How Early 20th Century Businesses Got Big With Content Marketing

Early 1900s CM

badge-guest-post-FLATTERContrary to what many digital marketers think, the emergence of the Internet did not give birth to content marketing – it just enhanced its accessibility.

The truth is content marketing has been around for a long time – since the late 19th century to be exact.

It can be as simple as sending out an educational publication to a target audience. That’s what some businesses have done to reach sales in the millions and billions of dollars. The goal of this blog post is not to just inundate you with historical context but to show you what we can learn from the business giants of the past that not only used content marketing but succeeded with it.

The Earliest Content Marketing Pioneers

In 1895, John Deere started publishing a magazine called “The Furrow”. The purpose was to educate farmers on how to better manage their crops (as opposed to publishing purely to promote John Deere products).

It was published during a time when there was no television, radio, or Internet. The printing press was starting to be used and applied across the world, and magazines were a great way to reach out to your audience with something tangible to read.

John Deere published this magazine for the purpose of educating and not selling. By providing this content to ordinary farmers and ranchers, John Deere wanted to be a thought leader and used content marketing to closely align farming with their brand.

Intrinsically, people don’t like to be ‘sold’ on a product. ‘The Furrow” spoke to farmers and homeowners about farming and producing with the assumption that they either had the tools to farm or were in the market for them.

“The Furrow” is now published in over 40 countries and in 12 languages. It has been fully built out online and related content is published over their social media channels. John Deere established their brand as synonymous with farming and that helped grow sales.

Michelin’s Guide To Everything Cars

For another great content marketing allegory, let’s keep our pages turned to the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. For contextual purposes, let me offer a few data points:

  • There were only a few thousand cars in all of France
  • Tire manufacturers could not advertise the purchase of tires because their product was tied down by the growth of the car industry
  • They could only grow their businesses if more cars were on the road

In 1900, Michelin Tires created “The Michelin Guide”, a 400 page document dedicated to educating car owners about the best ways to take care of their vehicles and maintain their tires. It even offered travel and accommodation tips, encouraging people to use their cars. The publication was distributed for free but was later sold for a price.

How did this publication drive sales? By encouraging people to travel more by car, deep down, Michelin was encouraging people to wear out their tires and, consequentially, replace them with Michelin tires.

Content brings prospective customers closer to a brand. (tweet this)

The content itself does not need to sell directly, but it does play a role in eventually providing value that creates sales in the future. Michelin’s goal was to build long lasting relationships with customers so that when they were ready to replace a related part, they thought about Michelin.

Jell-O’s Last Hope: Content Marketing

In 1904, Jell-O owner Frank Woodward was having a tough time managing his gelatin company. The business was on life support and struggling to break even. He had tried everything.

What was his eleventh hour idea? Content marketing.

Well, I’m sure he didn’t say those words exactly, but he created a publication of Jell-O-centered recipes. Suggestions on how to creatively make a masterpiece using Jell-O were given and sure enough, people used them.

These recipes became a success and company sales grew to $1 million by 1906 – a large amount of money at the time!

To this day, people still consume Jell-O in a variety of ways. People still use those recipes and they’re synonymous with the average childhood. Jell-O’s content marketing strategy has passed the test of time with flying colors.

Based on early history, we can learn that content marketing works. If it worked for the biggest of companies in the early 20th century, it can work for you in 2014.

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