diverse team of tech workers represents the history of marketing automation

History of Marketing Automation: How Did We Get Here?

The history of marketing automation goes back farther than you think. Here's how the major players got where they are today, and what's next!
Article Outline

If marketing automation were a person, it would already be able to drink at a bar. We don’t bring that up to make you (or us!) feel old, but to point out just how far the technology has come since its inception at the turn of the 21st century. Join us on a brief journey through the history of marketing automation. Doing so will help understand why the technology has developed the way it has, and why some providers seem stuck in another historical era. 

two software developers work on improving code in front of a bank of monitors and laptops
Back in the day, marketing automation companies were small teams of innovators, not subsets of huge tech conglomerates.

The History of Marketing Automation 1999-2008: Marketing For Web 1.0

Believe it or not, Eloqua led the charge with the first marketing automation solution in 1999. At the time, Eloqua was an independent pioneer in the space. It would be over a decade before enterprise technology behemoth Oracle would acquire the company. Originally conceived as a chatbot, Eloqua pivoted to marketing automation after listening to customers about what they really needed: a way to track the buying signals leads were sending out in digital channels like the web and email. 

a woman in tech works hard on a line of code with double monitors and a laptop open
This period saw intense competition and steep innovation curves for marketing automation companies across the landscape.

These early days of marketing automation saw major innovations and growth for platforms like Eloqua and other pre-acquisition marketing automation companies such as Pardot and Marketo. Act-On came onto the scene in 2008, when our founders saw a space in the market for a leaner, more accessible solution that could help marketers engage digital leads without overpaying. And that’s when things started to get really interesting. 

The History of Marketing Automation 2009-2018: Acquisition Blitz Fuels Integrated Platforms

With the growing importance of personalized marketing, Act-On led the charge with innovative features like lead scoring and behavior-based triggers. (Platforms like Pardot would soon follow suit with their own journey-based advancements). Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning started playing a role in optimizing marketing campaigns and predicting customer behavior. Marketing automation was innovating and growing, which led to a wave of consolidation in the 2010s.

The meteoric growth of marketing automation companies like Eloqua led to an acquisition blitz by major enterprise technology companies. You can see the growth of the marketing automation industry in the deal sizes from this period: Oracle snapped up Eloqua in 2012 for $871 Million. Salesforce purchased ExactTarget (owner of Pardot) in 2013 for $2.5 billion. Not to be outdone, Adobe grabbed Marketo in 2018 for a whopping $4.5 Billion. (Even Act-On wasn’t immune to the acquisition fever, acquiring email marketing company MarketBright in 2011). 

a black woman in tech works hard in a modern, spacious office
During this time, marketing automation increasingly became an acquisition target, bringing the technology into the fold of massive tech leaders.

This rush of consolidation wasn’t just a sign that marketing automation had reached the big time (although, it had). Hubspot had come on the scene in 2006 and shaken things up with an integrated suite of inbound marketing solutions in an all-in-one ecosystem. As Hubspot grew market share, other enterprise tech companies used consolidation and integrated suites to compete. 

The irony is that In the process, they sacrificed the commitment to innovation and customer service that had helped them grow in the first place. Which brings us to the current era.

The History of Marketing Automation 2019-Present: New Frontiers in Remote Work and AI

The pandemic-imposed lockdown in 2020 led to a remote tech boom that capped off a major growth era for marketing automation. Any doubters that email and digital marketing were the future stopped dragging their feet as companies like Zoom capitalized on the new remote normal. However, as the pandemic faded, many of the full-service automation suites found themselves laying off huge amounts of workers as tech growth suddenly contracted back to reality. 

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Keeping a commitment to innovation can be hard in the current climate. But Act-On is keeping the fire burning.

In the current era, it’s more likely to see the integrated enterprise providers shrinking their investment in innovation than expanding it. Take Oracle, which has been reducing its CX investments after a big layoff in August 2022. 

As the Wall Street Journal reported, Oracle’s “layoffs primarily hit Oracle’s advertising and customer experience group as the company emphasizes cloud and healthcare IT services.” Act-On’s research has found similar decreases in marketing automation investment among companies like Salesforce (owner of the artist formerly known as Pardot) and Adobe (whose most substantive improvement to Marketo has been adding the word Engage to its name). 

Contrast that with Act-On. Look, we’re obviously biased, but we think marketing automation still has room for innovation and improvement. It’s disappointing to see the technology take a backseat to other initiatives that move the stock price of parent companies without helping marketers do their jobs. 

That’s not us. We remain focused on making the most intelligent and easy-to-use marketing automation platform. We have an aggressive AI roadmap to integrate the game changing technology over the coming years. The results of our approach speak for themselves: our most recent round of G2 reviews place us above Oracle Eloqua in areas like pricing, ease of use, quality of support, segmentation, and more.

For more on how Act-On is innovating in the automation space, check out our news section for recent and upcoming product release announcements. We have a lot planned for the back half of 2023!

Looking for a deep dive on marketing automation best practices? We’ve got you covered.

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