A Short History of Marketing Automation, And How it Can Work for You

Marketing automation is more popular today than ever before. 

59% of businesses currently use marketing automation software, and 28% plan to use marketing automation within the next two years. 

Not to mention, the marketing automation software industry is set to almost triple in value from 2019-2025. 


Because a well-executed marketing automation strategy helps you increase lead generation and close more deals with less work.

But where did it all begin? 

In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of marketing automation, as well as what to expect from it in the future.

We’re also going to outline how it can work for your business. 

What is marketing automation? 

Marketing automation is all about using software to automate repetitive marketing tasks. It saves your team time, your business money, and provides your leads and customers with the best possible marketing experience. (2021 marketing automation guide)

As a marketer, your daily schedule is pretty full. Automation allows you to streamline the marketing and scale up without adding people to your team. 

Whether that’s sending a series of welcome emails or tracking customer engagement, modern marketing automation allows you to be more efficient with your time. 

Marketing automation history: Where it all began 

It all starts in the early 90s — home to Nintendo 64, Windows 95.

1. The early 1990s: The first marketing automation tool 

In 1992, the first marketing automation platform was created by Unica (now known as IBM Campaign).

At this time, the internet wasn’t such a big deal. Businesses certainly weren’t using it to make sales in the way we do today. 

As a result, Unico’s automation system focused primarily on email marketing. 

But this piece of marketing technology set the precedent for the future of marketing automation.

2. The early 2000s: The rise of cloud-based tools

With high-speed internet increasing and more people using the web, the internet became a direct line to consumers. 

And cloud-based automation tools were some of the first to hit the scene.

With businesses like Salesforce and ActiveCampaign leading the way, SaaS businesses began using the internet to deliver automation software to end-users. Anyone who had internet access could download the program. 

Making this software available with affordable pricing plans, marketing automation became accessible to smaller businesses for the first time.

3. The late 2000s: Marketing automation evolves 

In 2006, the use of social media increased. And in 2008, mobile commerce came into effect. 

Which changed the way we engage with brands.  

To respond to the growth of online and mobile commerce, marketing automation began to evolve.

It was no longer just about email marketing. Automation platforms turned their focus to becoming all-in-one marketing and sales platforms. This included social media integrations and (because of the need to see where your sales came from) analytics as well. 

Marketing automation platforms began to scale up their services to help businesses track their marketing activity, manage their customer relationships, and see the data points of it all.

The line between marketing automation platforms and CRM began to blur. 

4. The early 2010s: The acquisitions

Between 2010-2014, the marketing automation industry took a big step forward financially.  

Here’s a breakdown of some of the acquisitions that took place, all of which totaled over $5.5 billion

phl8z7c image3

Because of these acquisitions, a small number of large organizations began to take over the marketing automation industry. 

5. The late 2010s: The interest in marketing automation grows 

The interest in marketing automation and technology continued to grow. By 2019, 75% of businesses used automation tools. 

With the industry growing, we saw more marketing automation platforms coming into the spotlight, too (and not just from Salesforce and Oracle).

This increase in competition forced platforms to become more affordable. As a result, more small businesses and startups could access these tools.

And with more businesses using the platforms, the quality of automation kept improving. 

How does marketing automation work, and what can it do? 

It’s hard to give a single answer to that first question. But let’s give it a go.

Marketing automation is about using past customer data to create a system which automatically performs tasks designed to improve the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. 

Using this data, marketers can (for instance) create a marketing strategy that automatically targets leads with the right marketing messaging at the right time via email, social media, or directly on your website.

Let’s take a look at some of the main avenues for marketing automation in more detail. 

Email automation

Email marketing automation allows marketers to send targeted and personalized emails. 

An action usually triggers an automated email to be sent. From signing up for a discount code or abandoning their shopping cart, automated emails keep the conversation going with your business’ prospects (without you being involved). 

Marketers can also automatically segment their leads or contacts into groups. This helps them target the right people with the right messaging (but we’ll talk more about segmentation later). 

Here’s a simple example of a simple email automation: 

55yunjg1k image14

Website automation

Website automation usually includes pop-ups (such as modal forms) or chatbots, triggered by your site visitor’s behavior.

These automations encourage people to take action on your website, from engaging in conversation to providing their contact information. 

Here’s an example of an automated message that’s been triggered by a visitor: 

6eyg1bqno image8

Paid advertising

Paid ads, also known as pay-per-click (PPC), are pretty much what it sounds like. You pay for your ads to appear on search rankings (but only pay if a user clicks your ad). 

The search engine shows your ads to people who search for your targeted keyphrase. 

But that’s not automation.

Marketing automation comes in when we talk about retargeting — an advertising approach which shows your ads across various websites and social media platforms exclusively to people who have visited your website.

For instance, if you head to Instapage’s website and look around for a while but don’t buy, you may see a banner ad like this one the next time you’re on a news website:

jliunpv6m image4

Why should you use marketing automation?

If you’re still not convinced about the perks of marketing automation, let’s take a look at them in more detail: 

1. Save time on repetitive tasks 

Almost half of businesses say that one of the main advantages of marketing automation is saving time on repetitive tasks. 

1s758onzq image11

That’s a lot of businesses saving themselves time by using marketing automation. 

Whether that’s sending welcome emails or messaging a customer on live chat, automation frees up your schedule so you can focus on other things. 

All you have to do is create the automation, fill the content (whether that’s an email, ad, or social media post), and the rest is history.

2. Align sales and marketing goals

When you combine your sales with marketing automation, you align company goals and efforts. 

Everyone is on the same page, and leads can move easily from a marketing-qualified lead (MQL) to a sales-qualified lead (SQL). 

As a result, your marketing team can spend more time focusing on increasing conversions and your sales team can focus on increasing sales. 

It’s a win-win. 

3. Better understand your customers 

Using a marketing automation solution gives you a better understanding of your customers. 

It’d be pretty hard to create a personalized customer journey without understanding what that journey is, right? 

You need to know how customers behave so you can target them with the right messaging at the right time. 

So when it comes to marketing automation, you get a deeper understanding of the entire customer journey. 

4. Nurture leads 

Marketing automation helps you nurture leads more efficiently. 


By targeting consumers with relevant content based on where they’re at in the sales funnel. 

Let’s use an example: 

  1. A user sign-ups for a welcome discount code. You send them an automated welcome email. 
  2. One week later, you send a reminder to use their discount code. The week after that, you follow up with more information about your product. 
  3. Each of these automated emails is tailored to a certain stage of the customer journey, helping you nurture the lead from one stage to the next. 
  4. As a result, your lead nurturing is more likely to turn into a full conversion.  

Now that we know a bit about what marketing automation can do today (and why you should adopt it), what about the next few years?

The future of marketing automation 

The global pandemic forced businesses to re-evaluate how they connect with consumers. As businesses struggled to weather the storm, online customer experiences became even more important than they had before.

Fortunately, marketing automation lent a helping hand. 

Automation helped marketers to personalize the customer experience, reach a wider audience, and understand what consumers were looking for. 

In 2020 alone, 41% of businesses saw an increase in revenue due to the use of AI and automation in their digital marketing campaigns. 

But what does this mean for the future of marketing automation? 

The future is looking bright for marketing automation.

Research suggests…

  • The marketing automation software industry will grow 19.2% between 2020 and 2025. 
  • The industry will make $25.1 billion in revenue by 2023, an increase from $11.4 billion in 2017. 

In other words, marketing automation is sticking around. We can expect to see more brands using it, more personalization in marketing, and more automated customer journeys. 

The development of technology will also help marketers hone their insights and better understand their customers, too. 
So if you’re not already using marketing automation, now’s the time to try it out.

Never miss an update