I like this definition of content marketing by Junta42:
Content Marketing: Brands telling stories to attract and retain customers
History of Content Marketing
Content marketing is not new, its been around for hundreds of years. Brands have been telling stories for centuries. Here are some famous content marketing examples through the years.
1895: The Furrow
In 1895 John Deer launched its customer magazine “The Furrow” to help farmers understand technology in farming to improve their crops.
1900: The Michelin Guides
In the early 1900′s Michelin launched “The Michelin Guides” to help drivers maintain their cars and find lodging. Today, this guide is the ultimate authority on lodging and food establishments.
1904: Jell-O Recipe Books
In 1904 Jell-O started distributing -for free- the “Jell-O Recipe Book” contributing to more than $1 million within 2 years.
1924: Sears Radio WLS
In 1924 Sears launched the World’s Largest Store (WLS) radio station. The station helped keep farmers informed during the deflation crisis with content supplied by Sears Roebuck Agricultural foundation.
1930′s: Radio Soap Operas
In the 1930′s using the medium of radio creatively, P&G launched “Radio Soap Operas” with brands such as Duz and Oxydol and eventually coining the phrase “Soap Operas”.
1955: Book of World Records
In 1955 Guinness launched the “Guinness book of World Records” becoming a best seller that same year!
1982: JI Joe Comics
In 1982 Hasboro partnered with Marvel to launch GI Joe comics leading to a revolution in toy marketing.
1987: Brick Kicks
In 1987 Lego launched its “Brick Kicks” Magazine – Now the very successful “Lego Club Magazine“.
In 2008, and now using the medium of digital, P&G launched “BeingGirl.com“, its content site for teen girls. Market research firm Forrester found this strategy to be 4 times more effective than traditional advertising.
Brands as Storytellers in a Digital Age
Today, with the growth of the internet and the rise of a new breed of consumer, content marketing and brand storytelling is rising to prominence once again. Storytelling has become an essential mean of brand communication. Today, about 25% of marketing budgets are devoted to content marketing.
This excellent videographic from Content Marketing Institute charts the growth of content marketing from its early beginnings in the 1800s until today.