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The History of Content Marketing – How Brands Have Become Storytellers [Part 1]


The Furrow Magazine from John Deere - 1931
The Furrow Magazine from John Deere – 1931

Content marketing is not easy.

Over the past twelve months, we’ve been noticing a few differences in what separates those organizations who excel at content marketing and those organizations that are just staying in the game.

The overview below (part 1) is from a presentation I gave at Online Marketing Summit 2012.  Big shout out to the folks at TopRank for doing an amazing summary of this presentation.

History of Content Marketing

Content marketing is not new.  It has been around for hundreds of years.  Credit is often given to John Deere’s The Furrow magazine as being the first example of corporate storytelling.  John Deere leveraged The Furrow, not to sell John Deere equipment, but to educate farmers on new technology and how they could be more successful business owners (thus, content marketing). Full infographic on the history of content marketing.

Barriers to Entry Are Gone

There were three major barriers to entry that used to exist as a gate to corporate publishing. These no longer exist and were discussed in detail in Get Content Get Customers.  The barriers include:

  • Content Acceptance – You don’t have to be the Wall Street Journal anymore to have your customers accept and engage in your content.
  • Talent – In the past, most journalists were against working for non-media brands, as it was seen as tainting their profession. Today, writers, editors and journalists are available in literally every industry to help you produce great content. The majority of jobs available today are on the brand side, not in traditional media. The stigma of working for non-media brands, although still remaining, is not nearly as strong.
  • Technology – Anyone can publish content on the web today for almost no investment.

The Difference Between Media and Non-Media Brands

So, we are indeed all publishers today.

There is only one thing that separates the content developed by a media company and content developed by brands like Intel, John Deere or LEGO: How the money comes in.

For a media company, content is created in order to make money directly of the creation of content through paid content sales (direct purchase of content) or advertising sales (someone sponsors the content that is created, like we see in newspapers and magazines).

For a non-media company content is created, not to profit directly from the content, but indirectly by attracting and retaining customers.

In all other respects, the content creation activities in both types of companies are generally the same.  This is important to realize, in that non-media brands are competing with traditional media for attention and retention, just like you compete with the regular competitors in your field.


As you can see in the chart above (full content marketing research here), corporations are indeed all media companies today, involving themselves in tactics that used to be relegated to only traditional publishers.

Storytelling at the Center

As companies like Coca-Cola are showing us with their Content 2020 initiative, storytelling is at the center of new marketing today.


Whether your goals are rooted in search engine optimization (getting found), lead generation (conversion) or leveraging social media tools, none of them will be effective without compelling storytelling.  A content strategy always comes before a social media strategy.

The Big Content Challenge

So, as content marketing and storytelling become a larger part of the marketing organization in general, we are seeing an evolution of the marketing department transform itself into more of a publishing department.  Although this is not an easy transition and the pain has just begun, some larger brands have clearly made this transition.  For example, Kelly Services now spends over 60% of their marketing budget on content creation and distribution activities.  Even though Kelly’s VP of Thought Leadership Todd Wheatland (and Content Marketing World speaker) states that Kelly has been “doing content marketing for more than 10 years”, many brands are still struggling with content marketing structure.

Even though the barriers to entry are gone and we have all the opportunities in the world to develop valuable and compelling content, the biggest corporate challenge is the creation of engaging content. As you can see in the chart below, creating content that actually engages customers and prospects is the number one hurdle.


Good to Great Content Marketing – 6 Differences

Through all the research (both quantitative and qualitative) we’ve found six differences that are separating good to great content marketers.  I’ll be publishing these results in detail in my next post.  In the meantime, the full presentation is below for your sharing pleasure.