The Evolution of Content Marketing & Why Authenticity is Everything

The biggest misconception around content marketing might be that it’s a recent innovation. The truth is, it’s far from it.

Way back in 1895, John Deere started delivering a monthly publication called “The Furrow” to farmers. The magazine not only told them great things about John Deere products, it also included tips on how to be a better farmer. In the grainy, black and white pages of “The Furrow”, content marketing was officially born.

It wasn’t long before other brands followed -- Jell-O soon started printing recipe books and Proctor & Gamble invented the soap opera to sell more soap. Today, there’s not a single B2B client I meet that doesn’t discuss thought leadership as a goal, or a B2C client that doesn’t want to differentiate through branded content.

But the world has changed since John Deere’s time. It has gotten harder to earn the trust of consumers because so many of them have been burned by marketers in the past. Marketers told them smoking was good for them. Marketers told them dried up shrimp were magical creatures called “sea monkeys” and that they could buy real X-Ray glasses for a dollar.

Consumers have been conditioned to think you’re always trying to sell to them. That they can’t take you at your word. Today, it’s not enough to come right out and tell people why you’re a great brand. Not the way John Deere was able to do it. Today, you have to do more.

You have to earn their trust. And you don’t do that by acting like a traditional marketers or a salesman. You do that by providing value and delighting your audience consistently over a long period of time.

Get out of the mindset of trying to generate leads through content, and instead try to create content that makes customers happier.

How? There’s no magical formula, but here are some general guidelines:

Target a Tribe


A tribe is a group of people that share a common worldview and are passionate about it. Speak to them truthfully about the things they care about and they will love you. Don’t try to speak to the entire world at once.

Have a Worthy Cause


Selling product isn’t a worthy cause. Be for something bigger, something better. Make it easy for people to get behind what you’re doing. Ultimately, doing something that matters will make media outreach efforts easier and will rally the community you’ve targeted.

Create Observability


The best way to get people talking is to do or create something worth talking about. There has to be an “it”, whether that’s a piece of art that sparks discussion a piece of writing people can’t help but share with their friends. It’s hard to get people talking about a bare idea. There needs to be something tangible and observable for people to get excited bout.

Keep it Simple


Make your message clear and understandable. Keep the execution simple and nail it. Make it obvious what actions you want users to take and how they can continue to engage with your brand.

Make it Compelling


Ultimately, none of this will matter if your content isn’t good. If it is, people will want share it. They won’t be able to help themselves – that’s the definition of “compelling”. Stop just trying to “generate content” and start thinking like a craftsman. Find writers that love writing. Find filmmakers that love telling stories through video. And let those people create amazing work.

One of the worst things you can do is run a content marketing campaign just because everyone else is doing it. Don’t tell stories just for the sake of it. Because great stories have to come from a place of authenticity. They have to feel real. They have to embrace and represent a specific worldview.

More than anything, they have to make you care about something or someone. That’s the core function of a story.

The other worst thing you can do? Believing you don’t have a story to tell. Trust me, you do. Because if Coke can tell a story about fizzy water, you can tell a story about anything.

And once you find yours, make sure you tell it like you mean it.

Written by Adam Harrell on April 24, 2014


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Powerful and incredibly true. Content creators have the power to bridge the gap between brands and consumers - if they do it with authenticity and a story that resonates with the audience. Shared on Linkedin.

Adam says:

Thanks Nancy!

Nancy Bistritz says:

What a great read. I love this! (As my LinkedIn post said): Hats off to Nebo for finally boiling down content marketing and content creation. From keeping things simple to telling it like you mean it. I love this article. Well done.

Adam 600px kd2wvyl
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Adam Harrell