The term content marketing is one of the hottest buzzwords in marketing lately. It didn’t appear in Google searches before late 2007 (see graph below), but now it’s stormed onto the scene helping turn brands into publishers. Several blogs are dedicated to the method (this being one of them), and the Content Marketing World conference attracted hundreds of marketers this summer.

According to a study by the Content Marketing Institute, 90 percent of business-to-business marketers, whether they realize it or not, market content in some way and invest 26 percent (on average) of their total budgets in content-marketing efforts. The digital era has provided brands with blogs, e-newsletters, social-media presences, webinars, podcasts, videos and more. All signs seem to point to content marketing being the new craze.

Only, content marketing is not new.

Content marketing can’t be the hot new trend. The term content marketing may be only a few years old, but creating useful or entertaining content (or both) for a brand’s audience has been a proven marketing technique for centuries. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Michelin Guides

Any tire manufacturer knows that the more that people travel in automobiles, the larger the demand for tires will be. In 1900, brothers Edouard and André Michelin decided to encourage tourists to travel to Paris by creating the Michelin Red Guide, a free publication offering useful travel advice. Ten years later they began printing maps. The Michelin Guide (and its iconic red cover) has been in print for more than 100 years.

Guinness Book of World Records

Who better to catalogue amazing human feats than a brewery? I mean, doesn’t alcohol give us all superpowers? In 1955, Sir Hugh Beaver, managing director of the Guinness Breweries, realized that there wasn’t a definitive book containing “superlative facts and answers that would be of great use to the general public.” The first edition of his record book, the Guinness Book of World Records, printed that same year, became Britain’s number one best-seller, and the breweries’ name has been synonymous with notable feats ever since.

Jell-O’s Recipe Books

After buying the rights to Jell-O for $450 in the late 1880s, Frank Woodward had so much trouble turning a profit that he offered the rights to his plant superintendent for $35. Before selling, however, Woodward made a last-ditch effort to resurrect the brand by arming his salesmen with Jell-O recipe books to distribute free of charge. Giving customers a variety of ways to use the product endeared them to the brand, and sales rose enough for Woodward to be able to launch three more flavors within a decade.

The Lesson

What is there to learn from these content-marketing efforts of more than 60 years ago? It’s that content marketing isn’t a product of digital tools. While they’ve allowed brands to provide content to audiences in unique and cost-efficient ways, it’s not about the channels themselves. You don’t have to be on every new social platform simply because others have found success on it. While Pinterest is great, your hygiene product probably won’t be pinned on anyone’s board.

Instead of focusing on the channels, focus on connecting your audience with your brand’s story. What type of content does your brand have the authority to publish that would make your audience’s lives better, or happier, or more productive?

There’s no need to fear diving into the content-marketing ocean. Practically speaking, if you’re one of the 10 percent of marketers not engaging in some form of content marketing, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Michelin has a 112-year head start!

Do you have any other pre-digital examples of effective content marketing? Share with us in the comments.

(image via Michelin)