In 1837, an Illinois blacksmith crafted a polished-steel plow that enabled Midwest farmers to smoothly cut furrows in the sticky prairie soil. Back then, farmers used wood or iron plows which tended to clump with dirt and require frequently cleaning.
With this seemingly simple invention, John Deere, blacksmith, became a plow manufacturer.
Nearly 60 years later, still looking for ways to connect with prospects and customers, the company created what was to become one of the first instances of content marketing.
The Furrow, a magazine created to educate readers on current farming issues using stories, was first published in 1895. Today it has a circulation of over 1.5 million readers, in 40 countries, and published in 14 languages.
Whether The Furrow really was the first example of content marketing is irrelevant. What matters is that a company chose to be a resource and not a nuisance.
This strategy is more relevant than ever today. You only have to look at the growing content marketing wave.
Content Marketing Master Class
It’s been 119 years since The Furrow was first published. And the message of being a resource and not a nuisance is being evangelized by the Content Marketing Institute's (CMI), Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose.
The Content Marketing Master Class put on by Pulizzi and Rose is a one-day, hands-on strategy session for marketers (full disclosure: SPROUT Content sponsored the Denver session).
The Denver stop was the first of a tour that includes Charlotte, NYC, and San Francisco.
The one thing that struck me about attending the October 22 event was not the class itself—although it was excellent (Rose and Pulizzi are passionate industry experts)—it was the landscape of attendees.
Marketers came from Indiana, Texas, California, Utah and represented companies gigantic and tiny. I sat next to a guy from a non-profit whose clients are water utilities. Another I met works for a well-known e-commerce retailer.
Each works for a company that sees the value in content marketing as a compliment to their current marketing strategy. They realize that people crave stories.
We Are the World
With our marketing platform, we’re able to see each time someone visits our site, what pages they’re visiting and other stats. The cool part about this tool is we get to see what company they work for.
I won’t name names, but think of any major brand that affects any area of your life (you’re probably reading this post on some of these brands) and chances are they’ve visited our site.
Within the last month, we’ve had requests for our services from companies in every time zone in the US, and from an array of countries: Germany, Israel (several times), Spain, Mexico, India, England, and United Arab Emirates.
Clearly, the US isn’t the only country that gets it. Here’s a snapshot from Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2014.
At the end of the Master Class, an attendee wanted to play devil’s advocate with Rose and Pulizzi.
With marketing, you have to do more than just tell stories. It can’t all be stories. Don’t you think there has to be some meat?
Rose didn’t hesitate in explaining that there will always be a need for both the “features and benefits”—the nuts and bolts—and stories.
In closing, he referenced Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the classic book that explores the power of myth around the world.
Myths are stories. And stories have resonated with people everywhere since prehistoric people sat around the fire talking about escaping death from lions on the African Savanna.
If people will always be attracted to stories (in fact we’re wired for stories) then content marketing will stick around as long as there are people… or at least as long as The Furrow.
We discuss more examples of marketing pioneers like The Furrow in our book Brands in Glass Houses.