Andy Howard

What is Content Marketing?

I’m on a content marketing panel at ad:tech next week, and I thought it’d be useful to talk about what content marketing is, how long it’s been around and how it works.

The Furrow 680X875

Content marketing is the creation and sharing of useful content to acquire customers. It can be media, a publication, a book, a case study, a how-to or an infographic. Any type of content that answers questions, solves problems or is useful for customers. While the end game is acquiring customers, content marketing is not focused on selling, but on communicating with customers and prospects.

The best return on investment from content marketing results from long-term plays, and this whole content marketing thing is nothing new - brands have been using content marketing strategies since the 1800s.

In 1895, agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere launched ‘The Furro’, a magazine with information for farmers on how to become more profitable. It’s still in circulation today and reaches over 1.5 million readers in 40 countries. It’s revered by farmers and has earned a place on the table in farmsteads the world over.

Michelin Guide

In 1900, tire manufacturer Michelin launched the Michelin Guide, a guide providing drivers with information on auto maintenance, accommodation, and other travel tips. Michelin gave away over 35,000 copies before beginning to sell the guide, which today defines the coveted ‘Michelin star’ hotel and restaurant ratings for excellence. Today, the series of over 25 titles highlights more than 45,000 establishments from New York to Paris to Hong Kong.

Content marketing by John Deere and Michelin has been building and developing relationships with customers and prospects for over 100 years. These brands have achieved strong relationships and return on investment through useful content and a long-term strategy.

Content marketing has been going on for a long time, it just hasn’t been called ‘content marketing’. The strategy at it’s simplest is ‘be really useful to customers’. The recent explosion in content marketing is likely a result of content creation becoming cheaper (well, perceivably cheaper). Anyone can self-publish a book or magazine and print it on demand. eBooks can be created in a day. Anyone can make a film with an iPhone.

The technology is easy. The challenge still is, and always will be, creating a powerful brand story and developing useful content that resonates with people enough for them to pay attention, and ultimately buy.

Recent examples of successful content marketing leading to purchase are American Express OPEN Forum and Foot Locker’s Sneakerpedia.

Launched in 2007, OPEN Forum is a small business advice-sharing platform. This award-winning content marketing initiative from American Express led to the Small Business Saturday movement in the US, which became an “official day” in 2010 and is endorsed by Obama and public officials in all 50 states. A movement and official day that will be forever owned by American Express. 85% of OPEN Forum traffic is from non-paid sources.

Launched in 2011, Sneakerpedia is a community–driven sneaker resource powered by Foot Locker. During the beta alone, Sneakerpedia reached more than 6.7 million sneaker lovers online and delivered more than $1 million in free media exposure.

Be really useful first and sell second. The theory is permission, not interruption. I’ll be talking about these content marketing strategies and others at ad:tech. Feel welcome to say hello.

Sneakerpedia’s launch video is below.

More stories

Surfing girl