The History of Content Marketing: A Journey through Time and Trends

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  • Content marketing has a fascinating history, from its humble beginnings to its current status as a powerful tool for creating strong bonds with target audiences.
  • The rise of digital platforms, such as websites, blogs, email, and social media, significantly impacted content marketing.
  • Staying ahead of the curve by keeping an eye on industry trends and being willing to adapt to changes is crucial in content marketing.
  • Technological advancements will continually shape the future of content marketing, making it essential to learn from the past and apply those lessons to current and future strategies.

Content marketing, a marketing subset that focuses on generating and distributing written and visual material, has come a long way from its humble beginnings.

It’s not about directly endorsing a brand; instead, we use subtle means to pique interest in a product or service. From basic informational write-ups to awe-inspiring storytelling, content marketing has evolved into a powerful tool for creating solid and enduring bonds with target audiences.

Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to discuss content marketing without mentioning digital platforms like websites, blogs, email, and social media.

After all, a whopping 72% of total marketing budgets are allocated to digital channels, and 55% of marketing today is conducted digitally.

But here’s the thing: content marketing has been around much longer than you might think.

Long before these digital channels took center stage, the concept of marketing through content had already existed and thrived.

In this article, I’ll take you on a fascinating journey through the history of content marketing, exploring its evolution up to the present day and even venturing some predictions about future trends in the industry.

Along the way, I’ll share some valuable tips and tricks to help you navigate the ever-changing landscape of content marketing with ease and confidence.

Without further ado, let’s dive right into the early years of content marketing!

The Birth and Rise of Content Marketing

During the initial decades of content marketing, it underwent various changes and evolutions. Below’s content marketing’s history of emergence and evolution.

history of content marketing, Poor Richard's Almanac

1732: Benjamin Franklin and Poor Richard’s Almanac

While it was once believed that content marketing began in the late 1800s, experts from The Content Marketing Institute traced its origins back to 1732. 

While not initially recognized as content marketing, Benjamin Franklin’s publishing of Poor Richard’s Almanac with the aim of promoting his printing business is regarded as a pioneering act in the field of content marketing.

 This high-selling pamphlet included weather forecasts, household tips, puzzles, astrology data, and poetry—content still found in modern-day publications.

1801: Librairie Galignani and the Reading Room 

In 1801, Librairie Galignani bookstore used creative content strategies like opening a reading room and printing a newspaper to expand its business. 

Giovanni Galignani printed Galignani’s Messenger to promote new ventures such as reading rooms, setting the standard for promotional marketing through print.

Numerous companies followed suit and embraced promotional marketing through the printed medium, including:

history of content marketing, promotional materials in the early days
history of content marketing, promotional materials in the early days continued
  • Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company (The Locomotive magazine)
  • Edison Electric Lighting Company (bulletin about the benefits of electric lighting)
  • Charles Scribner’s Sons publishing house (Scribner’s Magazine)
  • Johnson & Johnson (Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment)

1900: Michelin Takes the Wheel

In 1900, the Michelin Tire Company launched the Michelin Guide, a 400-page book filled with tips for drivers. 

By making travel exciting and introducing people to new places, Michelin boosted car sales—and, consequently, tire sales. The Michelin Guide remains successful to this day.

The 1920s and 1930s: Marketing through the Radio

During the 1920s and 1930s, using radio content for marketing purposes was revolutionary. 

The Sears-Roebuck Company established radio station WLS (World’s Largest Store), providing music and comedy shows interspersed with ads for its stores. 

Procter & Gamble sponsored the radio program “Oxydol’s Own Ma Perkins,” a new era of product placement and audience targeting.

The 1940s and 50s: War Years 

Content marketing took a back seat during World War II, and overt advertising became the primary trend.

history of content marketing, Put a Tiger in Your Tank published in the 1960s

The 1960s and 70s: Multi-Channel Marketing

Marketing shifted to multi-channels as magazines grew in popularity. Exxon led the way with its tagline “Put a tiger in your tank,” inspiring other companies to adopt cross-channel campaigns.

history of content marketing, LEGO's Brick Kicks magazine

The 1980s: Targeting the Younger Generation

LEGO launched Brick Kicks magazine in 1987, targeting children with building ideas, comics, and games.

In the ’90s and early 2000s, brands like Disney Adventures Magazine, American Girl Magazine, and Nickelodeon followed LEGO’s lead, leveraging lifestyle articles, celebrity endorsements, and games for promotion.

Becoming a Force to be Reckoned With

Although marketing through content had been practiced by various companies for over 200 years, it wasn’t recognized as a distinct marketing entity until the end of the 1990s.

The turning point came in 1996 when John F. Oppendahl coined the term “content marketing” during a roundtable discussion at the American Society for Newspaper Editors’ conference.

By giving this strategy a name, Oppendahl opened the door for content marketing to grow both as a discipline and a service.

The late 1990s saw the internet becoming a household commodity, which significantly contributed to content marketing’s rise in popularity among businesses.

As early as 1998, professionals like Jerrell Jimerson of Netscape held positions with titles such as “director of online and content marketing.”

This trend continued to gain momentum, and within a year, the term “content marketing” became widely used in the industry following its inclusion in Jeff Cannon’s book.

With a dedicated name and the internet as a powerful catalyst, content marketing was poised to become a highly influential practice in the digital age.

Riding the Digital Tidal Wave

As we entered the 21st century, content marketing rode the digital tidal wave, embracing the rise of social networks like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

These channels presented new opportunities for brands to interact with and entertain both new and existing customers.

With businesses adopting websites, blogs, and email marketing, novel ways of engaging with audiences across these platforms had to be developed.

The shift intensified the need for content that wasn’t just informative but also visually engaging and shareable for timelines and feeds.

Fierce competition among brands and limited consumer attention led to the development of ranking algorithms.

Furthermore, new trends emerged in the scene as a result of the competition among brands to stand out:

Consumer-Centric Content

In the early 2000s, content marketing focused on consumers and clients.

Shifting from print to screen helped brands discover optimal approaches to tailor their content and communication for diverse channels and viewers.

For instance, in 2001, Johnson & Johnson acquired BabyCenter, a web community, from eToys and transformed it into a pregnancy and child development online resource for new and expecting parents.

Similarly, in 2007, American Express established the OPEN Forum site as a resource for small businesses seeking financial and startup assistance.

Brand-Centric Content and Recognition

Content marketing also began to center on brands during this period.

In 2001, Penton Customer Media started promoting content marketing as a service.

Just three years later, professionals in the field were recognized for their work through the Magnum Opus Awards, now known as the Content Marketing Awards.

Businesses Flock to Harness its Power

In the 2010s, content marketing took center stage as businesses increasingly embraced and integrated it into their marketing strategies.

Google’s groundbreaking ZMOT study in 2011 revealed that 88% of shoppers conduct pre-purchase research as part of their discovery and awareness stage in the buying cycle.

This study became a valuable reference in the evolution of content marketing, explaining why businesses needed to focus on it during the early 2010s.

Content marketing also evolved into a lifestyle for brands in the 2010s, requiring increasing creativity as more companies learned the value of sharing online.

For instance, Intel’s 2012 debut of Intel IQ digital magazine relied on machine learning and team curation to showcase select technology culture content on its cover and front page. Moreover, Marriott International opened an in-house content marketing studio in 2014 and collaborated with influencers to produce original content and videos.

Through experiences and company extensions, content creation became a money-making process that transformed established businesses into multi-faceted corporations.

Publication of a Great Reference for Content Marketing Success

In 2013, Joe Pulizzi authored ‘Epic Content Marketing,’ defining it as a marketing and business process that involves creating and disseminating appealing, valuable content to a well-understood, targeted customer group.

He grouped companies adopting content marketing into three levels, focusing on producing engaging content, becoming a thought leader, and using storytelling to establish an emotional connection with people.

Pulizzi emphasized that customers desire content that fits their requirements and desires, delivered in an engaging manner without blatant product pitches.

To achieve “epic” content marketing, he detailed six key principles:

  • Fill a need
  • Maintain communication consistency
  • Find a unique voice
  • Adopt a specific point of view
  • Avoid “sales speak,”
  • Be the best of the breed.

Pulizzi predicted consumer trends, such as the adoption of storytelling, the significance of mastering SEO, and choosing the right social media platforms.

Many of these tactics remain applicable today as audiences continue to be the focal point in content marketing strategies.

Other trends that emerged during this time include:

SEO

Search engine optimization, or SEO, became a crucial aspect of content marketing in the 2010s as businesses recognized its importance in driving organic traffic to their websites.

By optimizing content with relevant keywords and creating high-quality, valuable content, companies could improve their search rankings and increase online visibility.

Anti-Keyword Stuffing

Google’s search algorithm updates in the 2010s discouraged the practice of keyword stuffing, which involves overusing target keywords in the content.

Instead, the focus shifted towards producing meaningful, in-depth, and user-friendly content that naturally incorporated relevant keywords, resulting in a better user experience and higher search rankings.

The prominence of Social Media

The rise of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn in the 2010s revolutionized content marketing.

Brands began creating platform-specific content that was visually appealing, easily shareable, and designed to engage users in conversations, fostering stronger connections with their target audience and increasing brand awareness.

Content Marketing’s Post-Pandemic Renaissance

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has undoubtedly accelerated the transformation of content marketing, ushering in what I like to call “Content Marketing’s Post-Pandemic Renaissance.”

During this time, companies had to reconsider their approaches to brand promotion, product showcasing, and service advertising, as remote work, online learning, and increased time at home drove marketing teams to readjust their strategies.

With people having more free time, content consumption for pleasure and information-seeking skyrocketed.

The advanced marketing techniques of today require creating engaging narratives backed by thorough research, empathy, and expertise.

We now see diverse forms of content, such as videos, podcasts, long-form articles, and webinars taking center stage.

Brands are striving to establish themselves as visionaries, specialists, or trailblazers by publishing persuasive content that emphasizes a distinctive tone and storytelling ability instead of aggressive selling, exactly like Joe Pulizzi predicted.

Modern content marketing succeeds by informing, educating, entertaining, and inspiring audiences with subtly integrated brand messages, resulting in lasting customer loyalty.

The emphasis is not solely on content per se but also on its packaging, presentation, and sharing with the intended audience.

If you don’t believe me, see the numbers for yourself below!

  • As of 2021, social media emerged as the chief channel leveraged by marketers, with over 80% of them utilizing it.
  • Approximately 70% of marketers indicate that video is their primary form of media for content strategies.
  • Short-form videos are taking the internet by storm—platforms such as TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts are now among the trendiest media for brands to utilize.

Apart from these trends, optimizing content for mobile devices has become crucial in order to capture over 70% of web traffic that originates from these gadgets.

As we move forward, I believe this renaissance will continue to shape the future of content marketing, making it more vibrant, engaging, and relevant than ever before.

Related Reading: Post-COVID-19 Recovery: Marketing Your Brand in the Age of Uncertainty

Lessons Content Marketing Has Taught Us So Far

Now that we’ve journeyed through the history of content marketing, you may notice that there are a few valuable insights from everything that this marketing strategy has gone through.

Below are the three essential lessons we’ve learned from content marketing’s history! Take note of these, as they will help you better understand the ever-evolving landscape of our industry and guide you as you continue to create engaging content for our audiences.

Isn’t it fascinating how history has a way of repeating itself? Back in the early 20th century, audiences would gather around their radios to listen to branded content like Procter and Gamble’s soap operas.

Fast forward to today, and we’re tuning into podcasts produced by brands, such as General Electric’s The Message.

Sure, the mode of communication has changed, but the concept behind it remains the same.

It’s a great reminder to keep an eye on the past, as it can often inspire the future.

Prioritize your audience

I can’t stress this enough – understanding your audience is key!

To create content that resonates with them, you need to know their preferred channels and what they like.

So, put on your detective hat and analyze follower behavior on your channels and even your competitors. Then, implement those techniques and watch your engagement soar.

Adaptation is essential

In the world of content marketing, change is the only constant.

Your content strategy must adjust to the demands of each new channel, stay up-to-date with technological advancements, and keep pace with changes in content marketing practices.

If you don’t, you might find yourself left behind.

Remember, continuous assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of your content marketing strategy is vital to staying ahead of the game.

So there you have it! By understanding these lessons from content marketing’s history, we can better prepare ourselves for the exciting future trends in store for our industry.

Now, let’s dive into those possible future trends, shall we?

What Lies Ahead for Content Marketing?

There are many exciting things in store for content marketing.

After all, brands must continuously adjust to stay relevant in the future of content marketing by exploring innovative ways to connect with their audience and adapting to technological advancements and customer demands.

Does content still reign supreme? Absolutely! Content marketing continues to thrive for a simple reason: it’s what people want.

They don’t desire obtrusive banners, ads, and pop-ups. Instead, consumers are more selective about the content they engage with in ads, seeking relevance to their needs and interests while expecting personalized attention from brands.

By utilizing information and understanding to generate content customized for individual consumers, businesses can heighten engagement, cultivate stronger relationships, and achieve superior outcomes.

Apart from the rise of personalization in content, other trends predicted to gain traction in the future include:

Zero-click

With features like knowledge graphs and snippets, users can get their search results without clicking.

Research shows that, on average, 65% of Google searches lead to no clicks. To maximize optimization, target featured snippets and create high-quality content that concisely provides quick answers to users’ search queries.

Short-form videos

As attention spans shrink and mobile devices dominate our daily lives, short-form video content will continue to conquer the digital landscape.

New video tools simplify the process of creating video, helping you deliver valuable content to your audience in an engaging way.

AI with a human touch

Over 60% of companies have leveraged AI for their marketing operations as of 2023.

AI can enhance content creation efficiency but cannot substitute the human touch of creativity and emotional intelligence present in marketers.

While AI is anticipated to play a significant role in future content creation, human creators remain instrumental in producing content that genuinely appeals to and distinguishes their audiences.

Related Reading: Best AI-powered Content Creation Tools for 2023

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)

In Web 3, the Metaverse will be the primary tool for marketing and advertising.

Currently, just 1% of retailers use AR or VR in customer buying.

However, these technologies have the potential to significantly improve consumer engagement with content, providing immersive experiences in the metaverse.

Advertising in the metaverse has the potential to become a market worth $586 billion.

As costs go down, marketers will integrate VR and AR technology into their content strategies and create engaging brand stories.

Hyper-personalization

Content marketing is transitioning from product promotion to audience enrichment, resulting in more purposeful and customer-centric approaches.

Data-driven tools, AI, and machine learning enable hyper-personalization, leading to highly targeted messaging and improved conversion rates.

The boom of user-generated content (UGC)

Modern audiences value authenticity and relatability, making UGC a trusted source of information.

According to recent surveys, 90% of customers find UGC helpful and trust existing customers’ opinions of brands instead of flashy ads and promotional emails.

Related Reading: Work Smart, Not Hard: How to Multiply Your Content Creation Output Effortlessly

Socially responsible and sustainable marketing

In the years to follow, marketing will place greater emphasis on sustainability and social responsibility.

Consumers are increasingly aware of the impact of their purchases, creating a need for more sustainable and socially responsible brands.

Companies should incorporate these values into their marketing strategies to connect with consumers and build a positive brand image.

By staying ahead of these trends and adapting to the ever-changing landscape of content marketing, brands can continue to thrive and connect with their audiences in meaningful ways.

Ready for the Content Revolution? Strategies to Thrive and Adapt

The future of content marketing is upon us, and we’ll need to adapt and thrive in this ever-evolving landscape! So, let’s delve into some expert tips to help you stay ahead of the curve.

Keep content short

In this era of digital distraction, it’s crucial to make your content brief and straightforward.

With media overload from all directions, brands must stand out by conveying their message clearly and without complications.

To make your writing effective:

how to keep content short and sweet
  • Eliminate fluff and filler, focusing on the key points.
  • Use concise sentences and lists.
  • Always proofread to avoid grammatical errors and typos (nobody likes those!)

Stay interactive

As technology advances, customer interactions with businesses are changing.

Stay ahead of the curve by adding interactive elements to your marketing messages for better engagement and a more memorable experience.

Interactive features can include:

interactive content
  • Quizzes
  • Polls
  • Surveys
  • Or simply replying to your audience (yes, it’s that easy!)

Innovate and experiment with content

To stay ahead of the competition, adapt to changing market needs, and seize new opportunities, marketers should be curious and creative.

Explore new formats and platforms while using data to measure and iterate your strategy.

Consider trying out:

content formats to explore
  • Audio and video podcasts
  • Infographics
  • Blogs
  • Social media posts (Facebook Live, Instagram stories, Pinterest)
  • Interactive web pages
  • Live streaming video
  • Platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Snapchat

Maintain personalization and diversification

Diversify your content by creating and distributing it across various formats, channels, and platforms to effectively reach a diverse audience.

Personalize your content by tailoring it to each user based on their preferences, profile, and behavior.

These strategies can help improve reach, engagement, conversion, and community building.

Don’t forget to:

  • Use multimedia like videos, podcasts, or interactive content for engaging experiences.
  • Leverage AI, machine learning, or automation to deliver personalized content at scale.

Be data-driven

Not sure how to interpret your data or where to start? Use data analysis tools to determine what content resonates best with your target audience.

Some handy tools include:

content analytics tools
  • Google Analytics: Track website visits, page views, and other essential customer engagement metrics
  • BuzzSumo: Gain insights into sharing activity across social media platforms, including the most-shared content in any industry and market
  • SEMrush: Optimize content for SEO with keyword research and analysis
  • Hootsuite Insights: Measure brand visibility, track customer sentiment, and monitor competitors’ activities on social media channels

By closely monitoring the data and maintaining a regular content schedule, you can uncover the most favorable topics and content formats for your audience.

With these strategies in your arsenal, you’ll be ready to conquer the content revolution and create a lasting impact in the world of content marketing.

Learn more about content marketing: Content Marketing Mastery: A Complete Guide from Strategy to Analysis

Wrapping Up

From its humble beginnings to the dynamic landscape we see today, content marketing has indeed come a long way. And the future looks even brighter!

As technology continues to advance at breakneck speed, content marketing will keep evolving alongside it.

To stay ahead of the curve, it’s essential to keep a pulse on industry trends and be willing to adapt to changes as they come. Remember, the only constant in content marketing is change itself!

So, let’s take all those valuable lessons from history and apply them to our current and future strategies. By doing so, we can ensure our content marketing efforts remain successful for many years to come.

If you’re hungry for more information about how you can stay ahead of the curve when it comes to content marketing, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Content Hacker today! Together, let’s create content that captivates, educates, and inspires our audiences!

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Slye Joy Serrano

August 9, 2023

Slye Joy Serrano

Meet Slye, a passionate individual whose enthusiasm for inbound marketing is matched only by his love for learning. With advanced degrees in Political Science and International Relations, Slye uses his knowledge to empower brands through his work at Content Hacker. When he's not helping businesses flourish online, you can often find him lost in a Beatles song or spending time with his eight furry friends. Whether it's mastering the art of content marketing and SEO or strumming a guitar, Slye enjoys the simple yet profound moments in life.

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