, and people are searching for things that may wind up in a purchase, and not necessarily starting at Google. It really has changed the game, and then as we were talking about in our panel yesterday, you’re going to have more and more voice search. So that’s going to change the game again in the future.

Small Business Trends:  It’s like continually changing the game. Search started out as one thing, and then we get a mobile search, and now we’re going to voice search, and like you said, it’s not even just Google, because I think over half of the product searches are done on Amazon.

Ginger Conlon: Yeah.

Small Business Trends:  It just seems like it’s foundational. Although, email marketing, I mean it’s kind of hard to ignore that one, too.

Ginger Conlon:  Yeah.

Small Business Trends:  Although I try, because I get so many of those emails …

Ginger Conlon:  Email is a workhorse. It definitely has staying power. Yes, there are some companies that over email, but other companies that focus more on personalization and sending the right messages to the right people at hopefully more optimum times. Sometimes on their schedule, but at least with more relevancy. It can really get some terrific engagement, and conversions.

Small Business Trends:  And you mentioned yesterday you had an opportunity to talk to the folks over at Mack Truck, and you would think it’s 2019, businesses have been doing this forever, all businesses have been doing this stuff forever now, but that’s not really the case.

Ginger Conlon:  Right. Mack Truck has really dived wholeheartedly into digital marketing really just the past year. I mean, they tested some things before but this past year they have done significantly more than they had in the past, and everything from social, they did influencer marketing. They gave trucks to two trucking influencers.

Small Business Trends:  They gave real Mack trucks to –

Ginger Conlon:  A Mack truck to each one of them, with a kit on how to do a diary of their journey of using this truck for a year. That’s been going really well, they have only a team of four in marketing, and one of them is a video expert, and they’ve done a whole series that they’re doing a second season of this coming year that’s been performing really well for them.

Small Business Trends:  Wow.

Ginger Conlon:  What the head of marketing there was saying is that he loves it because as much as he loves the traditional in print, and things like that, he can really see how digital goes right to the pipeline. He feels like he should be accountable for helping to sell Mack trucks by getting into the pipeline for them to give sales ready leads over to their dealers.

Small Business Trends:  Yeah, well that’s really cool. But I gotta ask you now, because you asked me which one did I pick. What did you pick?

Ginger Conlon:  Oh, I haven’t picked one yet. Now the pressure’s on. That’s a good one. That’s a good one, because you know, I –

Small Business Trends:  Yeah, didn’t you come up with the question?

Ginger Conlon:  I did come up with the question. Yeah, you’re kind of spoiled for choice, because just the access to information that we have now, in real time has changed the game for business and put so much pressure on business as well, to keep up with consumer’s expectations. Again, from the panel yesterday, we were talking about there’s a book called The Entitled Consumer, and it talks about how so many of us, about three quarters, according to the study that’s the foundation of this book, feel some level of entitlement, which means that you expect special privileges.

Small Business Trends:  Right.

Ginger Conlon:  Part of that is because of this … the way digital marketing or digital in general has brought such a real-time nature to everything we do. I mean, if you want something you can probably find it and order it in seconds. If you … or maybe, you know, minutes, if you want information, if you want to teach yourself something you can find it and do it online. I actually fixed something in my car with an online video. It was a simple … It was a really not that mechanical of an issue. But still, I mean, it’s amazing what you can do today with the information, and because of that, the way marketers can reach out to you not just to sell, but also to help you.

Small Business Trends:  Yeah.

Ginger Conlon:  That’s really where it makes the difference.

Small Business Trends:  So you’re going over the whole 25 year mark, but I want to go look to the future. What do you see as a future game changer, whether it’s … You mentioned the word predictive, and one of the things that came out of the conference was around [Oracle’s new product] CX Unity, being able to take all this data, and aggregate it and then find insights, and do something with it. We just talked about video, mobile, augmented reality … I mean, there’s a ton of stuff that is out there, but which of any of those or maybe something else is going to be a big, big, big game changer over the next decade or 25 years or whatever.

Ginger Conlon:  I’m all about the data. I’m going to have to say machine learning/AI, right? Because what marketers can learn and predict using that technology, I mean it’s already established there are companies that use it and use it fairly well, but once more companies do more with it, especially as they weave it into their systems, I think what marketing will be capable of will be amazing on the one hand, and on the other hand marketers will really need to have policies in place to respect privacy and it’s going to be a situation of what you can do, versus what you should do, because of the amazing things that machine learning and AI can bring us.

Small Business Trends:  Mm-hmm (affirmative). You mentioned … I don’t know what the phrase was yesterday, but it was like creepiness to –

Ginger Conlon:  Oh, the cool creepy factor.

Small Business Trends:  Yeah, that’s it. Yeah. It’s good to be cool, but you don’t want to cross the line and be creepy.

Ginger Conlon:  Yes.

Small Business Trends:  It seems like it’s so easy and it’s getting easier to cross that line.

Ginger Conlon:  It is. Absolutely.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

More in:

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.