The History of Content Marketing

Content marketing might be less popular as a term than search marketing and social media marketing, but it certainly is not a new tactic. Looking at some early examples of content marketing not only serve to demonstrate its longevity, but help us to understand it in practice. The history of content marketing is one from which we can learn.

One of the first and earliest examples of content marketing is by John Deere, the iconic farm and landscaping equipment company founded in 1837. Starting in 1895, the company began publishing a news magazine for farmers called The Furrow and distributed it to customers and prospects free of charge on behalf of its dealers. Its early tagline was: “A journal of practical information devoted to the interests of better farming.” An early cover of the magazine says “Sent to you with the compliments of your John Deere Dealer.”

Content Marketing Example from John Deere

John Deere lays claim to one of the earliest content marketing examples we know of: The Furrow.

Beyond that, you would be hard pressed to know that John Deere produced and distributed the magazine. Rather than ads, the publication focused on editorial content about farming challenges and trends as well as commentaries and columns about the farming lifestyle.

It is clear from reviewing early issues that the focus is on informative content—not a sales promotion. Individual pieces included farming history, scientific observations, humor, and peer insights. Along the way, the John Deere name is quietly present, building loyalty and brand association. Today, the publication still exists and has been modernized with a tablet edition.

A similar example comes from Jell-O, which began implementing content marketing tactics around the turn of the 20th century. In 1904, Jell-O started arming its door-to-door salesmen with free cookbooks. The “cookbooks” were actually small booklets conveniently sized for a kitchen recipe box and contained a wealth of recipes with some subtle branding. Not surprisingly, the recipes in the cookbooks used a fair amount of Jell-O, but the tactic was discernible: inform, inspire, and educate your customers and the product or brand will naturally become a part of the conversation. As you can probably imagine, Jell-O (and Kraft Foods, its parent company), continue this tradition today online in its many websites and social media channels like Pinterest, Facebook and YouTube.

Jell-O Content Marketing Example

Jell-O also was an early content marketing participant in its use of free cook books the size of recipe cards.

If you are reluctant to invest in a content marketing strategy, it is important to remember that content marketing is a tried and true tactic when it comes to connecting with customers. While it has received a great deal of buzz in recent years, it certainly is not a new tactic.