‘Content marketing’ is a relatively new term. But although the phrase was first coined in 1996 the idea of brands delivering value, and not just the hard sell, to customers stretches back hundreds of years.
While there were earlier examples, it’s generally considered that the first brand publication was The Furrow by John Deere, a US company that produces machinery for agriculture and other purposes.
The Furrow was first published in 1895 with the aim of providing useful information and advice to US farmers. It began by publishing tips on how to improve agricultural efficiency, alongside promotions for its products. Later as it evolved it produced articles on how farmers could improve their businesses, as well as rural lifestyle pieces.
The publication is still in circulation today, reaching around two million users. The publisher claims around 80 per cent of readers prefer the print edition to digital.
John Deere outlines The Furrow’s ethos on its website:
“It provides to the reader a mix of current issues in farming with both local and international background, and best practice examples as well as exclusive news and facts on John Deere products and company strategy.”
So what are the principles behind the Furrow that make it so important for modern content marketing practitioners?
Quite simply, it recognised the value in being useful and that advertising alone wasn’t going to build a relationship with its customers. It understood that, in making life simpler and easier for its customers with help and advice, its perceived value would grow. And with it, product sales.
Advertising remains a powerful sales agent though less so than in previous decades. But being useful remains at the heart of what content marketing tries to achieve.
In a 2013 interview with Contently, Furrow editor David Jones summed up the strategy: “Telling stories that folks enjoy reading—and that they can use in their own operations—has been the recipe since the beginning.”
* photo credit: jamesak Furrows via photopin (license)
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