Content, content, content. Everyone's talking about content like it's a revolutionary new concept. In reality, it isn't new, but it’s becoming more and more vital to provide relevant content to your customers to keep them engaged in the digital age of hyperclutter. In fact, some very smart companies have been using content to deepen customer relationships for decades - over a century in some cases - by providing a wealth of information beyond their core product.

There’s no better example than the history of the Michelin Guide (which I admittedly didn't know) and its role as content, going back to 1900. At the turn of the century, brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin published the first Michelin Guide and distributed them at no charge in an effort to encourage car owners (of which there were less than 3,000 in France at the time) to take car trips and travel. Four years and 35,000 copies later, they published their second Michelin Guide - this one for Belgium - and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over 100 years ago, these brothers understood and delivered what so many retailers are struggling with today. They knew more travel meant more replacement tires – and that travel tips and guides would spur travel and that would result in replacement tires. Theirs is not an uncommon tale. Countless other retailers - in particular consumer packaged goods companies - have provided relevant content for years through recipes, cookbooks, websites and newsletters. Think back to your mother's kitchen – or your grandmother's kitchen. I can clearly remember a multitude of pamphlets and cookbooks and mail-in recipe booklets from Campbell’s and Betty Crocker. And while today you’re more likely to find all of that information on a website or through an app, it was - and still is - relevant content.

My favorite content partnership right now, without a doubt, is the collaboration between Tractor Supply Company and The Chicken Whisperer. Brilliant in its simplicity, The Chicken Whisperer provides videos and newsletter content, and goes on quarterly road trips to meet customers at Tractor Supply stores. His information is relevant and of great interest to Tractor Supply customers, driving them to the websites and the stores, without Tractor Supply having to develop any of the content themselves.

So, what can we learn about smart content from Michelin so many years ago and from the Chicken Whisperer today?

The key to providing relevant content for your customers is to understand how your product or service fits into their everyday life. How do they use your product/service? What life events or activities are related? Understanding customers this way allows you to turn content into value-added relationship drivers. It doesn’t require you to become an expert in a multitude of content areas; instead you can leverage others' expertise through partnerships and bloggers. But it does require understanding your customers and the types of content they’ll find valuable. Who does your brand currently partner with? How can you incorporate content delivery into that partnership strategy? Content is essential in relationship marketing and providing value in the form of information – something we feel strongly about here at rDialogue, seeing as our name itself is borne out of “Relevant Dialogue”.

At the end of the day, while content isn't new, it IS becoming a more and more important part of customer engagement and retention. It’s easy for any company to start leveraging content marketing, one article, blog or travel guide at a time, slowly determining what your customers need to know to have a reason to use your product or engage with your brand. Whether that reason is tending to your chicken coop a la the Chicken Whisperer or eating chicken at a Michelin Guide-rated restaurant, it’s testing how the age-old strategy of content marketing can engage your customers today.

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