Content marketing as a tool for B2B lead generation: 275 Years of History Prove It Works
Reading time: 7 inspiring mins
Just how old is content marketing? While usually associated with online marketing, the concept of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content long predates digital age. In fact, even though the term was first coined in 2001 (by Penton Custom Media), the oldest example of content marketing dates back to 1732.
Let’s take a look back, and then figure out what this rich history can teach us about developing B2B content marketing strategies that increase your lead generation in 2017 and beyond.
Early Origins of Content Marketing in Print Media
Content marketing originated with print media. The earliest example dates back to the 18th century, and is attributed to a historical figure commemorated on the hundred dollars banknote - Benjamin Franklin.
1732: Benjamin Franklin Creates an In-House Publication to Promote His Printing House
44 years before the US declared independence from Great Britain, Benjamin Franklin, one of its Founding Fathers, created an in-house publication called Poor Richard’s Almanack to promote his printing house.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, “he did such a great job at creating needed, valuable and entertaining content for his audience, that he sold as many as 10,000 copies a year, making it a bestseller of its day.” The success of his publication was based on the same principles that we should aspire to today: create the best content possible, focus on what your audience wants, become a content curator and focus on serialization. According to Benjamin Franklin History, the publication became more than a marketing tool – it was an additional revenue stream for Franklin’s printing house.
1853: A Book is Published to Promote a Bee Hive
In 1853, the book Langstroth on the Hive and the HoneyBee, a Bee-Keeper’s Manual was published to promote a movable-frame hive and innovative beekeeping methods. That was followed by the publication of the American Bee Journal, whose first issue was published in January 1861, targeting hobbyists.
According to its website, the magazine has been published consistently to this day (and now has a full content site, too). Its media kit states the magazine only took a brief break from publication during the Civil War, but it currently prints approximately 17,000 copies of each new issue.
1888: Johnson & Johnson Uses Content to Sell Bandages to Doctors
Johnson & Johnson, a modern behemoth of the B2C world, started their content marketing efforts with a publication called the Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment, targeting doctors that bought bandages from Johnson & Johnson.
1904: A Recipe Book Saved Jell-O from Selling the Company for $35
According to Marketing Land, Frank Woodward purchased the rights to Jell-O for $450 in the 1880s, but had “such a hard time making a profit, that he offered to sell the rights... for a mere $35.” Before he did, he tried one more thing. He distributed free recipe books, which “featured recipes with Jell-O as the main ingredient.”
The result? Instead of selling the company at a major loss, Jell-O made a million dollars in sales within 2 years.
1930: Procter & Gamble Introduces the Soap Opera Genre to Sell Soap
Targeting housewives, Procter & Gamble created daily serial radio shows it called Soap Operas. Branching into a new medium, the storytelling was interrupted every once in awhile with commercials for soap products.
According to Neil Patel, the genre began with the show Painted Dreams in 1930. Guiding Light was the first soap opera to start on the radio and later moved to television. Between the two mediums, it provided fictional storytelling 5 days a week for 57 years. The genre still exists today, having branched into the Internet as well, and created an entire industry of magazines, books, fan events and other merchandise.
Content marketing as a tool of B2B lead generation
Early examples of B2B content marketing date back to early 1920.
1920s: Sears-Roebuck and Company
Sears-Roebuck bought airtime to provide valuable information to farmers who were going through the deflation. According to TrackMaven, this approach was so successful, that they created their own broadcast channel, called WLS (World’s Largest Store) Radio, which “went live in 1924, featuring musical and comedic artists, farm and civic programming, and more.”
TrackMaven also shares that, in order to make ensure everyone had access to their content, Sears-Roebuck actually started selling radios, adding yet another revenue stream.
2004: Sherwin-Williams Used a Multi-Channel Magazine to Grow Market Share
According to Hanley Wood Marketing, Sherwin-Williams wanted to “strengthen brand position with interior designers,” plus “drive gallon growth and increase market share.”
Therefore, they created an online and offline magazine called STIR, and discovered that its readers are much more likely to purchase from the company and perceive Sherwin-Williams as an industry leader than non-readers.
2007: American Express Launches a Content Website for Small Marketers
Understanding that the direct sale approach isn’t as useful as it once was, American Express created a content site for small business owners called Open Forum, which maintains an ongoing conversation with its current and prospective customers.
With articles about planning for growth, managing money, acquiring customers and building your team, American Express gives its target audience a reason to keep in touch, build emotional connections, and prefer them over competitors in the long term.
2012: Intel Launches a Social Publishing Platform Curated by its Employees
In an attempt to “connect with a younger audience,” Intel launched a Flipboard-like publication that allows its employees to curate content, reports AdAge. Some stories are written by the team, and some by partners.
Most stories are technology based, but you can find anything from Angry Birds to biometric shirts in there. The company uses these stories to feed its social media accounts and build relationships with its audience.
B2B Tech Companies Use Content Marketing to Increase Lead Gen
Today, content marketing comes in variety of forms: blogs, newsletters, social media posts, images, infographics, video and audio. According to 2017 research from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 52% of B2B marketers believe that blogging is their most critical content marketing method. 90% believe their email newsletters are the most important channel to distribute content, followed by LinkedIn (71%).
Think with Google is a great example of a blog that uses company data to educate its audience on industry trends and what it really takes to develop successful campaigns, and eventually make better use of Google’s products.
Rainmaker Digital is another example. The company sells WordPress themes, plus a digital marketing and sales platform, but it all started with a little blog called Copyblogger in 2006, which went on to become one of the leading authorities in the blogging world. The company, now with approximately 60 employees, never needed investors, because it grew a big enough audience of raving fans, who practically told it what kind of products they needed.
Continuing the Copyblogger success, Rainmaker Digital has developed a podcast network, which has produced 23 free podcasts so far, each with a list of episodes on marketing, sales and business related topics.
The Bottom Line
Being a marketing ninja is all about building long term relationships with your audience. While it’s important to be consistent over time, you want to prioritize the quality of communication over quantity. To be successful, you need to know your audience and recognize their wants and needs. B2B content marketing is also about being bold and paving new paths, generating and communicating new ideas and becoming a thought leader and innovator within your niche.
And you never know. Maybe, like Benjamin Franklin, you’ll end up developing a new revenue stream. Or maybe, like Jell-O, you’ll make your next million dollars from the leads your content generates.