The Origins of Content Marketing: What does its history teach us for the present and future?

In the past several years, the term “content marketing” has been used so much that sometimes it becomes a blurred line as to whether it’s a legit practice or just an industry buzzword.  In reality, its depth and potential go far beyond a trendy term, and based on the long-time development of the practice, the history of content marketing means a lot for the present…and its future.

Believe it or not, many in the field credit John Deere with first developing the practice of content marketing as part of a long-term business process.  Deere & Company, possibly the most famous agricultural business in the world, launched, created, and distributed a printed magazine, The Furrow, in 1895.  Deere leveraged The Furrow, not to sell John Deere equipment directly (like catalogs frequently did at the time) but, instead, to educate farmers on new technology and how to use it to become more successful.  It was relevant, useful information that the target audience (and target customers) wanted, and well, needed to thrive.

Clearly, since then, many companies have implemented content marketing into their business plans.  In researching the backstory for this blog, it was uncovered that companies such as Backin Baking Powder, Michelin, Palmolive, and Jell-O were all quite ahead of their time in content marketing efforts.  Even though the phrase itself wasn’t documented as being used until 1996, it seems the “trendy” term really isn’t so trendy after all; at least not the idea behind it.  Maybe it’s just that with so many more available marketing channels these days, content marketing is more applicable…and has greater opportunities for success…than ever before.

Solid content marketing can also stand the test of time.  Now over a century later, The Furrow is still going strong.  It is the most circulated farming magazine in the world, and is currently delivered each month to over 1.5 million farmers, in 12 languages, across 40 different countries.  A quality story that is told to the right person at the right time will always cut through the clutter.  There will be another new channel tomorrow… and another one the next day.  As smart marketers, it’s essential to remember that channels will come and go, but good stories (and storytelling) last forever.

Yes, content marketing, as an industry, has seemingly taken off in the past few years.  It’s important to realize where brand content came from to understand the direction in which it should be heading.  Brands have been telling stories for centuries now.  It started when they had just a few channels at their disposal, and continues today — at a time when there are literally hundreds of media channels to choose from for marketing.  While the options can be seen as fantastic opportunities, the heart of content marketing remains the same as when John Deere first published his magazine, nearly 120 years ago.

Content marketing isn’t a thing for the history books.  On the contrary, its best days are still ahead.  Your customers will never grow tired of helpful information that helps them be better at what they do.  The more you contribute to their education, the more they will contribute to your bottom line.

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