Marketing has always, at least in part, relied on the power of storytelling. It has long been the goal of marketers to tell the story of their products and services, building positive associations with their brands in the eyes of consumers.

With content marketing, this “storytelling” has become more important than ever before. Let’s take a look at how content marketing has evolved to become what it is today: a critical component of how nearly all brands reach their target audiences.

The early years

Good Housekeeping 1910-06We can trace content marketing as a concept as far back as 1895, when companies started producing brand-related magazines containing legitimately useful and interesting information for readers. Due to obvious technological limitations, however, this practice was mainly limited to major established brands that could afford such a labor-intensive process. And subscriberswere usually wealthy individuals with disposable incomes—not exactly a large market.

A digital revolution

Nearly a century later, enter the Internet. Content marketing, as we know it today, began when the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. Online brands scrambled to recalibrate their marketing strategies with an increased focus on marketing return on investment (ROI). The early 2000s saw marketing automation and other marketing resource management methods helping brands make contact with potential customers in new ways.

This era also saw the rapid evolution of the Internet itself, along with users’ relationship to the web. As a result, the present-day customer tends to be wise to the tricks of the traditional marketing trade, and may even feel insulted by overt attempts to sell them something. Instead, they prefer to engage with brands that regularly offer them something useful.

Content marketing today

Ideally, content marketing does not feel like marketing to consumers. It could be described as playing the marketing long game. By providing potential customers with genuinely useful and interesting content, your target audience is more likely to engage with your Content-Marketing (1)brand and continue that relationship in the future. This method is contrasted by traditional advertising, which pushed for immediate consumer response.

Content marketing needs to be useful and interesting, as well as visually appealing—typically, content using images and video is more successful than purely text-based content. The most successful marketers tend to use a multichannel approach, with strategies that span across mediums, rather than only relying on video or text. You may post to your blog, engage with customers via social media and explore a wide range of other online channels to disseminate your messages.

Looking ahead

Today, 93 percent of marketers use content marketing in some form. Moving forward, it appears brands will have to continue to improve the quality of their content. They will need to tell interesting, valuable stories to stand out among their competitors. The vast majority of brands have already expanded their content marketing strategies across mediums and platforms (videos, infographics, apps and more), and demand for interactivity and creative customer engagement will keep growing.

It’s difficult to project where the world of content marketing is headed. After all, just a decade ago, few people predicted how we would come to use the Internet now in 2015. This will continue to change, and content marketers will need to constantly adjust to make sure they are doing what it takes to set themselves apart in an increasingly competitive marketplace.