In 1900, Édouard and André had a problem.
About 10 years earlier, they had started producing pneumatic tyres for bicycles in Clermont-Ferrand (France), and after a while they expanded their business with pneumatic tyres for cars. Their pneumatics were special for the time, as they were not glued to the wheel, and therefore could easily be replaced. The problem was that in the whole France there were about 3,000 cars. Not much to have a viable business.
Their idea to overcome this obstacle was somewhat revolutionary. Instead of perfectioning their product (already excellent), or trying to gain market shares from competitors (whose product was inferior), they asked themselves a question that each marketer (and business person, to be fair) should ask themselves: what problem can we solve for our potential customer so that they would be more willing to buy a car (and our tyres)?
In one of the very first examples of content marketing, the Michelin Guide was born. A list of hotels and restaurant to make it easier for people to tour the cities, information about how to change tyres (Michelin tyres, of course), as well as a list of mechanics, car parts ads, maps and other basic information. Nowadays, more than 100 years later, when we hear about the Michelin Guide, we barely associate it with a tyre manufacturer, yet its name is well known (and respected) by everybody who likes to travel and eat good food.
The history of marketing and business is full of such anecdotes – another good one is how Procter&Gamble basically put the “soap” in “soap operas” when it started producing radio dramas in the 30s.
Content marketing is not an invention of the new wave of digital marketing. It is good to remember that the examples from the past who stood the test of time and deeply impacted our culture, have all started from a business need and a consideration that nowadays marketers seem to have forgotten: if you do not know who you are selling to and what they value, it will not stick.