21 Sep Is Content Really King? A History of How Content Marketing Came to Rule
Today it seems that SEO experts tout one key concept: creating quality content. To get more leads and see more conversions, they say, you must be regularly producing high quality content that answers your consumers’ questions.
But is content really king? Here’s a brief look at some avant-garde uses of content marketing, the principles behind them, and why content marketing rules.
Early Content Marketing
The first example of content marketing that experts usually cite is The Furrow, a magazine produced by John Deere in 1895 that still boasts a circulation of 2 million today. The genius behind The Furrow was that, rather than trying to sell John Deere products, the publication focused on giving readers farming tips. This, says longtime art director Tom Sizemore, is a key part of the magazine’s—and the company’s—success.
In 1904 Jell-O followed suit and produced a cookbook that gave readers ideas for using Jell-O in different recipes. Almost overnight, Jell-O went from a practically unknown company with a little-used product to a household name that was raking in $1 million a year.
Nike is another extremely successful company that jumped on the content wagon. Bill Bowerman, Nike co-founder and shoe designer, produced three different pamphlets and books in the 1960s that championed jogging as a fitness routine. The American jogging craze of the 1960s and ‘70s is largely ascribed to these publications. And when joggers needed a shoe that would keep up with them, who did they turn to? Nike, of course.
Why Content Marketing Works
What was so effective about the marketing methods of John Deere, Jell-O, and Nike? First of all, they focused on the consumer, rather than the product. Their literature targeted things readers cared about and answered their questions. In many cases, content marketing showed consumers ways to improve their lives in areas they didn’t realize were lacking.
In other words, content marketing gives consumers a reason to use a product. It contains valuable information—which leads to the second benefit: content marketing is shareable. Consumers who find answers to their questions and tips for an easier life want to share what they’ve discovered. As they do, the associated company’s name is automatically shared too.
A third advantage of content marketing is the fact that it’s long-form. From a 500-word article to a 3-page pamphlet to an entire cook book, content can be any length that is appropriate for the subject. This gives a company time to educate readers on the use of their product and to give them a why. A company that does this is much more likely to see conversions than one that invests mostly in the quick, in-your-face advertising that is billboard, internet, and magazine ads.
What Does the Future of Content Marketing Look Like?
Today, of course, most content marketing is done online through blogs, company websites, and online magazines. The internet has made content marketing faster, easier to access, and more important than ever.
According to Forbes, 2015 will see B2B marketers producing higher-quality, more frequent content. Fifty-eight percent of B2B companies will increase their content marketing budget, 10% significantly. And content marketing will find its niche in podcasts and visual tools such as infographics.
One thing is certain: content marketing will continue to lord over mere advertising. Why? Because content marketing is based on tried-and-true principles, the most important of these being trust. Consumers trust a company that helps them have better lives instead of trying to shove a product down their throats. As content marketing guru Marcus Sheridan says, “The principles by which we engender trust do not change.” And trust, over time, turns into loyalty.
So, as Marcus advises, be consumed with answering your customers’ questions. Obsess over the ignorant consumer, rather than obsessing over your product. Change your thought process from “our company sells X” to “our company teaches about Y.” Be transparent, and become the Wikipedia of your industry. If you do that, you’ll never run out of content—or consumers.