Although we think content marketing is brand new, telling stories to attract, convert and keep customers is actually one of the oldest marketing disciplines. The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) dates content marketing back to 1732 when Benjamin Franklin published his first almanac.
But is there an even earlier example of content marketing? Was Benjamin Franklin the first to produce a publication to promote his business? Franklin spent 2 years in England at the beginning of his career learning the print trade in London’s printing houses. Could there be an earlier example of content marketing in England in the 1700s? When was content marketing first used in England? These were the questions I was asking as I set off on my quest to find the earliest example of British content marketing.
The Earliest Example of Content Marketing
Benjamin Franklin is documented as the earliest example of content marketing with his ‘Poor Richard’s Almanack'. The almanac contained interesting information aimed at common people who couldn’t afford books, like weather predictions, poems, recipes, proverbs, advice and trivia. The almanac was published annually for 25 years and became literature for the masses, but it started out as a way for Franklin to promote his printing house. Note that the content was aimed at the needs of the reader – printed literature that a poor man could afford, that was interesting useful, informative, entertaining. Even at this first attempt the 3 principles of content marketing were naturally achieved: inform, educate, entertain. The content in the almanac had nothing to do with printing, publishing or the print industry, it wasn’t about the business that is was simultaneously promoting.
First British Example of Content Marketing
Lloyd's List has been providing weekly shipping news since 1734 and is one of the world's oldest continuously running journals. Which, although impressive doesn’t make it content marketing, it just makes it news. But it is the origins of Lloyd's List that interests me. Lloyd’s List started life as a reliable and concise source of shipping information for clients at Lloyd's Coffee House in London.
Could a London Coffee House be home to the the earliest documented form of content marketing?
In the 17th Century each coffee house attracted a certain branch of society, Lloyd's Coffee House was popular with Merchants' Agents and Insurance Underwriters who would meet regularly at Lloyd's to negotiate insurance coverage for trading vessels. One of the reasons's the coffee house attracted such clientele was that Edward Lloyd, the proprietor had become known as a source of shipping and maritime news. In 1697 Lloyd began publishing a weekly newsletter; Lloyd's News was published 3 times a week, and read aloud at the coffee house.
Subsequent owners of the coffee house after Lloyd's death in 1713 continued to specialise in providing their customers with accurate shipping information and updates on the marine insurance market. It was Lloyd's daughter's sister-in-law's husband who began publishing Lloyd's List as a weekly shipping intelligence publication for his customers.
The World’s First Content Marketing
There is some dispute over whether Lloyds List is the oldest or second-oldest continuously published newspaper in the world,but like I said, I am more interested in Lloyd's News. From my research I believe Lloyd's News could be the original, earliest form of content marketing in England. Perhaps even the world.
I think it's fascinating how Lloyd's List has evolved into a news service, the original premises of Lloyd's Coffee House became the home of Lloyds - the place to get marine insurance and Lloyd's Registry was created by the coffee shop customers. This history seems to be well documented. But it is the Lloyd's News which grabs my attention as possibly the earliest documented form of content marketing as we know it today. In the 17th Century each coffee house had it's own specialism and attracted a certain branch of society, so perhaps more coffee houses were employing similar methods in their clientele's areas of interest to keep them coming back. This idea of creating a knowledge hub is something we see more with online content marketing and membership sites isn't new at all, it's been around since at least the 1600s in the form of coffee houses!
Interestingly Lloyd’s List continues to fulfil a similar purpose to provide all information and knowledge relevant to the shipping industry. Adapting to market needs, with only 2% of print readership, the content is now only published in digital format and has its own App listed in the Apple iTunes store.
And although Lloyd’s List is no longer a coffee house journal people are undoubtedly discussing the news in Lloyds List over coffee, all over the world