This is a quick tale about the mechanics of Content Marketing. Content Marketing hasn't been around a terribly long time. A quick look at Google Trends will show you that it's only really come into its own in the last few years.
However, as a concept Content Marketing has been around for an age. The much cited example in the image above is The Furrow, the magazine of Deere & Company that was first published in 1895 and is still in print today. This lovely, short, article by Joe Pulizzi of The Content Marketing Institute tells the tale of The Furrow and its huge success. In the opening paragraph it mentions something worth focussing on:
In the days and months that passed, John worked with the farmers, listened to their problems, andcontinued to refine his plow design for many years to come. John would go on to become one of the greatest inventors and businessmen of his time.
It turns out John Deere was a great listener. He managed to glean from his conversations with farmers what their concerns and issues were and then address them - initially by innovating steel-bladed ploughs to cut through the viscid Illinois soil. For me, blacksmith John Deere’s Content Marketing (and subsequent world domination) started here. In conversation, in dialogue with his customers. Because that is what good Content Marketing is… a dialogue.
Recent years have seen a number of brands open up conversations in print with their customers: Porter magazine is a laudable example. It’s a high fashion magazine from a brand taking on newsstand heavyweights like Vogue and doing a fantastic job of it. Despite this, the idea of hitting the newsstand with a product created by a brand still seems unthinkable to some. Where will the independent thought come from? How will you stop the venal marketeers stealing the messaging every now and then to scream: BUY THIS NOW!
There are plenty more examples of brand communication that have succeeded far beyond the cynics' expectations, but that says more about the misguided misgivings of the cynics than the tools themselves. Content Marketing has been around for time: and for many it is simply people who sell things talking to people who buy things. However, it is also understanding that what you are selling might not just be a product. John Deere’s ploughs helped Illinois farmers cut through their soil with ease. He was selling them time and therefore greater investment in different areas of the farm. And that is a concept that isn’t easy to explain by simply saying BUY THIS THING.
The fact is, if you want to create a dialogue with your audience you have to speak to them clearly, appreciate and anticipate their needs and show how you can help them. You have to understand them… in that way you’ll create a dialogue with them and with luck develop the kind of virtuous circle that John Deere’s company has been benefitting from for nearly 180 years.