With media buyers continuing to feel like they’re co-starring in the sequel to Bird Box, now seems like a good time to embark on a three-part master class in content marketing.

Each of the next three weeks, we’re going to take a closer look at one of the best content marketing campaigns of all time. The need for great content goes far beyond 101-level SEO tactics. With a rising emphasis on owned channels, brands that create great content have a unique opportunity to separate themselves from the pack.

Part 1

Up first: a look into how a global leader in tires, Michelin, became the global authority on restaurant ratings.

First created in the year 1900 by the Michelin brothers, the Michelin restaurant guide made its debut in France as a mechanism to create demand for automobiles (and thus, tires for those automobiles as people traveled to try the top-rated restaurants). At the time, France only had about 3,000 automobiles on the road, compared to the 35,000 guides printed up by Michelin.

The guide, given away for free, grew quickly in popularity over the next decade and spread throughout Europe thanks to its simple three-star system:

1 Star: A very good restaurant in its category.
2 Stars: Excellent cooking, worth a detour.
3 Stars: Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.

During the 1950s, Michelin updated its system to include restaurants serving high-quality fare at moderate prices- reflecting the same shift in audience that its tire business would see as cars continued to become more affordable. This shift has led to staying power for what is perhaps the world’s longest-running content marketing campaign at 120 plus years.

Marketing leaders need to be more willing to think outside the box to drive value for their target audience, pivot that targeting when needed, and take more bold chances if they’re going to create truly great content that sticks. Make sure to check out next week’s post for a closer look at a different example of content marketing excellence.

Part 2

Last week, in light of the ever-changing paid media landscape, I thought it made sense to take a closer look at some of the best content marketing campaigns of all time, in hopes of inspiring our loyal marketing leaders like yourself. We dove into Michelin’s restaurant guide that became the gold standard for chefs around the world.

This week, we’re back at it with a closer look at GE and the Fortune 50 company’s content marketing campaign centered around… science fiction podcasting.

In 2015, GE launched “Podcast Theater” anchored by The Message, an eight-part series that vaulted to the top of the podcast charts. This campaign didn’t develop out of thin air. In the 1950s, GE produced “GE Theater” on TV and radio- hosted by none other than Ronald Reagan.

Each episode is approximately fifteen minutes in length, and perhaps most counterintuitive, does not feature commercial interruptions touting the latest washing machine or refrigerator. GE partnered with Panopoly, a podcast network, for distribution and influencers like Neil deGrasse Tyson to promote the show. Other podcasting efforts from the Fortune 50 company include a collaboration with Jimmy Fallon and the Decoding Genius show.

This all started when podcasts were still an extremely young platform, but GE’s marketing team saw the success of Serial with over 5 million downloads and recognized the opportunity.

The bottom line for marketing leaders: Focus on innovating and finding new ways to meet your audience where they are and engage them by providing value that, while “on brand,” isn’t directly tied to a brand advertisement.

GE’s a large company (understatement of this email) and can afford to play the long game, but regardless of the size of your organization, you can find ways to add value to your customers with great content. Maybe it’s hiring an illustrator part-time and including a custom cartoon in your newsletters, launching a podcast, or even producing live content now that events are coming back.

Marketing leaders need to take inventory of their respective industries and the opportunities presented by the continued return to “normal” from COVID. There are certainly some gaps to take advantage of that didn’t exist twelve months ago.

Keep an eye out for next week’s conclusion to this little mini-series, when we take a closer look at soap operas.

Part 3

We’ve made it to the final part of our 3 Part Content Marketing Master Class.

In the 1920s, Proctor & Gamble was already investing in content marketing via cooking shows over the radio, sponsored by Crisco. Then, in 1930, the company decided to experiment with more entertaining content. The first iteration of the soap opera was born.

A Cincinnati radio station, WLW, was receptive to new ideas and launched The Puddle Family in 1932. When The Puddle Family didn’t hold water (your inner Dad is laughing right now), P&G pivoted with Ma Perkins, a 15-minute radio show. Born in advertising agencies’ creative departments, “Soaps” weren’t unique to Proctor & Gamble, even though they led the charge. General Foods and General Mills had their own shows, but no one would go onto invest more into the format than Proctor & Gamble.

P&G Productions, which first oversaw radio-only formatting, eventually adapted to produce tv shows. At that time there were already 11 P&G-sponsored shows on the air, still running at 15 minutes each. Shows aired from 11:45 am to the late afternoon across CBS and NBC, giving Proctor & Gamble’s content unprecedented reach for its time.

In 1955, Proctor & Gamble shifted away from radio to exclusively television-based content. Bob Short, one of P&G’s leaders in Soap Opera production, would comment that “The guiding principle is to always tell a good story with identifiably believable characters.” Short and his team were renowned for siding with their writers creatively and trusting them to produce content that would resonate with P&G’s target audience.

While P&G soaps succumbed to the digital age in 2010 with the cancellation of As The World Turns, no team or organization deserves more credit for moving content as a whole forward- all while serving as one of the effective content marketing levers of all time.

Current channels may be saturated to an extent, but brands and their marketing leaders that continue to invest in content marketing innovation across new channels will have the greatest opportunity to carve out long-term niche opportunities to reach their core audiences.

Need help sorting out your content marketing strategy? Connect with us today!