Balance brand and customer needs with content marketing

Posted: May 14, 2014

Once upon a time, when horses still pulled ploughs and before cars were a figment of Karl Benz’s imagination, there was a blacksmith called John. He was an astute guy and noticed that the farmers around Illinois were having a hard time ploughing their fields.

Instead of gliding through the soil, the farmers moaned that their iron ploughs gathered sods, and every few meters they had to stop to clear the earth from their furrows. John figured that the combination of iron plough and sticky prairie soil was the problem, so he fashioned a new plough out of steel and the farmers’ woes were solved. He sNarrative content marketingold his first one in 1838. The following year he devised 10 improved versions, and 40 more the year after that. By 1857, his annual output of ploughs was 10,000. By 1868, Deere and his partners incorporated, founding Deere & Company. John Deere became one of the most successful inventors and businessmen of his time.

Fact: customers only care about themselves.

From plough to magazine

John Deere recognized that if farmers became better at farming they were more likely to be better at making money, and in turn buy more farming equipment. So the manufacturer started The Furrow, a magazine providing valuable advice, latest farming techniques and technology information to help them. Rather than a hard-selling, product-intensive catalogue, it contained intelligent articles written by journalists. Today the magazine reaches 1,5 million readers in more than 40 countries.

The Furrow magazine, the first example of content marketing

The Furrow magazine, the first example of content marketing

The Furrow is thought to be the first instance of content marketing, which by definition is a brand-owned publication telling stories its customers want to hear. The magazine’s endurance and success boils down to one simple reason. It acknowledges that readers do not care about its products. They care about themselves.

This is the fundamental principle in content marketing. It’s not about packaging product in glossy pages, it’s about giving people stories that will add value to them. The question marketers and content generators have to ask over and over again if they want their content marketing efforts to have impact is: what’s in it for the readers?

Figuring out what’s in it for the brand comes second.

Striking a balance

Of course there has to be a balance somewhere. Brand marketers need to justify their spend and see their brand in “lights”. Again I turn to The Furrow for the elegant solution. John Deere does not sully its editorial integrity by pushing products in articles. It doesn’t even feature farmer testimonials or success stories. It sticks to its principle of providing valuable, relevant and engaging articles that the farmers want. Remember, at the heart of this is the fact: customers only care about themselves.

How does it achieve a balance between brand needs and customer needs? By littering the magazine with John Deere adverts. They appear on nearly every second page! No other advertiser is allowed in – it’s all John Deere. So without pushing anything editorially, John Deere is seen to be the expert on farming. It’s seen to have integrity and to be a brand that is at the forefront of farming innovation. No wonder the company is worth more than $40 billion today.


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Robyn Daly is the content director for Narrative, a specialist content marketing media company.

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