Today, we understand content marketing as a form of marketing that focuses on creating, publishing, and distributing content for a targeted audience online. Businesses are increasingly willing to use it to attract attention and generate leads, to increase brand awareness, and to engage an online community of users in hope of making them desire the product. If the company relies on anticipating and meeting an existing customer’s need for information, rather than creating demand for a new need, it can create a successful content marketing campaign. Once a business has identified the client’s need, the information can be presented in a variety of digital formats. Many of the world’s leading companies owe their marketing success to the idea of content marketing and, of course, well designed and deliberated campaigns.
Nowadays, brands which succeed in content marketing use a high range of different methods. Sometimes they launch a video accompanied by some nice music track or cover the subject that potential customers will follow, while another time it’s a meme which goes viral: there are no rules. Yet, was it possible to run a successful content marketing campaign over a hundred years ago? Let’s travel through time to find an answer!
It was 1889 when a cyclist arrived at a rubber factory in Clermont-Ferrand, in France, with a damaged tire. This caught the interest of the two brothers – Edouard and Andre Michelin – who ran a company, as the tire was pneumatic and, back then, this was a still a novelty. Changing such a tire was a challenge, as it was glued directly to the rim of the wheel, so removing and repairing it took hours and, even then, it had to be left overnight to dry. Such drudgery! To make life simpler and easier, Edouard and Andre decided to make something better. Two years after the cyclist’s visit in the factory, they were awarded a patent for the world’s first removable pneumatic tire. Having a patent, as well as a great product by itself, made them knew that it was a perfect product for the motor car. It is here that we get to the point where the story changes from one of technological ingenuity to one of content marketing genius.
In 1900, only 3000 cars were riding the French roads, so the desire and need for Michelin tires were rather small. The brothers had a hard nut to crack regarding promoting the product and making people need it. They were looking for the answer on how to broaden the use of tires and cars generally, and how to encourage the French nation to discover the joy of the open road – having that knowledge would increase vehicle sales and the demand for tires in the future. Edouard and Andre decided not to spread the news about the new product in newspapers. Instead, they launched a guide: the first edition contained maps, restaurants, locations of garages and some useful tips about how to change a tire. The Michelin guide wasn’t a success from the beginning, but the brothers pivoted and adjusted their approach, finally encouraging the French nation to travel across the country, driving their cars. The guide included sections that were interesting for its users, so that they were eager to make a good use of it – by traveling, of course.
The guide was available for free until 1920, when it turned out that many different publishing companies were copying the brilliant idea, so the Michelin guide became a premium and original product offered at a price – following the rule that “man only truly respects what he pays for.” Its creators decided to remove all the ads present in the previous versions of the guide and focus on what people truly desire: good food and restaurants.
Michelin was analyzing and trying to get to know as much about their customers as possible. Due to repeated information, they decided to focus on the most discerning customers, whose aim was to find the best place to sample the most miraculous tastes in the whole country. Meeting the customers’ needs was the main priority for the Michelin brothers, so they hired a team of undercover inspectors to visit restaurants featured in the guide and to award stars to the very best of them. Today, gaining or losing a Michelin star may make a restaurant sink or swim – in many cases, it is the pivotal “to be or not to be” factor for any dining establishment. To be awarded three stars is to receive the Nobel Prize of the restaurant world.
People who are responsible for these stars are inspectors with probably the best tastes in the world. They are traveling all over the globe, searching for the best places to eat. Their work is incredibly secretive; they are not allowed to tell their family members and friends where and when are they working. Inspectors also can’t talk to journalists. However, seven out of eight inspectors are tweeting and revealing little tidbits about the restaurant they visit – it is also a marketing tactic designed to appeal to a wider audience and generate excitement about the guides, which it surely does.
The thing that led the Michelin brothers to victory was the awareness of who their potential customers are – the few very wealthy people in France who could afford a car. Then, they analyzed how their customers like to spend their time, and that is why they decided not to highlight sections such as manuals how to change tires or garages’ locations. The part that they’ve chosen to focus on was a restaurant guide, which is now a world-famous determinant of the best restaurants on the globe.
They were innovative for many reasons because, not only did they start a company that produces premium tires, but also had a vision to think big. Their campaign wasn’t cut-and-dried as it might have been had it followed the typical campaigns placed (and forgotten) in the newspapers. Today, thanks to the Michelin brothers, everyone knows how prestigious it is to be awarded a Michelin star (and what it means for a restaurant). Furthermore, everyone knows that Michelin tires are one of the best in the world and drivers honestly trust this brand.
The answer is clear – of course, it was possible to run a successful content marketing campaign over a hundred years ago. The thing that mattered the most was having a brilliant idea and presenting it in an exceptional way.
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