In the Beginning, It Wasn’t Content Marketing
Back in 2001, I started selling content marketing services as part of Penton Media’s custom media division. For the most part, we sold custom magazines and printed newsletters to large B2B organizations. We were just beginning to sell things like online white papers and webinars.
At that time, there was no such thing as the term/phrase content marketing. Custom publishing had always been the term for what is now the content marketing industry. In the late 90s, custom media started to replace custom publishing as the industry term in response to the digital content phenomenon.
We at Penton Custom Media, as a group, believed in the idea that marketing should be an asset and that delivering original, relevant information to customers was critical. Yes, there was a place for advertising, but we sold on the idea that when the advertising worked, buyers wanted more information. Without that critical information that would help buyers make decisions, the buyer may end up going elsewhere or relying on someone else for their informational needs. We also believed that customer retention was the most under-served part of the marketing goal set, and that consistent content to customers (ala a media company) was the answer to turn customers into evangelists for the brand.
That said, this was a new concept to most of our customers, even though the idea of brands telling stories have been around for centuries.
Content marketing was never an easy sell. 10 years ago, senior marketers were still enthralled with the banner, the button and the direct email. Content creation was literally the last thing on their mind.
But we persevered. When we used the phrase “custom publishing” marketers thought print or books.
Custom media, custom content? Can you be more specific?
Brand journalism…hey, we’re not publishers. Corporate content/media…is that for the employee magazine?
Customer media…that’s so European.
Brand storytelling…is this fiction?
It was truly a sales challenge because our industry went by dozens of names and it took so long to explain what the heck we were actually selling.
Content Marketing – Maybe
One day I was in a sales call and asked the VP of Marketing for a large manufacturing company, “What’s your content marketing strategy?” He looked a bit quizzical at me (as you can imagine), but leaned forward and asked “Can you explain?”
Ha, content marketing…we may be onto something.
“Content marketing is creating your own valuable, relevant and compelling content to position yourself as the true industry expert. When you do that, your prospects and customers trust you more and are more willing to buy from you. It’s almost like becoming the media company for your industry, but instead of selling advertising against your content, you are engaging customers with the belief that they will buy more of your products and services from you or create a better opportunity to keep them as customers. Content marketing can take many forms, like custom printed magazines, advertorials, white papers, print newsletters and even webinars and web content.”
Although this VP of marketing was intrigued, and even asked for a proposal, ultimately he didn’t buy content (He bought a 6x print advertising program instead). But, ultimately, I liked his response to the “content marketing”.
From 2001 to 2007 I continued to try a number of phrases and received different directions on sales calls. More and more, as the years went on, content marketing seemed to resonate more than the others. By 2005/2006, I began to believe that content marketing was going to be the industry phrase.
The Rise of Content Marketing
In 2007, when we launched what is now the Content Marketing Institute, we based the entire business model on the belief that content marketing would become the phrase for organizations acting like media companies. So, on April 26th, 2007, Why Content Marketing? was written as my first of over 600 blog posts.
Apart from some amazing good fortune and a boatload of content that we developed around the idea and practice of content marketing, I believe it became the industry term because:
- It’s simple (think Apple): “You mean marketing through the creation of content?” Most marketers could figure out the term with just a few seconds of thought.
- No baggage: Custom publishing, custom media and even brand journalism created sometimes negative or completely wrong notions of what the industry was. Content marketing was a fresh new phrase that had no negative past to it.
- It contained “marketing”: People with marketing titles pay more attention to anything with the word “marketing” in it.
I’ve read a dozen posts about how content marketing as a phrase isn’t the right term or that the idea of an industry term for what we do is just silly. My contention is that, even through content marketing has been around for hundreds of years, one of the reasons it didn’t move faster as a core marketing discipline was because marketers simply couldn’t have an intelligent conversation about it. Since everyone was calling it something different, progress was hard to come by (think Tower of Babel).
The Industry Is Growing…Together
Regardless of whether you love or hate the term content marketing, the industry is coming together and we are learning the discipline together (see this Altimeter content marketing report and this CMI/MarketingProfs report for more). Yes, we have a long way to go, but we are all headed in the right direction. And the amazing news is, even though we have come so far so fast, if content marketing were a baseball game, we’d just be getting out of the dugout for the first inning. The new marketing department is now part marketing, part publishing. This type of evolution will take some time, especially for very large organizations.
One thing is for sure, it is the organizations, not individual users or publishers, that have the greatest opportunity (and possibly learning curve) to create valuable content that makes an impact on people. Smart organizations are doing it now. More will come. Things are going to get interesting.
On with the content marketing revolution!
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