Since the digital age of marketing has empowered consumers, content marketing has emerged as an essential part of an effective brand marketing strategy. But, is this a new concept?
No, not really. Turns out, the roots of content marketing have some important lessons for today’s practitioners.
Recently, I saw a news story about the Guinness Book of Records that mentioned the iconic publication’s origins and it got me thinking — for those unfamiliar with the story, here it is in a nutshell:
The Guinness Book of Records was the brainchild of Sir Hugh Beaver, the managing director of the Guinness Breweries in the early 1950s. Legend has it that after a missed shot at an oddly named game bird called the golden plover, an argument ensued about whether or not it was the fastest game bird in Europe.
Beaver thought that there must be countless other questions debated every night in pubs throughout Ireland and Great Britain, but there wasn’t a book that could settle these types of arguments. Seeing a marketing opportunity, he published the first edition of the Guinness Book of Records in 1954 as a “marketing giveaway,” and the rest is history. A great moment in content marketing.
The idea of creating content to reach and engage a target audience goes back further than that. In the 1930s, there were the radio shows sponsored by P&G for Duz and Oxydol that later became known as soap operas. Yep, that’s how they got that name.
Here’s another example. The Michelin brothers created the Michelin Guide in 1900 for their customers as a travel guide to boost automobile ownership (and thus tire sales).
How about one more? In a precursor to Red Bull’s event-based content strategy, the Tour de France was created as an epic stunt by a French newspaper, L’Auto, to sell newspapers and attract advertisers. No matter where you look, history is packed with these kinds of stories.
Here’s a little bit of sports trivia for you. L’Auto was notable because it was printed on yellow newsprint. This inspired the awarding of “le maillot jaune,” or yellow jersey, to stage winners so people could identify the leader, creating a tradition that continues as an iconic sports achievement.
Who knows? Maybe content marketing goes back 30,000 years to the ancient cave paintings. Could they be the handiwork of an enterprising hunter trying to drum up some business? Perhaps they are just an engaging way of saying:
“Need a wooly mammoth in a hurry? See Zog at Zog’s Hunting Services. Visit the first cave left of the big rock for details. Zog accepts berries and PayPal.”
If so, this could be evidence that content marketing, and storytelling itself, is truly in our genes.
So, what is the takeaway from all this? The common theme in all these cases is that someone with a keen insight into the lifestyle, needs, and interests of their target audience saw an opportunity and then created a content solution that provided relevant information or entertainment. These content pioneers understood that promotional communication is a transactional exercise — a quid pro quo.
Our attention is a precious commodity. In exchange for our attention, we as consumers demand a promise and a delivery of something of value. Good content marketing has an inherent advantage in winning these negotiations. This instructs us to answer the consumers’ question, “What’s in it for me?” first, and then address the, “Here’s what I want you to know about my product” part later.
So, what can we learn from these examples of proto-content marketing? Here are five takeaways to consider:
The key point to consider is that the concept of engaging an audience with ideas that entertain and inform to gain a marketing advantage is not new. What is new is the wealth of affordable, accessible channels to reach people that make it easier (and at the same time more difficult) to make an impact. Our challenge as marketers is to better understand our consumers and develop innovative content that makes a difference to them.
One final note for those who may be curious: yes, the golden plover is the fastest game bird in Europe. Now you know.