Most people think that the idea of content marketing is new, that it belongs to the digital age more or less. This is natural, after all, technology has advanced so much that we have an unimaginable wealth of information and tools at our disposal. This allows us to know more about our audience than ever before, which is saying something given the sheer vastness of the digital space.

So it’s easy to see why modern marketers feel entitled to a sense of ownership over everything in our marketing toolbox, including content marketing. In reality, however, content marketing is nothing new. Here are a few examples that may change the way you look at and understand content marketing:

– In 1732 Benjamin Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanac not simply out of love for the weather and agriculture. It also served to showcase his printing business, inform people and capitalize on the popular almanac market.

– In 1882 Thomas Edison published the Edison Electric Lighting Company Bulletin in 1882 to inform and influence opinion on electric lighting. This was a strategy to familiarize people with the new technology and garner public support.

– In 1895 John Deer published The Furrow, which was a publication that covered agriculture. Of course it included advertorials for the brand as well.

As you can see, content marketing is a fairly old concept, but I have news for you, I can offer you far older examples. This is because content marketing essentially refers to the act of creating and distributing content that is intended to drive action and influence a targeted audience. So when content exists as a means of influencing, driving action, or furthering the wishes of the publisher of that content, you have content marketing.

By extension, many works of literature are essentially content marketing pieces, some more directly so than others. While the intent may be hidden under allegories and plot development in some examples, it’s front and center in others. Essays,bulletins and political cartoons, all popular ways of spreading ideas and sharing news, can also fall into this category.

Take Plato’s Republic for example. This was written in 380 BCE and it intended to influence readers regarding the nature of justice and the superiority of one form of ruling over others. The argument at the center of the piece is to establish a definition of what would make a state ideal as a model for future societies. This intent to influence and drive action makes this a form of content marketing.

Next, consider Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal which was published anonymously in 1729. This was a satirical essay that suggested that poor people sell their young for food as a way of earning money and reducing their burden in life. The true intent was to highlight the economic policies and attitudes held by the British regarding the Irish. Through sheer shock value it aimed to gather attention, influence opinion, all characteristics of content marketing.

Of course I’m stretching the concept of content marketing a bit in these examples, but not much. The real point I’m making is that content marketing is not new, but rather an intrinsic part of how we communicate and share ideas. This means you don’t have to adhere to any special set of rules when creating this type of material for your business. Other than following sound marketing practices and using common sense, you can allow yourself some creative license and logic.

In case you’re not sure where to start, or don’t quite trust your instinct yet, here are some basic guidelines for producing content marketing pieces:

– Be original and creative.
– Be helpful to the reader.
– Offer real information that has value.
– Don’t push your products and services in 80% of what you produce.
-Be consistent, in tone, voice and in publication cadence.

And last but not least, if you wouldn’t want to read it, don’t waste your time writing it. While you might not be your target audience, you should minimally be interested in the topic. You shouldn’t spend your time, or ask your readers to spend theirs, on anything you don’t see value in.

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The ancient art of content marketing
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