Content marketing didn’t start with a white paper, a case study, or a really well-written blog. Red Bull didn’t invent the customer magazine with Red Bulletin. In fact, what we’re seeing today is a new spin on something that’s been around for over a century. That’s right, the history of content marketing goes back over 100 years, well before the tech industry as we know it even existed. In the early days, lead capture forms were scraps of paper.

History of Content Marketing: The Early Years

Would you believe that it all started with tractors? In 1895, farming equipment company John Deere made content marketing history by introducing The Furrow, an agriculture magazine and the first piece of B2B content marketing in existence. Beginning first as an advertorial, The Furrow‘s publishers switched to a more general agricultural journal and basically became the Red Bulletin of farming.

Five years later, B2C content marketing came into play when tire company Michelin introduced The Michelin Guides, which provided car care advice and travel tips. Until 1920, these guides that gave the addresses of gas stations, mechanics, and of course, tire dealers were free. Now, The Michelin Guides are considered the gold standard for restaurant reviews – and Michelin, as a tire company, is still going strong. B2C content marketing went even further with the 1904 Jell-O recipe book, which contributed to sales of over $1 million by 1906.

B2B content marketing in the early years also included the launch of Benchmark, an engineering magazine produced by consulting firm Burns & McDonnell. The magazine is still in existence today. It serves as the Consumer Reports of security products.

[tweetthis]Content marketing began with tractors, not terabytes. #contentmarketing[/tweetthis]

More Consumer-Focused: Content Marketing Hits Home

In the 1930s, radio programming entertained families and stay-at-home wives. Proctor & Gamble, via its soap brands, partnered with radio stations to create programming, hence the term “soap opera.” The format of the show kept people tuning in every day – and boosted the sales of soap.

The history of content marketing continued to be made when Hasbro wanted to bring back the GI Joe toy soldiers in 1982. Getting kids excited about the toys would require a push, which the company found in a cartoon and a partnership with Marvel to create a comic book. The materials told a rich backstory, which laid the foundation for future content marketing efforts, both B2B and B2C. Meanwhile, in 1987, LEGO introduced its Brick Kicks (now LEGO Club) magazine. It not only featured LEGO products but also ideas for building, comics, and games.

The Internet Makes Content Marketing History

When the Internet became readily available in the early 1990s, it made content marketing take off for B2B companies. White papers, formerly the province of government entities, became standard operating procedure for B2B software companies. Syndication sites to disseminate these papers became commonplace.

Additionally, in 1996, WebEx made it possible for companies to use webinars as content marketing. Microsoft launched its first major corporate blog in 2004, and in 2005, LiveVault’s John Cleese video targeting IT managers went viral. Today, every B2B software company is using the Internet for content marketing. SAP has The Customer Edge, which is a highly targeted digital magazine. Adobe publishes, a digital magazine for chief marketing officers.  And American Express offers content for its small business customers via its OPEN Forum. Page views grew 23x in just two years of its launch.

And there are no signs of slowing down. Every day, a B2B technology company is finding new ways to leverage the power of content marketing, either via the Internet or print. B2C companies, like Red Bull, have already become media companies. Those that don’t have the in-house resources are outsourcing, either to agencies if they need full content marketing strategies or to freelancers if they don’t have the bandwidth for content creation.

What is your company doing to shape the history of content marketing? Comment below.