It’s interesting to think that “content marketing” may not have been a term brands were familiar with a few short years ago. As social media and online marketing continues to open up new opportunities for brands, content marketing has emerged as one of the most vital tools to not only build revenue, but establish a company as a trusted industry expert.
There are nearly 3 billion people online from all around the world. Now days, when people are interested in a product or service, they don’t have to wait for a commercial to appear on television or hunt through magazine. They go to the Internet and use search engines (Google or Bing), social networks (Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn) because these methods promise the fastest results and most relevant information based on their needs. But finding relevant content wasn’t always that easy, the online landscape has been a tumultuous one at best. The history of content marketing has been one of many challenges, but a single goal still remains, provide something useful that establishes a relationship with the reader.
At its most basic, content marketing should be used to deliver useful information to the user, and move them through the sales funnel until eventually becoming a loyal customer. Content marketing allows any business to take control of how individuals perceive their brand. But you might not guess how this philosophy started to take shape.
Believe it or not, John Deere created one of the first examples of skillfully executed content marketing by publishing a magazine that was used by farmers across the Nation. The Furrow launched its first issue in 1895, and quickly reached 4 million readers in 1912. The company published the magazine in hopes of being a resource for their customers. Even today, the magazine reaches about 570,000 consumers in the U.S. and Canada, and about 2 million globally. According to The Furrow’s art director Tom Sizemore, most consumers are still reading the print edition, even though the brand has since focused on digital publishing. For 37 years, Sizemore has worked for the magazine; he believes the magazine’s focus on the farmers themselves, rather than John Deere’s equipment is what has kept these loyal customers over the years.
In 1900, tire manufacturer Michelin developed The Michelin Guide. The original guide was a 400-page document created to help drivers maintain their cars and find travel accommodations. The guide also offered general traveling tips along with addresses of filing stations, mechanics - and of course - tire dealers.
By encouraging customers to travel, and in turn wear out their tires, Michelin positioned this groundbreaking content to drive more sales. Believe it or not, the guide is still around today (updated of course) and is composed of 27 guidebooks covering 23 countries on three continents. The guide was free until 1920, but now it costs about $20. Think about it, Michelin created a piece of content that was so useful, people are now willing to pay for it almost 100 years later!
Jell-O wasn’t a household name in 1904. In fact, Frank Woodward, who owned the rights to Jell-O at the time, couldn’t make a profit and even offered to sell the rights to his plant superintendent for a mere $35 (Woodward paid $450 for the rights in the 1880s).
However, before giving up his business, Woodward decided to try one final strategy, which was distributing free Jell-O recipe books. The extremely popular book featured recipes in which Jell-O was the main ingredient. This new content marketing effort was a business-saving one, as the promotion boosted Jell-O sales to $1 million by 1906 and growing to the empire it is today.
The Growing Phenomenon
Of course, everything changed after the Internet became a household necessity. The way people took in their information started to change.Brands quickly realized the advertising potential online, and by 2001 companies across the US has spent $20 billion on content alone in order to reach a vast market.In 2005, a video staring John Cleese reached over 250,000 downloads in the first few months. In the days before the popular YouTube, the video was released on LiveVault, and it was first to put a face on the term, “Viral Video”. By 2010, 25% of marketing budget across the country was now going specifically to content - and 88% of all brands start to implement content into their marketing strategy.
Arrival of Social Media
Along with the internet boom, the ways people communicated began to change as well. Now, people had cell phones; we all began to explain “texting” to our parents; we had Xanga or Myspace accounts. Instead of calling your friend’s house you would chat with them online. What began with computer-geek chat rooms has evolved into a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Marketers saw the potential in using social media as a way to promote and generate traffic to their content. After an article, video, or infographic was published, brands could share it across various social channels to build a buzz around the piece.
Now that we have Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and more, the Internet has become - not surprisingly - a zone of social interaction. Today, the number of social networks and online communities is staggering. People go to the Internet specifically to socialize by sharing information or media, participating in discussions, and being part of a community.Think of social media as a form of word-of-mouth advertising — which is the best kind of advertising — but it’s a new word of mouth, where word travels much, much faster.
Today, Facebook hosts over 1.3 billion users worldwide; 50% of those users, according to Facebook, are online at any given time sharing 1 million links every 20 minutes. Primarily, the site is about networking with friends, and the average user has about 130 friends.Similar to Facebook, twitter has a massive network with over 500 million users. The network acts as an efficient tool that improves communication and allows its users to closely interact with their favorite brands.
Even though Facebook and Twitter are arguably the most popular of the social networks, diversification is a huge trend in this modern marketing landscape. Depending on the audience you're targeting, being active on a single network is simply not enough. According to The Content Marketing Institute, the most successful B2B marketers are now active on an average of 7 networks.
Along with social media creating a space to promote content, distribution channels began to emerge that created an arena for some of the Web’s best content. Throughout the history of the Internet, many distribution sites come and go based on trend and popularity. Some, however, continue to be an authoritative venue for great content – whether it be entertaining or educational.
Distribution is the effort of taking your content and publishing it on various channels off your website. For example, if you have a video on your site, and you link to it from Facebook, that’s promotion, but you could also publish the video content directly on YouTube or Vimeo, which is considered distributing content.
Today, brands have the opportunity to produce tons of audio, video, and image content for their site. Whether they’re reporting a successful conference by sharing photos, interviewing industry experts with video, or issuing audio versions of their content for those that prefer to listen, brands can now create awesome content in a variety of media formats. It only makes sense to open up a variety of distribution channels where you can post that content, such as:
Brands can create branded profiles on these networks and use them for showcasing videos, photos, and audio content. By utilizing these distribution sites, content marketers have more opportunities for their content to be discovered in the search results pages.
Keeping an Eye on the Prize
In the history of content marketing, brands have battled changing trends, policies, and strategies in the wake of Google Updates or changing algorithms. But this is always a good thing for content marketing, as it repels the production of bad content and promotes knowledgeable and useful content. In previous years, some brands used spammy content with keywords packed into the copy; others added non-related or irrelevant links into their content in exchange for money. This is because brands wanted to rank highest in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) – but weren't sure yet how to accomplish that goal.
Content marketers continue to tell their story, provide value to readers and produce something useful for the audience. And as the spammy, irrelevant content is removed from the results page, the quality content that tells a great story still remain. This further shows not only great that with a solid content strategy, any company can reach their marketing goals.
What the Future Holds
More companies are shifting away from traditional advertising campaigns and looking for more effective and authentic ways to connect with their customers. Today, the leading websites offer more than just information about their company and product offerings. They provide resources for solving customer problems and post new, engaging content to keep their audience coming back for more. So does the future hold for content marketing?
Throughout the years, marketers have learned that audiences react more to visual content because it’s easily digestible and keeps them engaged. Rather than needing to read several hundred words, they can immerse themselves in a visual format. It's more about the user experience than ever before, which is why mobile content is an important aspect of content marketing that brands will need to understand in order to remain successful.
About four out of every five people in the world now have a mobile phone. Think about it, that includes the poorest people on earth, and the vast majority can’t go a single day without their phone. It is projected that the number of active cell phones will reach 7.3 billion by 2015, which is actually more phones than there are people on the planet.A little less than half of Americans say they can’t even go a few hours without checking their mobile phones - One in four people check their phone every 30 minutes.
Today, mobile devices can access the internet from anywhere in the world, which has made them the go-to tool for marketers. Be sure to create content that is readable on mobile devises and easily shared from mobile platforms. For example, people share images on Facebook more than any other kind of content. Photos on Facebook receive 53% more likes, 104% more comments, and 84% more click-through rates than the average post.
With mobile, a company’s graphics or behind the scenes photos can often gain more traction than industry related articles. This form of content is great for user engagement, but it’s important to make sure the content is properly optimized in order to receive the best results.
- Are the fonts and text easy to read?
- Is the photo the correct size?
- Will it be visually pleasing?
Evaluate what content the audience actually engages with, and respond with stuff that they can digest easily.Content gets shared on mobile devices today more than ever before, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down. Depending on the market, brands could miss a huge untapped audience if their content is not optimized and distributed for mobile users.
Interactive content marketing is a strategy that uses the personal information of your users to generate a unique, customized user experience. For example, Facebook utilizes their user’s old searches to display ads for specific products they might have expressed interest for in the past. Another popular example is the online quizzes that plague or news feeds - such as "Which Girls character are you?" or “Which city should you really live in?”
The beauty in Interactive content is that brands could display different articles or product pages based on the different types of users and their interests. Companies that are able to find a way to incorporate big data metrics into content production - while catering to the individual user –will be two steps ahead of the content marketing landscape.
Continuing the Story
Content marketing is becoming an increasingly popular for companies across all industries. Brands are starting to think and act like publishers by providing audiences with quality content on a regular basis.Overall, there are many ways to adapt and improve a content marketing strategy in order to keep up with the changing trends and strategies. The important part is staying abreast with industry insights and audience needs.
Brad Kuenn is a Content Writer, Editor and Strategist living in Nashville, Tennessee, and he provides research, content topics, writing, editing, and content development expertise to clients. He has a passion for writing as well as art, which shines through in his work. His creativity and attention to detail makes him a valuable asset for a wide range of clients. During his time off he enjoys spending time with his wife, family, and his two dogs Brutus and Kane.
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