20 years of massive development in marketing (a metaphor)

Thank you for all the positive feedback on Rise of the Marketing Technologist.

It’s been inspiring to hear so many stories of people who are already working as de facto marketing technologists — one of whom called my proposal for a marketing CTO their “dream job.” This bolsters my belief that the talent and skill set for such marketing technology leadership is out there, eager to contribute at the next level up.

To motivate such organizational change — which is never easy — companies must recognize how far the landscape of marketing has shifted into the domain of technology. But when you’re in the thick of things, it can be hard to appreciate the magnitude of changes that have happened over many years.

So I thought you might enjoy this visual metaphor.

Take a quick look at this image:

a metaphor for marketing

Now take a guess. Is this image:

a) a scene from a Star Wars movie

b) an artist’s rendering of New York City in 2040

c) a photo of a real city taken last year

What’s your guess?

My gut-reaction impression was a). My wife thought it was b). But the correct answer is c). Those of you who are more world-savvy than we are know what city it is. It’s Shanghai. (In my wife’s defense, having lived in NYC, she has a tendency to associate everything with New York.)

The first two answers seem plausible though, don’t they?

The Pudong area of Shanghai is an impressive and futuristic-looking sight. That alone makes it a good metaphor for the state of marketing technology today.

But here’s what I find really impressive. This is a photo of that same spot in Shanghai taken 20 years ago:

a metaphor for before the web

In 1990, where those shimmering sci-fi-like architectures of steel and glass would eventually rise into the sky, the area was mostly farmland and countryside. Then in 1993, China set up the region as a special economic zone and began to transform it into their new financial hub. From that point forward, things moved fast.

From 1993 to 2010, the cityscape of Shanghai grew in leaps and bounds — to a point that the two pictures above are almost unrecognizable as the same place.

What else changed from 1993 to 2010?

I’d claim that the changes in marketing — and marketing technology — during these past 17 years far exceeds the scale and scope of Shanghai’s development. But seeing a physical incarnation of even a fraction of such metamorphosis helps one appreciate just how far we’ve come.

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