Heavy equipment manufacturing titan R.G. LeTourneau was one of the original practitioners of content marketing because his newsletter, “Now,” contained advice-driven information. His approach contains some valuable lessons for modern construction companies that may be on the fence about this new approach to marketing.
Who Was R.G. LeTourneau?
R.G. LeTourneau requires no introduction in the construction industry. He founded R.G. LeTourneau, Inc. in 1929, and went on to pioneer the heaviest of heavy equipment, racking up more than 300 patents for machines including bulldozers, scrapers, cranes, jack-up drilling platforms, and more.
LeTourneau spent the first part of his career as a hands-on excavation contractor, inventing and putting his machinery to work to outperform the competition. His autobiography, “Mover of Men and Mountains,” is the basis of this article and it’s a worthwhile read for anyone looking to peek inside the mind of a genius.
What Exactly is Content Marketing?
The concept of content marketing is often met with indifference, confusion, or doubt in the construction industry. Let’s take a minute to demystify it before moving on. Content marketing is about sharing helpful information to promote your product or service by educating your audience.
This is how the Content Marketing Institute, which has emerged as the authority, defines it: “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Instead of simply telling the customer what you have to offer, you’re telling them about your offering and how they can get the most out of it. You might also be sharing your expertise about the market you serve. The common denominator is that the information is helpful, not blatantly promotional.
R.G. LeTourneau’s Unknowing Entry into Content Marketing
R.G. LeTourneau ventured into content marketing in 1935 with the creation of a newsletter called “Now.” He referred to it as a “plant paper.” LeTourneau’s intent was to discuss his views, company policy, and personal items within the plant with his 400 employees. A religious man, he also carved out space to spread the “Lord’s messages.”
Admittedly none of the items above qualify as content marketing. LeTourneau spread his knowledge twice monthly in a column, which is where the content marketing magic happened. He focused one column, for example, on the advantages of welding over nuts, bolts, and rivets. It’s no surprise that LeTourneau mentioned this example since he was the first equipment manufacturer to use welding on earthmoving equipment.
Unfortunately, no back issues of “Now” were available so we have no specifics on other topics. Considering LeTourneau was constantly engaged in improving efficiency, i.e. moving bigger loads, and inventing products to get the job done, it’s safe to say that contractors and others in the construction industry were chomping at the bit to hear his insight.
“Now” was offered as a free subscription and had reached 600,000 readers worldwide by the time he wrote his autobiography in 1960. He even acquired a printing plant to facilitate distribution.
LeTourneau, a sixth grade dropout, admitted that he was no writer. A snarky reader once wrote to him: “You would think that a man of Mr. LeTourneau’s standing would be able to hire a graduate of kindergarten to edit his column for him.” LeTourneau obviously didn’t have a marketing department, but it didn’t stop him from creating a publication of value to his customers and employees.
John Deere Had Company
John Deere is often credited for its early venture into content marketing with its branded magazine, “The Furrow,” which was first printed in 1895. Its circulation peaked at a whopping 4 million in 1912.
Comparing LeTourneau’s “Now Newsletter” to Deere’s “The Furrow” is like comparing rebar to wood stakes. The effort and budget that goes into producing a magazine far outweighs that of a newsletter. Deere’s magazine is, in fact, the first and best example of content marketing.
What’s the takeaway? When it comes to content marketing, there is no hard and fast rule on how much to invest, what vehicle to use, or how deep to venture in.
Serving Others Came Easy
LeTourneau was a devout Christian. Generosity and service to others were themes throughout his career. These are among the values that drive content marketing.
Surely selling more equipment and growing his enterprise were also part of the mission for this unapologetic capitalist. Like his fellow heavy equipment manufacturers, LeTourneau advertised his offerings. But his venture into content marketing was a recognition that he wanted to share his knowledge and add value.
The construction industry, in my experience, believes in serving others. At its very core, content marketing is about adding value and helping others. Is there anyone among us that can disagree with that?
Have you seen any other examples of content marketing from the past or present? Please share.
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