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The content marketing evolution: a brief history (featuring Barbie)

August 17, 2023

The Barbie movie is a prime example of how powerful creative content marketing is for brands – and it’s still evolving

The Barbie movie, a fantasy-comedy directed by Greta Gerwig of Ladybird and Little Women fame, is predicted to be the highest grossing film of the summer – and maybe 2023 – after debuting to a whopping $155 million. And everyone is talking about it (still) – what they thought of it, its feminist narrative, America Ferrera’s outstanding monologue, the controversial AI apps – and Ryan Gosling’s ‘Kenergy’. And then there’s the soundtrack. Whether you like it or not, it’s clever content marketing for Mattel.

Today, we are bombarded with content in a multitude of formats. For mobile, these include videos, podcasts, and long-form Instagram captions, all of which provide brands with a world of opportunity. Done right, digital content marketing can offer audiences something new, educational, or aspirational without the hard sell.

Howard Gossage’s comment about content always sticks in my head: “People don’t read ads. They read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.” My view is that if the content is interesting, people will make the time to consume it, however busy they are. If you couldn’t give a fig about Barbie, you probably won’t watch the movie.

Ultimately, for marketers, the true key lies in knowing that content needs to be interesting and really knowing the audience it needs to appeal to. That’s why a content marketing strategy is so important.

What is content marketing?

According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI): “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

It wouldn’t be overstating it to say that content must be part of every organisation’s marketing plan to be relevant today. Indeed, the CMI reveals that, for 71% of business-to-business (B2B) marketers, content marketing has become more important in the last year. A huge 89% of B2B content marketers use short articles and posts – the most-used type of content – followed by video (75%).

How did content marketing start?

John Deere’s magazine for farmers, The Furrow, was launched in 1895. It is most likely one of the oldest examples of content marketing. The magazine is still published today.

In 1900, the Michelin brothers wanted to motivate people to hit the road (so they could sell more tyres), so they created a guide, originally providing information for travellers and then reviewing restaurants (the famed Michelin Guide). It tapped into their Parisian market and its interest in food. They knew the importance of giving their audience the content they wanted to read: not only compelling content but useful and targeted. As a result of the Michelin Guide, they built a remarkable brand identity.

These are just two examples in the history of content marketing. See more in Joe Pulizzi’s infographic – it provides a timeline, including Proctor & Gamble and The LEGO Movie in 2014.

Fast-forward to today and the evolution of content marketing to digital means the way we consume our content has shifted, from pamphlets and magazines to mobiles and devices. According to Statista, there are 6.8 billion smartphone users worldwide in 2023 – with the global population at around 8 billion – and in the US, 70% of the total digital media time spent is on smartphones. We are using our devices to read, listen to, engage with, and watch content.

Content formats have upscaled; video is now a firm focus when setting marketing budgets. According to HubSpot, 91% of businesses use video as a marketing tool and 96% of marketers see it as an important part of their marketing strategy. Meanwhile, The State of Content Marketing reports that Instagram is used by 65% of social media marketers and 50% of millennials trust product recommendations from influencers.

Furthermore, new research shows how video consumption is changing: the amount of global digital video viewers is predicted to reach 3.5 billion in 2023, on average people watch 17 hours of online videos a week, and 75% of viewers watch short-form videos on their mobile devices.

Why should brands pay attention to their digital content strategy?

These reports speak volumes. Having a solid, creative content marketing strategy is vital in the modern world. Audiences demand the best content – designed for mobile and in formats that are easy for them. For brands, competition is fierce to be the next great publisher.

Having a high-powered digital content marketing plan positions a brand as a thought leader – and one that has taken the time to learn about their customers’ needs and challenges, not just talk about themselves. Content builds communities, and organisations that consistently create and publish authentic, original digital content will grow these communities.

In my opinion, the businesses and brands that produce inspired, high-quality content (while embracing new formats) in their marketing strategy will pave the way. There is a transformation underway in the types of digital content we are seeking, and how we access it, and that is why all content marketing strategies must be dynamic. The question is, how can we serve our audience/s and make our digital content memorable?

The main thing to remember is this: always know your audience and what makes them tick. After all, people consume what interests them – so make sure you’ve done your homework on what sparks them.

But, honestly, I’m excited to see how content marketing will evolve in the future. Whether that comes in the form of a precious print-format farming magazine, the Michelin Guide website, or Barbie’s candyfloss-pink world on the big screen.

Interested to know more? Find out about FINN Partners’ content marketing services.

TAGS: Technology

POSTED BY: Rachel Everett