In 1895 the John Deere Tractor Company in Moline, Illinois produced a magazine called “The Furrow”. The magazine helped farmers stay on top of the latest developments in modern farming equipment and a variation of it is still available today. By showcasing the latest products in the market they were enhancing their reputation at the forefront of the sector, increasing awareness and creating a powerful platform to market their business from. This is one of the earliest examples of the “advertorial” format.
Fast forward 120 years and every generation since thinks they have reinvented the marketing wheel. In recent years people have been bandying around the term “content marketing” which lots of people think this is nothing new.
It wasn't too long ago that advertising was pretty primitive. Marketing insight would often just be that if you broadcast more ads you sell more product. All you need to do is turn the tap on and off and you see sales rise and fall in line with your spend.
Content marketing is connected to the idea that people are inherently selfish. Nobody cares about you or your company, they only care about themselves. So how can you produce content that is relevant and resonates with your audience (such as John Deere’s), particularly if broadcast or traditional advertising is not relevant to you or your customer base.
“Whether B2B or B2C, I believe passionately that good marketing essentials are the same. We all are emotional beings looking for relevance, context and connection.” – Beth Comstock - Former CMO for GE and current Vice Chair of Business Innovations at GE.
For many businesses the idea of content marketing (or advertorial) sits between the comms and marketing department. This can be difficult to coordinate as many companies don't even have their sales and marketing teams interacting or collaborating properly. Add to that the challenges of producing a creative narrative or storytelling and you can quickly hit roadblocks. But these challenges are clearly nothing new.
The idea of using content in marketing is nothing new either, even if the trend has taken off in recent years. But the term “content marketing” is increasingly connected to a theme of measurable data and performance. Digital marketing results are easy to quantify. Tracking customer conversions, sales cycles, inbound traffic, followers, social interactions, leads generated and IP addresses creates a detailed picture that you can break down, benchmark and improve on. This is also something that can give you a clear line of sight on your returns. ROI is particularly important if your conversions require multiple interactions before a customer purchase or if your offering is expensive, very niche or requires a long term investment.
So whilst the concept of content marketing has been around for ages, the technology and data that underpins it hasn’t and this has resulted in a new terminology. A terminology that supports rapid growth and change to a traditional marketing practice. So I guess you could argue both camps are right and content marketing is both old and new. But you could also argue that not using the term is the equivalent of referring to your digital radio as “the wireless”.
This article originally appeared as a LinkedIn post on the 19th October 2015.
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