As peak year-end fundraising season begins for many nonprofits, I encourage you to take just five minutes out of your day to slow down a bit and reflect on how much has changed in our world. Specifically, let’s take a look back at 2004 — a year when MySpace was in and the iPhone was still just a concept.

Consider that:

  • According to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), marketers spent $4 billion on search engine marketing in 2004. It was projected that $17.73 billion would be spent in mobilemarketing alone for 2017.
  • In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook from his college dorm room. In 2017, an average of 4.75 billion items are shared on Facebook daily. Sixty-seven percent of all U.S. computer users have an account on the social site, and in the UK, a whopping 82% of all users have a Facebook account!
  • Google went public in 2004 at $85 a share. Interested in stocking it today? Pull out your wallet; shares are currently selling at almost $950 a pop.

So now that the stage is set, consider our evolution as marketers:

2004: page views, social media followers, and cost per click

2017: conversion rates

Think back ten or even five years ago when many companies started taking search engine and social media marketing seriously. Was it to watch your Facebook “likes” climb up with each new post? Did you log on to your website-tracking software each day to see how many pages were visited by those who were already at your site?

So did we.

But most of us soon realized that these metrics by themselves weren’t indicative of future sales, donations, or even memberships.

So we started paying more serious attention to “sophisticated” marketing metrics, like cost-per-click, to make better decisions about where we spend our marketing dollars. Soon, everyone understood that the number of people who chose to use an ad to visit your website — or the click-through-rate (CTR) — was more important than how many times the ad appeared.

This was progress — but still not enough. Today’s direct marketers begin by following potential customers from a strategically placed ad to the company website and onward as the potential customer forms an opinion about who and what the organization is about based on their online experience and the intuitiveness of the site. Today, we tag along until they take action. And if a visitor leaves or gets away, we can track their whereabouts. If we’re lucky, we can entice them back to our site with focused retargeting efforts. Does that make us web stalkers? We like to think we’re just smarter marketers. And we are.

But our job still isn’t complete once the sale is made. Today, analytic and customer relationship management (CRM) software allows us to track current customers or donors based on how they were first introduced to the organization, following them through all future transactions and their lifetime of engagement with the organization. The result? A 360-degree view and in-depth look and understanding of the value of each marketing channel, each strategy, and every effort. Results? Marketing dollars are tightly managed and more effective in moving an organization forward. Better yet, for-profit and nonprofit organizations develop a deeper, more engaging personal relationship with their constituents.

2004: project-by-project analysis

2017: campaign analysis

If you still have them stashed deep inside a dusty, lonely file cabinet, pull out your 2004 and 2005 marketing plans. Each marketing effort likely lists — line by line — quantities, projected costs, and ROIs. It’s also highly likely that the year-end results were measured on a project-by-project basis, and the 2005 plans were based from analyzing the returns of each campaign in 2004.

By now, most of us have (hopefully) moved past a one-dimensional approach and are interacting on a much broader scale by measuring the total cost of individual communication over a certain timeframe and how that communication relates to their subsequent behavior. We now have the tools to measure and understand how certain segments respond over time, how those segments prefer to be communicated with, and how many marketing dollars we are willing to spend to get them to take action.

So, is your organization up to speed today? What about tomorrow? Here’s what we see on the horizon — or have noticed is already playing an integral role in how marketers should be planning their programs:

  • Companies or agencies that ignore the inter-connectedness of channels will suffer — and already are paying the consequences. Consumers of today, and especially those of tomorrow, quickly recognize when the transition between online and offline and from email to phone, etc., isn’t smooth or seamless. Result: They’ll lose trust in the organization.
  • Individuals’ digital “footprints” are starting to allow marketers to track them, not just across their primary device, but across multiple platforms of tablets, smartphones, mobile devices, and computers that have turned even the most casual users into media junkies. This transformation of tracking and consumer use allows for consistent marketing messages that touch each point to move their targets closer and closer to taking action. The convergence of platforms is erasing the earlier divide they were once infamous for. Today, consumers are feeling less and less like they’re “starting over” when they begin their transaction on their iPhone and complete it on their iPad, for example.
  • Furthermore, search engine marketing strategies will differ based on the type of consumer device used in the search. Type “Wells Fargo” on your computer, and you’ll receive ads around the services offered by banks in your area. Doing the same on our mobile will produce location information directly in the ad under the assumption that you’re out and about and need to immediately stop by the nearest branch.
  • Want to track whether a recipient opened the envelope to a piece of direct mail? Enter digitized direct mail, in which a computer chip embedded within the components of the package interacts with a mobile device. This technology allows marketers to send information directly to their constituents’ mobile devices upon receipt. Want someone to take a survey? Send them a postcard and then they’re automatically driven to the link to fill it out. A few years more, and direct mail computer chips will interact with personal details on the individual’s device and allow for super-targeted content. Creepy? You decide.

Enough for today? Let’s get together again in 2027 and see where