Wholesell Changes

One look at the marketing methods in play when this magazine started and you'll wonder how anything ever got sold. One look at the future and you might see products selling themselves.

To borrow from a popular ad campaign circa 1977: You've come a long way, baby. Like Alice gazing through the looking glass, it's a mind-bender to look at the world of marketing in 1977, when coupons, contests and sidewalk sales dominated small-business promotions. Back then, the typical campaign went something like this: You ran an ad or coupon in the newspaper and, if you were lucky, an AM radio station in your area sent a DJ for a live broadcast during your promotion.

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AM radio? Yes, you read that correctly. FM radio was fairly new in 1977, and there were only three national TV networks. Today's media glut didn't exist, and big-time promotional marketing was the exclusive turf of conglomerates. Your options were limited, not to mention prohibitively expensive. "You had to compete on a huge scale for mind share," says Rob Osler, director of brand strategy at Leonhardt:Fitch, a branding and design firm in Seattle. "It created significant barriers to entry for new players."

Many of the marketing tools we take for granted today were either new or nonexistent in 1977. Auto-makers were testing a new idea called the rebate. Marketers were figuring out how to target direct mail. Computers took up entire rooms, and scanning equipment was a novelty. Data mining was futuristic, and promotions were tailored to the masses. The arrival of desktop computers in the 1980s gave entrepreneurs added marketing sophistication and cost control, while corporations began cluing into the power of sponsorships, branding, tie-ins and loyalty programs, as well as the connections between all of them. The Super Bowl was becoming a marketing event, and AT&T's "Opportunity Calling" campaign, which let consumers collect points on long distance calls to buy merchandise, signaled something new and exciting.

Technology: First it leveled the playing field. Where's it headed now?
Money: Capital was scarce 25 years ago. Here's its state today.
Management: Trends are multiplying fast. What will stand the test of time?
Marketing:Technology and personalization will rule this arena.
Franchising: Get ready . . . the golden age of franchising is upon us.

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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the May 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Wholesell Changes.

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