There is always some shiny new marketing idea, media or strategy being presented as the next big thing. I admit I’m easily distracted by cool, new techno-wizardry or the latest marketing fad and at times am overwhelmed by sheer choice. But experience has taught me there is truly nothing new under the sun. When faced with countless choices of apps, software, tools, fads and experts, there is an easy way to take the mystery out of new marketing ideas and instantly figure out if it’s of any use. I’ll share that in a moment.

First, a quick story on one of these hot ‘new’ marketing topics illustrates how what’s old is new again.  The new guise I’m talking about is “content marketing.” According to Wikipedia, content marketing refers to the “creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers.” To this end the content marketer delivers “consistent, valuable magnetic marketinginformation” to the prospective and current customer through a wide variety of media.

I’ll wager that you immediately think ‘online’ when you hear ‘content marketing.’ Even Wikipedia mentions the use of “news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos,” and more, most of which are delivered digitally. Yet often in cases like this the only thing that’s new is the media (how it’s delivered.) The underlying concept is, you’ll see, as old as the hills.

It’s interesting that the evolution of printing technology itself—better and faster ways of putting ink on paper—gave rise to the original content marketing in print. Here are some classic examples.

Jell-O® began distributing free cookbooks, recipe pamphlets and samples door-to-door in 1904 in an effort to lift sluggish sales. Of course these included dessert recipes that promoted their product. Orator Woodward, the owner, originally purchased the rights to Jell-O® for $450 a few years prior. Frustration with slow sales prompted him to offer the product rights to the plant superintendent for $35 when he decided to try this no-name method of marketing. By 1906 they were doing $1 million annually, or about $25 million in today’s dollars, thanks to content marketing in its printed form. (No, he did not sell the rights!)

Going further back to 1895, John Deere started its own magazine called The Furrow. It delivered tips to farmers on how to make more money and be more productive. The company celebrated 175 years in 2012 and does about $33 billion annually. It still publishes The Furrow, sending it to a list of 1.5 million readers in 40 countries.

Another famous example is the Michelin Guide. It was originally a free travel tip guide for automotive travelers which began distribution in 1900. The idea was to boost demand for cars, car travel, and subsequently tires. Then there’s Buyer’s Guide Place started by a photography/electronics store named Magnolia in 1954. Their goal was to teach prospective customers how to buy electronic items wisely. Magnolia later sold out to Best Buy for $87 million.

That’s the ongoing power of content marketing. Provide something of value to prospective clients on a regular basis. They get to know you, trust you, and understand what you have to offer. If you’re talking to the right prospects, when the time is right, they’ll buy something from you.

It’s not complicated. It’s definitely not new. It’s simply a marketing strategy that gets a new name every few years.

Business author Dan Kennedy called it magnetic marketing…more than 20 years ago. Another name for it is inbound marketing. (That’s hot now too.) The gist is that you are attracting customers to you rather than promoting through advertising and other ‘outbound’ methods.

Don’t get me wrong. There is no single right or wrong way to promote a business. My point is that if you ignore content marketing, especially in print, you are losing significant business.

So what’s my secret to taking the mystery out of countless marketing ideas and fads?

I always think about my ideal customer. Will he or she be attracted to the offering? Will it draw them to our company? Does it engage them? Then regarding that shiny new marketing object I simply ask, “Will this help me accomplish any of that?”

Related Article: THE Most Important Marketing Question for Your Business

When I first started reading about the content marketing sensation, I laughed because I have been doing it for years and getting great results. I didn’t even have to ask my shiny object question. Our primary media for delivering content is the printed newsletter along with an enewsletter. Second to that we use every other media mentioned in the definition above, and more.

It’s proven to work in any business. Just look at our industry examples above. We have tires, food, farm equipment, electronics and printing. It’s not a fad and it can be productive for decades at a time.

Remember too that your reader will find value in a wide variety of content. Yes, we deliver industry-specific content in order to help our readers. Yet we know that they also value a good laugh, a bit of light distraction and personal development tips as much or more than the industry content itself.

So be sure to reach out on a regular basis, in as many ways as you can. Content marketing, especially in print, instantly sets you apart from your competitors. Make it a part of your marketing plan for attracting your ideal customer.

For more specific ideas on attracting the customers you want, subscribe to our Free weekly enewsletter, the Small Business Rainmaker.

As always, we welcome your comments, suggestions and experiences below. Have you tried content marketing? What works for you?

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Andre Palko Owner
Andre Palko is founder of the Small Business Rainmaker™ and its free weekly e-newsletter. He is dedicated to delivering award-winning marketing and content that helps business owners thrive in any economy.