It All Started With A Tractor Magazine In 1895: Getting Schooled By The Content Marketing Institute

“Content marketing” may be an industry buzzword now, but as with any trendy practice in the business, it takes people willing to seriously commit to leadership and standards in order for any of it to have lasting relevance.

One of the people aiming to take on this role for branded content is Joe Pulizzi, founder and CEO of The Content Marketing Institute, a research hub and consultancy founded in 2007. The Strategist spoke with Pulizzi about the future of branded content, how he believes we’re just past the stage of early adoption, and what every brand strategist should know and expect as they commit to content.

A bonus: He clues us in to what he believes was the first-ever example of long-form branded content. (It pre-dated the 20th century.)

Can you provide an introduction to yourself and the Content Marketing Institute? What inspired you to start this company?

Joe Pulizzi

I’ve been in the content marketing industry since 2000, and started throwing around the term “content marketing” back in 2001.

While running custom media for a large business media company, I began to see the shift to owned content programs within the enterprise brands we were working with, but that so much education was needed.

In 2007, we launched what is now the Content Marketing Institute, now totally focused on education and training around the discipline of content marketing.

CMI runs the largest in-person [content marketing] event in the world called Content Marketing World and the magazine Chief Content Officer.

Personally, I’ve just published my third book, this one entitled Epic Content Marketing, which I believe is incredibly useful for either a Fortune 500 CMO or a small business owner.


How has content marketing evolved into an important business process, especially for enterprise brands?

Now that consumers are totally in control of the buying process, you are seeing enterprise brands working to adapt to that. The whole movement to get found in search, or drive online leads or create business opportunities with social media starts and ends with a content marketing strategy.

In order for any of that to work, enterprise brands have to have something meaningful to say that, in some way, links to their marketing and business objectives.

The result? We are beginning to see the evolution for marketing departments transforming into what looks like publishing departments. Coca-Cola and Kraft and two powerful examples of this.


How has content marketing evolved in the last decade? Why has it started to really take off as a trend?

10 years ago, enterprise content programs were, what I call, back of the house programs. They were seen as special projects, not critical to the business, and the staffing associated with content programs were very separated from the rest of the marketing department. That has all changed.

Our customers can ignore us completely if they wish to. We need to get and keep attention by creating valuable, compelling and consistent storytelling programs very similar to what media companies have done forever.

These people and processes are more important than ever. Why? Because our customers can ignore us completely if they wish to.

We need to get and keep attention by creating valuable, compelling and consistent storytelling programs very similar to what media companies have done forever.

One other reason…we are seeing a correction in traditional marketing. For decades, brands have over-spent on mass media, and now those funds are beginning to move back to owned media programs from paid media programs.


What are the roots and earliest forms of content marketing?

One could make the case that content marketing has been around since the dawn of the company (companies have been telling stories to get business since, forever).

John Deere gets the credit for the first notable corporate example, with their launch of The Furrow magazine back in 1895. The magazine still exists today and is the largest circulated magazine in the farming industry, delivered to 1.5 million farmers in 40 countries.


In your opinion, what is the future of content marketing? What are the trends that we should expect to see and at what organizational levels? Why are these trends important?

We are just beyond early adoption phase with the practice of content marketing, even though content marketing has been around for over 100 years.

This means we are just getting started in terms of education, staffing, integration, global content distribution, content management and more. Content marketing is just getting started. After all, most marketers were never trained as publishers, journalists and storytellers.We are starting to see more of these roles being developed on the enterprise side.

The majority of journalists in the world are being hired by enterprise brands, not by traditional media. Future CMOs will have backgrounds in publishing. The entire way we looked at the marketing, public relations and communications departments have changed.

Why are these trends important? Because it means that interruption marketing, which will always be part of the marketing toolkit, now takes a backstage part to content and storytelling strategies. Marketing in the future is about telling consistently engaging stories and become the go-to informational resources for our customers and prospects.


Do you think content marketing will become more widespread?

It already is. According to Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs research, more than 90% of all companies around the world use some form of content marketing.

The storytelling muscle in most organizations has atrophied, and we need to work out that muscle to make it strong again.

The problem is that the majority of these brands have no formal content marketing strategies. That’s the problem. We need to see the move from the tactical to the strategic.


What immediate and long-term challenges should brands expect to face? What are some possible solutions?

There will be a number of roadblocks, and that’s okay. The storytelling muscle in most organizations has atrophied, and we need to work out that muscle to make it strong again. Some solutions for today – since content is siloed in most organizations, assign a content ambassador in each of your corporate silos (pr, marketing, search, social, email) to meet on a regular basis.

Brands will immediately see a savings here through non-duplicated content programs. Second, make someone accountable for the content marketing strategy in your organization. Without accountability, you’ll see no strategic process.


What advice do you have for brands that are on the fence about content marketing?

I honestly don’t know any enterprise brands (CMI works with mostly Fortune 1000 brands) that are on the fence…it’s a decision of how critical you believe the practice to be and how many resources you want to put against it.

Some will dabble in it, others will take content marketing seriously and truly become the informational resources for their customers.

For those dabbling, I would say either do it or don’t do it. Lackluster content programs can be more detrimental than doing nothing at all. In that case, put all your marketing into paid programs and hope for the best.

But really, how do you truly build relationships with your customers and prospects in today’s world (when they really don’t want to interact with you). You need to deliver them helpful, useful and entertaining information.

Be their morning paper. Be the answer to their pain points. Is there really another way?

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