A brief history of data and content marketing, plus where they are headed

Data is everywhere. It’s in the cloud, it’s in your fitness app, it’s in your business, and it’s not going away anytime soon. IBM claims that we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day (in the U.S. a quintillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000—or 1 followed by 18 zeros) and that 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years.

Similarly, content is everywhere. It’s on the cloud, it’s on your smartwatch, it’s on your brand’s blog, and it’s only getting bigger and better. Just look at how much we consume. Specifically, every minute:

  • BuzzFeed users view 159,380 pieces of content
  • Snapchat users watch 6,944,444 videos
  • Twitter users post 9,678 emoji-filled tweets
  • YouTube users share 400 hours of new video

We’re producing an extraordinary amount of data and content every minute of every day with no signs of slowing down. But maybe, just for a few seconds, we should pause to look back at how we started creating so much data and content. And the best way to do this is to dive into a brief history of data and content marketing. Once we better understand how data and content have evolved into the world of data and content marketing in which we live, we can determine how to combine the two most effectively. So let’s dig in.

A brief history of data and content marketing

It’s hard to narrow down the “highlights” of history in one blog post. In fact, it was hard for acclaimed author Bernard Marr to do so in his book, Big Data: Using SMART Big Data, Analytics and Metrics To Make Better Decisions and Improve Performance. But after reading it, we’ve tried to narrow down how humans have developed data over the millennia, starting with the ancients.

Data in ancient times

As Bernard Marr explained in Big Data, the first signs of data analysis date back to ancient times when humans created notches in bones and sticks to keep track of supplies in the age of hunting and gathering. A few millennia later, in C 2400 BC, the abacus was invented, along with libraries. Between 300 BC–48 AD, the Library of Alexandria became the largest collection of data in the world. Around this time, the Greeks experimented with ancient computers. The Antikythera Mechanism is the earliest recovered mechanical computer, consisting of 30 interlocking bronze gears. It is thought to have been designed to predict astrological events and the cycle of the Olympic Games.

Data and content in the Age of Enlightenment and 19th century

We’re skipping ahead, but it isn’t until the Scientific Revolution (1500s–1600s) and the Age of Enlightenment (1700s–1800s) that we see the next big development in data worth noting: the study of statistics. A demographer named John Graunt carries out the first recorded experiment in statistical data analysis by recording information about mortality in 1663.

In 1865, the term “business intelligence” is used for the first time to describe how a banker achieved an advantage over his competitors by collecting and analyzing information relevant to his business. Fifteen years later, the U.S. Census Bureau develops an automated method to crunch 10 years’ worth of compiled data in only three months.

Some of the earliest content marketing efforts were also seen during the Age of Enlightenment. For instance, American founding father Benjamin Franklin publishes the yearly Poor Richard’s Almanack to promote his printing business. In the later half of the 19th century, large brands begin to develop this practice: Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company debuts The Locomotive, which is now said to be the oldest company magazine continuously published under the same name in the United States; Johnson & Johnson launches a publication called Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment created for doctors’ needs; and—one of our personal favorites that we like to drop in conversation—John Deere launches a branded publication called The Furrow for farmers.

For a more comprehensive list, look here.

Data in the 20th century and early 21st century

Developments in the early 20th century led to greater ways of storing massive amounts of data. A German-Austrian scientist invents a way to store information magnetically on tape. In the middle of the century, governments and academic institutions begin to invest in data storage by building data centers and a relational database to store information in a hierarchical format, which can be accessed by anyone who knows what they are looking for.

It isn’t until the mid-1970s that businesses invest in computers for mainstream commercial use to speed up everyday processes. Toward the end of the 1980s, the concept of business intelligence sees a surge in popularity thanks to the practical uses and innovations for the computer.

With the rise of the Internet in the 1990s, scholars publish papers that theorize digital storage is not only more cost effective but is the future of how we would consume media, do business, and communicate. In the 2000s, the birth of Web 2.0 allows for more data storage than ever—companies are now storing more than 200 terabytes of data, according to the report “Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity” by McKinsey Global Institute. Meanwhile, consumers and businesses turn to mobile machines—smartphones, tablets, etc.—to access digital data more than home or office computers.

In the 2010s, scholars expect that our society is unprepared to adapt to the demands of big data. Not only is there a predicted shortage of data scientists, but our laws, privacy security, and technology are not advanced enough to unlock the full potential of big data.

Content in the 20th century and early 21st century

In the early 20th century, brands develop content for their customers, experimenting with different mediums and packaging. The Jell-O company distributes free copies of its cookbook and Procter & Gamble produces radio content in partnership with brands like Oxydol, thus creating the first soap opera.

In the mid to late part of the century, brands like LEGO and Weight Watchers dive into print to launch magazines for their customers. Brands also use their merchandising properties to jump into content. Most notably, Marvel and Hasbro team up in 1982 to create a comic book and TV series based on the action figure hero G.I. Joe.

In the early 2000s, brands and marketers turn to the internet to distribute free content. First, marketing guru Seth Godin is credited with establishing a new popular medium: e-books. The first free e-book Unleashing the Ideavirus launches; it has since been downloaded over one million times. Thanks to the rise of blogging platforms in the early 2000s, blogs are more popular than ever; in 2004, Merriam-Webster Dictionary declares “blog” as the word of the year and the word “podcast” also catches on to describe the boom of audio downloads to mobile and desktop devices.

One year after the creation of YouTube, the brand Blendtec uploads their first video series, “Will It Blend?”, to YouTube—marking one of the first times brands experimented with the platform. During Web 2.0, brands also begin to create and distribute mini-branded digital publications. American Express uses the website Open Forum to become a hub for small-business owners, and L’Oreal uses makeup.com as a content platform.

By 2010, the Content Marketing Institute launches and establishes itself as a leader in the nascent content marketing industry. In the 2010s, brands begin to devote portions of their marketing budgets to the strategy, creation, and distribution of content. Soon, brands devote big budgets to their content marketing, notably by producing and distributing films for their properties: LEGO launches The LEGO Movie in 2014 and Angry Birds releases The Angry Birds Movie in 2016.

By 2016, approximately 88 percent of all brands use content marketing and spend approximately one-third of their marketing budget on content.

The present and future of data and content marketing

In the present day, data and content have converged to create something called data-driven content marketing, which combines the practices of data “business intelligence” with content marketing. Essentially, marketers use data to guide their content marketing strategies and decisions. Through third-party analytics and access to other useful tools, content marketers can collect and harvest data and then use it to inform their marketing decisions. A recent study by the Content Marketing Association found that 92 percent of its members actively leverage customer data to bolster their content marketing efforts and 83 percent expect to use data more in the next year.

As Jim Barksdale, the former CEO of Netscape quipped, “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” And as Quietly CEO, Dario Meli, says “Without data, you’re either lucky or you’re wrong.”

We believe the future of content marketing lies in data-driven content marketing. It’s what we’ve centered our services around and it’s why our clients demonstrate such positive results. We use quantitative research to pinpoint observations, craft insights around them, and create actionable steps to enhance your content marketing efforts through our own framework.

Understanding the history of data and content has enabled us to evolve at the forefront of data-driven content marketing—and we would love to apply our knowledge and experience to your business. Get in touch today to learn more about how data and content marketing complement one another.

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