Content Marketing IS Traditional Marketing

by Jon Burgess – 9/18/15

I’ve read too many posts, tweets and statements from marketing pundits who say that content marketing is somehow new or revolutionary.

Content marketing is NOT new. In fact it is old, traditional marketing.

Marketing is about finding and keeping customers. Marketing really is the skill of creating a Perceived Value in the customers head. So, to communicate to prospects and customers you need to have content. Content is what tells the story about your organization, that wins and keeps customers.

Let’s look at some famous content marketing from not just last century, but the century before that.

  • John Deere created “The Furrow” in 1886 and grew the magazine into the preeminent farmers magazine.
  • Creating content for Sears Catalog traces back to a mailer in 1888, and by 1894 it was the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, with colored black, brown and red shoes by 1897.
  • National Geographic Magazine was first published in 1888 as the journal of the National Geographic Society, “a society for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge.” (from Wikipedia) Great content for 100+ years ago, providing a great place to put your ad.
  • In 1905, the Nickelodeon Theater in Pittsburgh became the first theater in America to show movies all day long. The movies were the content, which created the demand to buy seats at a nickel.
  • In 1920, Dr. Frank Conrad, a ham radio hobbyist who frequently played records over the airwaves for his friends, transmitted the first radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh. Conrad actually coined the term “Commercial Broadcast.” Within 4 years there were 600 radio stations creating content that in turn created advertising opportunities.
  • Joe Pulizzi, of the Content Marketing Institute, has a great infographic going back to 4200 B.C. Not sure that really works, but is fun to look at.

The practice of brands telling stories (content) to market their business is NOT a new idea. In fact we have always called these practices traditional marketing.

But marketing words change over time.

“Content Marketing” has been turned into a new practice since the Internet started in 1995. The Content Marketing Institute was founded in 2007 by some smart marketers at Junta42, who sought to define a new practice.

We try to create words, Ron Burgess used to call many marketing tactics in the late 1980 through 2000, “Relationship Marketing.” Which was data combined with knowledge about the relationship to push relevant content to people. Ron also defined “marketing emplacement,” as a marketing term, maybe someday we will need to write a post making sure the correct definition is being used.

So, if I think “Content Marketing” is traditional marketing, what is actually a new marketing practice?

Well, many people think the practice of content marketing is the same or equal to “Inbound Marketing.” Inbound Marketing uses content to market. The major difference, I would argue, is that Inbound Marketing is the seismic shift in marketing used to “Attract” new prospects. Content marketing can be used to attract, but as I pointed out, content marketing has been historically used to push content at prospects. All marketing needs content and content can push and pull.  Inbound can only pull.

I don’t think I am standing alone on an island about demanding that we define words correctly.  Recently the Content Marketing World Conference had a reported 3,500 attendees, while the same week the Inbound Conference had 12,000+ attendees.

Why did Inbound beat Content in the battle over defining words? I would say, marketers want to learn the skills of attraction. They already have the skills of creating content.

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