The Michelin Guide 1900: Best content marketing ever?

Looking for one of the best examples of content marketing? Try looking back 100 or so years.

One of the greatest and most successful pieces of content marketing was developed and launched back in 1900 by tyre manufacturers Andre and Edouard Michelin.

It’s been said (we may even have let it slip ourselves) that content marketing was the big buzzword of 2013. But the reality is that content marketing has been around for a very long time.

In fact, one of the greatest and most successful pieces of content marketing was developed and launched back in 1900, when tyre manufacturers Andre and Edouard Michelin were stuck with a big problem.

At the time, there were an inconceivable 3,000 cars in France and the only way the Michelin brothers could sell more of their tyres was if the number of cars on the road increased. The two were inextricably linked.

How do you sell more tyres when there are only 3,000 cars on the road? You make more people want to drive.

Their growth strategy was stuck – no point advertising tyres if no one had a car to put them on, so they had to think laterally and devise a way to increase the demand for cars (and tyres).

And so the greatest piece of content marketing, the Michelin guide, was born.

The idea was simple: create a guide for French motorists that includes the best hotels and restaurants to encourage more people to travel the country – increasing the demand for cars.

From the first 35,000 copies that were printed for the first edition, the Michelin guide continued to grow. First, they expanded the guide into new countries (learning from the successes and failures over 7 years from the French version).

Then they started charging for the guide and increasing its usefulness by listing restaurants and hotels in categories and chucking out all that nasty advertising.

And then, most famously, they started starring restaurants (3 stars, interestingly, is officially ‘exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey’).

100 years later the guide is published in 14 editions, covering 23 countries and ever-expanding (with various innovations such as the Michelin Green Guide) and owns the most famous restaurant rating system in the world.

All from a tyre company whose brand is now mentioned every day, across the world because of it. Now that’s content marketing.

Citroen Traction Avant
Citroen Traction Avant

So what can we learn from Andre and Edouard?

Think laterally

You may find the best way to increase the demand for your products or services is by increasing demand for a ‘linked’ product, or even by putting your efforts into promoting your industry as a whole. Don’t go constraining yourself.

Make your content useful

As Michelin proved quite successfully your content doesn’t have to be specifically about what you are selling, as long as it is relevant and useful to your audience your brand will stay positively front of mind.

Start small, think big

Michelin guide started as just one book. Not a book, an animation, an eBook, an infographic, and a webinar (apart from the fact they didn’t exist). Just one book. It was 7 years before they expanded into new countries. Your content should be part of a long-term programme that grows and grows.

Don’t try to boil the ocean

More content isn’t always better for your marketing. One piece, like the guide, can have a life of its own and grow to evolve into a piece of marketing that will last longer than any ad you produce.

Stop banging on about content marketing

Andre and Edouard probably didn’t even know what content marketing was. They probably didn’t care to be honest. What they did care about, as every marketer out there should, is about the solution and not the channel. Remember that, and this could be your year.