The concept of content marketing as an effective yet subtle tool of brand promotion actually began in the late 19th century (or perhaps even earlier if you take a look at the Great Moon Hoax of 1835, as published by The New York Sun) alongside the growth in technology, and the desire for companies to forge stronger connections with their customers.

Back before JAZ even began, the age-old notion of ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’ was one that predominantly rang true, as the marketing of a product or brand largely revolved around the visuals. Of course, content still assumed a place at the table; yet back in the early days the brush was perceived mightier than the pen, with bold graphics and type paving the way for user engagement.

Yet before content was truly recognised as ‘king’ and developed into a strategy of its own, there had to be an opportunity for marketers to seize: one that procured both an organic relationship and reach. As such, the pioneers of content marketing promoted a new idea. You could not only advertise to customers more easily, but also strengthen your relationship with them by focusing on their interests and needs, rather than pushing product purchases. Marketing as we know it, has always been about storytelling. Dating back to the dawn of time when cave drawings conveyed messages using symbols and art (the modern-day infographic?) to smoke signals and messages in bottles, the value of communication has always been unparalleled. Instead, it is the way we’ve learnt to communicate over time that has enabled us to grow alongside our digital landscape.

In essence, content marketing involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as social media, blog posts, videos and more) to incite interest, curiosity, and genuine engagement with a product or service – rather than overtly promoting a business. Supplementary to the art of storytelling, content marketing has come into its own in recent years, as marketers have begun paying more attention to the words and meaning behind the messages they put out. The social media boom of the early 2000’s saw digital platforms like WordPress, LinkedIn and Youtube emerge as front-runners, which are now harnessed in nearly every industry imaginable. With the creation of these new networks, people were able to tap into an entirely new way to connect, communicate, and share with each other across distances. The art of content marketing is thus less about producing content for content’s sake, but rather finding the right outlet through which to really let your brand shine. And with our smartphones only ever within arms reach, the opportunities to create valuable content with the click of a button or the swipe of a finger are endless.

It is important to note that good content and great visuals go hand-in-hand: take Instagram, for example – a social network that combines elements of traditional blogging with photos and video to produce a ‘visual diary’ of sorts. Without the combination of a killer caption and some strategic ‘#hashtags’ to boot, the pictures themselves wouldn’t be nearly as effective in telling your story.

Alongside JAZ’s own transition from a marketing agency focused on visual communication, our experiences with content marketing developed as new trends emerged and we jumped at the chances to ride new waves. Over the course of the past decade in particular, what we’ve really reflected upon is the importance of understanding the ideas and events that define our history as marketers: the major turning points marked by influential brands (both locally and globally), explosive campaigns, popular trends, inventions, innovators, movements, and historical events. By being conscious observers and willing risk-takers, we’ve been able to broaden our service offerings and continually develop our skills. 25 years ago, for example, the concept of blogging was virtually unheard of. Sure, people published journals and recorded their ideas, but the turning of this basic concept into an income stream and valuable resource (valuable to both the businesses creating the content, as well as to the audiences receiving it) changed the way we put forth our ideas online. Thus at its simplest, blogging perpetuates the telling of a story, and the need for audience to listen. Purveyors of the Internet now revel in the blogosphere, and even we are producing up to 10 blogs each week!

The rise of content marketing perhaps owes itself to the tremendous growth in social media sites and blog platforms (the original seed for content marketing), as well as the capabilities of our digital landscape that allows them to be spread, shared, and linked together. This has led to an environment where brands can reach the maximum number of people without sacrificing the intimacy of one-on-one communication. Content marketing is equally as effective as it is clever, and while we can only speculate about what its future may look in the next decade or two, what we can attest is that as long as there is content to be created, and an audience for whom it can be shared, this is one tool that’s here to stay.