One place to turn for inspiration is the history of content marketing. A favorite example comes from France – the Michelin Guide.
In the year 1900, the brothers André and Édouard Michelin were bicycle tire manufacturers with a dream – to expand into automobile tires.
But at the time, automobiles were a complete novelty. Only about 3000 cars roamed the roads in France.
What drivers knew in 1900
Drivers knew they could use cars to take the family out for a Sunday picnic.
But since people’s range had been so limited before the invention of cars, drivers had no idea where to go outside their local areas.
They didn’t know how to get there. They needed maps and a whole lot more.
What drivers didn’t know could fill a book
Naturally, drivers wondered about questions like these:
- Where to see the sights?
- Where to buy gasoline (which was only available at certain pharmacies)?
- How to change a tire or get it fixed?
- Where to find a mechanic?
- Where to stay overnight in a hotel?
Understanding the needs of their tribe – drivers – propelled the Michelin brothers to create the first Michelin Guide. As the cover proclaimed, it was a free, 400-page guidebook for drivers in France, which answered all these questions and more.
The brothers boldly printed almost 35,000 copies of the first edition, even though there were only about 3,000 cars in France. So at first, most readers were aspiring drivers, not actual drivers. By printing so many copies, the Michelin Guide helped create demand for cars – and tires.
What worked for drivers in France worked in other countries too. By 1904 the Michelin Guide had spread to neighboring Belgium, by 1907 to Algeria and Tunisia, by 1908 to the Alps and the Rhine, by 1910 to Germany, Spain and Portugal, and by 1911 to the British Isles, northern Africa, southern Italy and Corsica.
By 1920, the Guide had grown to more than 600 pages.
The first Michelin Map appeared in 1910. Michelin Maps were so good that, even decades later during World War II, the military still relied on Michelin Maps.
Can you imagine marketing without star ratings?
Expanding its franchise, in 1926, the Michelin Guide added restaurant ratings. It trained and dispatched an army of anonymous inspectors, many of whom were former chefs. At first, inspectors awarded one star to worthy establishments.
In 1931, Michelin established a rating system of one, two or three stars for restaurants, which continues today. Chefs battle furiously to earn a place in the Michelin Guide, the Bible of dining guides.
Now Michelin Guides have spread beyond Europe to certain cities in Japan and the US.
What lessons can marketers take away from the Michelin Guide?
Michelin created one of the earliest successes in the history of content marketing by getting 5 fundamental principles right:
- Understand the needs of your tribe. Drivers had questions that no one else was answering – so the Michelin Brothers found a way to fill an information void with answers. What questions are not being answered in your industry?
- Create uniquely valuable content. Michelin created not only the Michelin Guide, but also maps and atlases to serve the needs of drivers. What information needs are unmet among your tribe?
- Grow your tribe to grow your market and your sales. As people learned about new places to explore, more bought cars. As they explored new places, they wore out their tires faster – expanding the market for Michelin tires. How can you create content that helps your market grow?
- Curate memorable experiences for your tribe. By using reviews to point people to the best sights, hotels and restaurants, Michelin helped drivers have great experiences as tourists and gourmands. How can you curate better experiences for customers and users?
- Build one main platform and deliver content consistently over a long time. For 117 years, the Michelin Guide has remained true to its tribe of drivers, while building the Michelin Tire brand. What content can you create that will generate brand value for decades to come?
The Michelin Guide is proof positive of the value and power of content marketing. That’s why I always include it in my content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).
Thanks to Safesforce Canada and Ghergich & Co. for creating this infographic on the Michelin Guide. It offers two additional content marketing examples, GoPro and Red Bull.
Click To Enlarge
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.