sears catalogLiterally millions of businesses are now taking advantage of social media platforms to engage in content marketing. Very few of those businesses are aware of how long this medium has been in existence. And even fewer would have their content marketing efforts described as “the most fascinating chunk of reading material on the face of the globe.”*

John Warren Sears was certainly not the first marketer to employ newspapers, magazines, or direct mail, but he has been one of the most successful. Sears was the child of frontier parents from Minnesota, and although he had attained a position as a railroad agent and took keen advantage of every business opportunity he could, he never forgot the rural lifestyle to which his family and neighbors had been accustomed.

As every business owner knows, we all have only two things to invest: time or money. For a family farmer at the turn of the 20th century, time was more plentiful than money. So the idea that you could save someone time by selling them an expensive piece of equipment was not a particularly strong selling point.

Among the many gadgets and inventions that he constantly sought for his business were expensive mechanical gasoline-powered and later electric machines to make rural life less cumbersome. But without the time-money tradeoff, Sears had no unique selling proposition. Sears fought this problem in a number of different ways.

First, he sold all of his farm implements at the lowest prices available. Unfortunately, we all know that competing on price makes you a commodity, not a service. And commodity businesses are vulnerable, because they have not earned their customers’ loyalty.

sad ironSecond, he offered no money down terms and money-back guarantees on everything he sold, so customers could buy smaller products from him like sad irons, apple parers, hoes, and rakes to gain confidence in the company. And they could buy larger products on trial. In this way, he built the customer loyalty that might have been lacking had he sold on price alone.

Third, and I would say most importantly, Sears gave his customer an abundance of information on every single one of his products. He shared information about everything from how it’s made, to what it does, to how it makes your life easier, to what you can do with it. Sears wrote product details in a blurb, an ad, a one-liner, and a booklet. He knew how to give his content legs.

He sold a gasoline engine that fitted everything from hand trucks to washing machines. And he showed you how to use it and how to modify it, with illustrations, specs, and full-page descriptions. He sold a cream separator using a pamphlet, and notified his dairy customers that “every owner of cows is requested in his own interest to read the following pages carefully.” He even issued a special report on how to paint.

sears washing machineAnd it’s no coincidence that he did this at a time when the American public was becoming better educated and therefore more literate. Public schools led to an information revolution, and Sears took advantage of his audience’s access to print information.

When people can read, they want to read. And they especially want to read about the things that they’re planning to buy. In one important respect, this is why today’s content marketing is truly different than the marketing of yesteryear. We have more sophisticated media options, and smart content marketers are using these to their advantage.

1) We can create really high quality infographics and visuals. So when you’re producing content for your business, always think about including great images. Resources like Canva can help you do that.

2) It used to be said that a picture was worth a thousand words. But today, a video is worth a million. Whether it’s once a month or even once a quarter, consider producing a video blog or tutorial for your clients.

3) We have so many different platforms on which to reach our customers. If you trace Sears’ history, you begin to see how the more it relied on just its catalogue, the more its sales and operations began to decline.

Our blog might have worked for us 10 years ago. But if we’re continuing to rely on a blog and a blog alone to broadcast our message, we might not be using our content marketing to its fullest ability. We need to look at other ways of reaching our customers including the variety of social media platforms available to us as well as direct response.

If you have a great content to share, let us know. Our team of expert transcribers is here to help you transform your voice into your vision!

**Fortune Magazine, quoted in Sears Roebuck & Co. 100th Anniversary, 1886-1986, Lorin Sorensen, St. Helena, CA: Silverado Publishing Co., 1985. p. 20.


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