Over the past fortnight, I’ve enjoyed watching the displays of creativity on show at London Fashion Week and its Milan counterpart. Being able to watch the catwalk shows streamed live from Italy and London is a far cry from the first LFW back in 1984.
Similarly, the coming of age of digital communications has also transformed content marketing today. And though many will see it as a very modern discipline, just as fashion wasn’t born in the UK in 1984, content marketing dates back to even before a certain Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent revealed his trouser suit for women in 1966.
Now, the French are of course known for their cross-Channel rivalries, and under any other circumstances the ubiquity of this game-changing, iconic design should put them 1-0 ahead against the British (and indeed the rest of the world), but Monsieur Mathieu-Saint-Laurent was actually born in Algeria and 1966 marks the year of a significant sporting achievement this side of the Channel.
So that makes it Britain 1, France 0.
The French connection
I have heard it argued that the origins of content marketing have a French connection, created by Michelin in 1900 when the tyre company printed 35,000 copies of its renowned guide in an effort to encourage motorists to drive further and use their tyres more.
While the Michelin Guides certainly fit in with the definition of content marketing as any marketing format that is focused not on selling, but on simply communicating with customers and prospects, the British got there first. In 1895 tractor manufacturer John Deere first published The Furrow magazine, a classic piece of content marketing designed to provide information to farmers that would help them become more profitable. And like the Michelin Guides, it is still published today. That’s Britain 2, France 0.
Fast forward to the present day and it’s Britain 3, France 0 thanks to the magnificent Welsh victory at the Millennium Stadium on Friday in the RBS Six Nations. Game over.
Moving on to content marketing in 2014, why has the discipline been brought out from the back of a marketer’s wardrobe and become not just an industry buzzword but the catwalk star of marketing’s global fashion show? It has nothing to do with trends. Useful content has always been an effective way of striking up a conversation with your target audience, but the coming of age of digital communications, and more specifically social media, is allowing companies to distribute their content in a more targeted way and use it to engage with their audience.
In today’s hyper-digitised, hyper-connected world, content marketing is the giftwrap your online presence requires. Content marketing is an absolute must if you want to promote your brand, build trust in and awareness of your products, engage with customers, and retain that all-important search ranking.
That is why 31% of marketing budgets will be spent on content marketing this year by companies in UK, according to a study by the Content Marketing Institute published last December. The same research revealed more than half of the companies surveyed said they intend to increase their content marketing spend in 2014.
In a way I’m surprised the figures aren’t higher, but an explanation for this is the companies using content marketing techniques including blogs, whitepapers, infographics, videos, targeted social media posts and even customer publishing, are failing to call their communications content marketing.
Just as the late, great Yves Saint-Laurent’s designs to dress women in trousers have now become so accepted that this year’s celebration of fashion on the catwalks of London, Milan, Paris and New York are or will be describing women’s trousers as street style, content marketing techniques have now come of age and are simply called marketing.
And quite right too. Content marketing isn’t a dark art. Ultimately, content marketing is marketing, and there really shouldn’t be a differentiation in how marketing budgets are earmarked. Just remember to remove your street style shades when developing your content calendar in your marketing workshop.