If you want to dazzle people in the world of digital marketing, all you have to do is invent a new buzzword for something that has probably been done before. Take "content marketing," for example. So much has been written by now about content marketing, that it feels almost as buzzy as "big data." According to Google Trends, neither term made a squeak until about April 2010.


The term "branded content" got an earlier start--as early as 2005--but by 2011 it was kicked to the curb by "content marketing."


My point is not about buzzwords (I'll save that for a future article), but instead to ease your mind about always having to learn new tricks. Much of today's "new media marketing" can trace its roots to old school methods, methods you may know something about.

Content Marketing Isn't Really New

Content marketing is about speaking to audiences through a company's own stories. Instead of purchasing their way into the consumer's mindshare through advertising, companies create compelling content that attracts an audience on its own. It's not a new concept. One of the most heralded form of content marketing is the early soap opera, named for the soap manufacturers who produced or sponsored them as far back as the 1930s. Clearly aimed at women's imaginations, soap operas of yesterday were the precursor to the thoroughly modern and wildly successful Old Spice campaign.

Along these lines, allow me to indulge you with a few other old school versus new media examples of brands delivering content marketing across the ages.

John Deere. Back in 1895, John Deere began publishing a magazine for farmers, The Furrow. Not only does this magazine still exist with a print circulation of 1.5 million, but it has its own website and John Deere has extended The Furrow-like content to its Facebook Page (which has 1.63 million "likes").

In-Flight Magazines. According to Wikipedia, the in-flight magazine was invented by now-defunct Pan Am and became a much-imitated concept, the longest-standing of which is KLM's Holland Herald, which enjoys a healthy second life online.

Ford Motor Company. Well-known for pioneering thinking, in 1919 Henry Ford purchased a local struggling paper, The Dearborn Independent, and created a section of the paper to report on Ford for which he had complete control over the content (which was not always accurate).  Today Ford's embraces content marketing and social media as exhibited by their Ford Social site and their vast presence across social networks.

Michelin Guides. Originally written in 1900 by Michelin Tire founders and brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin, the original publication consisted of 35,000 free guides that included practical information, travel tips, and maps to vehicle fuel and service stations. Since then, these guides been used by warring soldiers and tourists alike and have grown to considerable prestige as an authority in destination travel and restaurant suggestions. Today, The Michelin Guide online publishes content multiple times a day as well as on social media channels, several Tumblr blogs, news stories related to travel and special offers, and a daily email blast.

For more great examples of content marketing through the ages, check out this infographic from the Content Marketing Institute. Special thanks to the folks at Brandpoint for providing these examples.

Not everything about old school content marketing applies to modern times. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Diminished shelf life. Today's user consumes information in real time, and that means your content's life isn't nearly as long. You have to replenish the kitty more often which means producing content more quickly.
  • Direct consumer engagement. Digital content enables direct engagement with your consumers. Your modus operandi can no longer be one-way broadcasting; it can and should encourage two-way interactivity.
  • Quality still matters. If your content stinks, no one will want to consume it consistently no matter how often you publish it or how interactive it is. Digital tools alone are no substitute for good old-fashioned quality.