Convergence or Collision? A.I. and Content Marketing, Part 2

Content Marketing History

A (Mostly) Painless History of Content Marketing

As we mentioned in Part 1, the invention of the printing press in 1439 may have paved the way for content marketing, but it has a much longer history worth examining.

But first - what is content marketing? According to the Content Marketing Institute:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

Used properly, it’s an effective way to show your audience that you have something to offer that sets you apart from competition; whether to educate or sell, content shapes your brand and provides reassurance or ratification for your audience’s belief you’re offering something worthwhile.

The major goals of content marketing can be boiled down to a few key bullets:

  • Attracting attention and generating leads: Here, “attention” is an umbrella term for some easily measured KPIs, such as number of visitors to a page, amount of time spent on a page, click-through across pages/photos, and number of emails collected.
  • Expanding your customer base: Broadening your customer base often means diversifying it, which can be measured by tracking audience demographics using information such as source of traffic (SEO, referral, social), online behavior and buying habits.
  • Generating or increasing online sales: Traditional metrics such as click-through rates, re-engagement and time spent on a page are key here.
  • Increasing brand awareness or credibility: Online, this largely pertains to social media campaigns. Brand Influence, for instance, refers to the number of times a post is shared on different platforms. This is also demonstrated through number of emails, click-through rates and volume of visitors.
  • Engage an online community of users: Generally this is measured by indicators such as shares, likes, and retweets. For instance, trend spotting on platforms such as Twitter can influence consumers and impact brand awareness.

Origins

Where did content marketing begin? The exact origins are difficult to pin down. As a much debated topic, expert opinions vary, but some of the most popular include:

  • 4200 B.C. cave paintings: who can argue with the marketing appeal of 6 Ways a Spear Can Save You From a Wild Boar? 
  • The invention of the Gutenberg printing press: This allowed for mass printing, creating pamphlets and other portable marketing materials that allowed greater dissemination of “content.”
  • The Internet: Mass online communication was the most pervasive democratization of content imaginable, allowing the spread of marketing like never before.

Historical examples

While there are numerous examples of content marketing through the ages, these signify some of the more noteworthy moments in history:

  • In 1732, Benjamin Franklin published the first annual Poor Richard’s Almanack with the aim of promoting his printing business.
  • In 1882, the Edison Electric Lighting Company Bulletin advertised the benefits of electric lighting. 
  • In 1888, Johnson & Johnson launched Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment, a publication aimed to address the needs of doctors to whom the company sold bandages. Johnson & Johnson also launched two publications that shared helpful articles with the medical community. This was an early example of educational content marketing.
  • In 1895, John Deere launched its customer magazine The Furrow. Today it has a circulation of 1.5 million in 40 countries and 12 languages. 
  • In 1900, the Michelin brothers produced the first Michelin guide for French motorists. Hoping to increase the demand for cars - and thus, car tires - they distributed nearly 35,000 free guides. These guides expanded to other countries shortly thereafter, and chefs today strive for these coveted stars. 
  • In 2000, American author Seth Godin inspired a new content format by introducing the idea of the ‘free ebook’. He released “Unleashing the Ideavirus” to the public, which has been downloaded over a million times to date. 
  • In 2006, Blendtec introduced their viral “Will It Blend?” videos to Youtube. Showcasing the appeal of unique, fun content, over 875,000 subscribers have since watched them blend Rubik cubes, silly putty, and iPhones. 
  • In 2008, P&G launched Beingagirl.com. This content site specifically tailored to teen girls proved to be 4 times more effective than traditional advertising by Forrester. 

Stages of development, 1880s-1890s:

The late 19th century brought with it a change in content marketing - this was the rise of consumer-driven content. Technological advances in communication allowed companies to forge stronger connections with their customers by offering information and education. Rather than advertising and pushing their products, marketers seized the opportunity to create relationships between customers and brands.

  • In 1882, the Edison Electric Lighting Company Bulletin advertised the benefits of electric lighting.
  • In 1888, Johnson & Johnson launched Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment.
  • In 1895, John Deere launched its customer magazine The Furrow. Today it has a circulation of 1.5 million in 40 countries and 12 languages.
  • In 1900, the Michelin brothers produced the first Michelin guide for French motorists. In an effort to increase the demand for cars - and thus, car tires - they distributed nearly 35,000 free guides. These guides expanded to other countries and chefs today strive intensely for these coveted stars.

1900s-1910s:

  • In 1903, Ladies Home Journal provided housemaking tips and featured ads targeted towards women, such as jewelry, fashion and home good ads. It was the first American magazine to reach one million subscribers
  • Jell-O was struggling around the same time, and in 1902 it placed ads in Ladies Home Journal. Niche marketing to housewives saved the company from the brink of disaster. In 1904, Jell-O launched a groundbreaking marketing campaign, distributing free booklets of Jell-O recipes, leading to nearly $1 million in sales by 1906.

1920s-1930s:

This was era of the radio revolution, and as this newfangled medium gained popularity, so did the notion of marketing to listeners.

  • In 1924, “World’s Largest Store” radio went live. Sears-Roebuck and Company seized the opportunity presented by the expansion of radio and blazed a path by buying air time and reaching out to the agricultural industry, they provided their farmer listeners with helpful information. As this relationship strengthened with successful radio advertisements, they wanted more ownership - leading to World’s Largest Store radio – better known almost immediately by the call letters WLS – featured a variety of programs, ranging from comedic artists to farm programming. It was a station truly built around its listenership; Sears-Roebuck not only advertised on air but even sold the radios to consumers...predating Amazon Echo by nearly a century.
  • As the success of WLS illustrated, branded content over the airwaves was an excellent idea. In 1933, Procter & Gamble followed suit and began broadcasting a radio serial drama sponsored by their Oxydol soap powder, Oxydol’s Own Ma Perkins. This is the genesis of the term soap opera.

1940s-1950s:

This was a steady but unspectacular period for content marketing, mostly confined to existing models like sponsored radio (and then TV) programming, and print examples like the Karo Syrup ad below. This lull in its evolution owed to the fact broadcast and print media were now monopolized by advertising.

Advertising sold products in more definable (and less expensive) ways than content marketing, and companies shifted their focus there. Few fresh forays were made into content marketing, and there weren’t any prominent campaigns of note.

1960s-1970s:

The rise of television provided companies with the chance to create consistent messaging about their brand that synergized across multiple media - TV, radio, print, and more.

This was a crucial time for content marketing, as campaign-driven content across multiple media became a thing, as the young ones would say today.  Multi-channel campaigns were a reality: companies were looking to spread the same content everywhere, across television, radio, newspapers, etc.

  • 1964 was named the “Year of the Tiger” by Time magazine to honor a campaign from Exxon. Their “put a tiger in your tank” campaign was a premier example of investing in a single campaign and running it across multiple channels (which was also more cost-effective than spending on separate campaigns). Exxon was able to sell campaign-related merchandise, too, like fake tiger tales customers could attach to their gas tank lids, which were popular enough to score 2.5 million sales in the U.S. alone.

There were other developments, too, that presaged how content gets created and deployed today:

  • Everyone loves A Charlie Brown Christmas, but the idea was rejected by the three major networks. Few people realize it was the interest and support of The Coca-Cola Company that got the special produced and on the air; it’s why they’ve got a shout-out in the show’s credits.

1980s:

Finally, content marketing begins catching up with the advertising boom...

  • In 1982, Hasbro and Marvel started publishing a comic book, G.I. Joe: The Real American Hero. Hasbro inventively figured the way to bypass strict regulations on advertising toys using animation was to create a TV ad for just the comic book, allowing them to use far more animation. This was the first instance of coordinated comic book and TV campaigns and it paid off: Within just 2 months of the first issue, roughly 20% of Hasbro’s target audience (boys 5-12 years old) had 2 or more GI Joe toys. By 1990, the comic series was one of Marvel’s strongest, and 2 out of every 3 boys within the targeted age group had at least one G.I. Joe action figure. “Go Joe!” indeed.

1990s:

With computer usage rising around the globe, marketers moved away from TV, print and direct mail and shifted their efforts to digital channels. This was the “democratization” of content marketing, as the ubiquity of the Internet broke the hold traditional advertising had over media and marketing budgets.

  • In 1994, a Swarthmore student created the site Links.net - which is credited as being the first blog. Why was it so important? It can be seen as a sum of content marketing’s parts: Blog posts could be an amalgamation of research, journalism, and design, with more direct alignment against specific reader interests than website content.
  • “The phrase "content marketing" first broke cover in 1996, during a roundtable for journalists at the American Society for Newspaper Editors. By 1998, the title "director of online and content marketing" was in use at Netscape.

2000s:

In case anyone missed it, this decade saw the dawn of social networks. Channels we’re oh-so familiar with today, like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube, offered up new and different ways for brands and marketers to engage and entertain audiences.

  • In 2000, Seth Godin inspired a new content format by introducing the idea of the “free ebook” and released Unleashing the Ideavirus to the public, which has been downloaded over a million times to date.
  • In 2006, Blendtec introduced their viral “Will It Blend?” videos to Youtube. Showcasing unique, fun content, over 875,000 subscribers have since watched them blend Rubik cubes, silly putty, and Iphones.
  • In 2008, P&G launched Beingagirl.com, a content site specifically tailored to teen girls that was cited as being four times more effective than traditional advertising by Forrester.

Present:

The rise of content marketing has turned traditional businesses into media publishing companies. In an age when more traditional advertising formats struggle against the rise in ad blockers, content that consumers actually seek out is king:

  • Red Bull Media House is a unit of Red Bull that "produces full-length feature films for cinema and downstream channels (DVD, VOD, TV) around extreme sports and activities like mountain biking, BMX, motocross, snowboarding, skateboarding, cliff-diving, freestyle motocross, and Formula 1 racing”. This shapes the brand identity of the high-energy beverage, relating to their target audience 
  • Mint.com, a personal finance site, used its blog MintLife to build an audience for a product they planned to sell. Content included how-to guides on paying for college, saving for a house, and getting out of debt. Other popular content included in-depth interviews and a series of financial disasters called "Trainwreck Tuesdays." Thanks to the growth driven by strategies like these, Mint sold to Intuit for $70 million after just 3 years of being in business.
  • Marriott’s content studio “M Live” was launched September 2014. By early 2015, they had a successful TV show, a hit short film, an online travel magazine, and had even started looking into virtual reality. M Live has a multiscreen “control room” for content marketing displaying everything from social media campaigns of Marriott’s many brands to its editorial calendar. It’s unified Marriott’s marketing teams and built a global group that can act on marketing opportunities for the company’s 19 hotel brands.

Where's it led us?

Technologies like artificial intelligence are obviously the outgrowth of our own darned cleverness, but they only evolve at the pace we've seen in response to a commercial need.  In marketing, it's to both generate the content that's needed to keep pace with the onslaught of competing content, and to also deliver that content with more effective timing and efficiency.

In our next post, we'll talk about the dangers of content hypersaturation, and some of the ways to overcome it.

Technologies like AI only evolve at the pace we've seen in response to a commercial need. Click To Tweet
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