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06 . 11 . 18

Lessons from the content marketing master

Words by: Print Power
Customer magazine The Furrow has been successful for over a century thanks to John Deere’s decision to ditch the product sell and concentrate on what customers actually care about
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The power of print at a glance

  • A magazine isn’t another brochure. Great content marketing is about giving customers something that is valuable and relevant
  • A degree of distance from the product can build trust in the brand, particularly in the long term

“If you want to make a magazine you need to do things differently,” says Steven Roller, managing editor at the European arm of US tractor company John Deere, and one of the many minds behind agricultural journal The Furrow. “Yes, we’re trying to sell a product. But what we really want to do is understand our customers and let them know we support them in their business.”

It’s the kind of PR shtick that peppers the industry press, but it’s been a governing principle since the first issue of The Furrow was published way back in 1895 – long before the term ‘content marketing’ was invented.

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This isn’t some fuddy-duddy ag mag living on scraps. It’s a print product with a loyal and, frankly, massive readership – it’s distributed in more than 100 countries in 14 languages – and is an important part of the multibillion-dollar enterprise that people (but mostly farmers) actually want to hear from.

The content is mostly farming know-how and industry best practice. And over the decades, The Furrow has done a pretty decent job of establishing itself as the de facto destination for your farming fix – whether it relates to John Deere products or not.

“Our magazine goes beyond a strict connection to the product,” says Roller. In fact, it’s probably the only customer magazine without a corporate logo or brand name on the cover. Because John Deere’s intention isn’t to sell products, but sell the notion that the company knows and cares what its customers want. It’s the kind of thing you show rather than tell.


“The craft that goes into the print product shows the reader we appreciate them, says Roller. “It’s partly why we’re able to make that emotional connection. We can say to our customers ‘we’re with you’. Really, what The Furrow adds to the mix in terms of brand reputation and image is invaluable.”

That’s no overstatement. In North America alone, The Furrow has more than 550,000 readers. In a recent survey, John Deere found that 40% of readers read every word, including ads, in every issue – that’s 25 million impressions per year. Seventy percent said that the print product was their medium of choice.

When Magnetic asked a survey sample “to what extent do you trust this media brand?”, more people trusted magazine brands (70%) than they did social media (30%). And it’s that trust that makes a print product, not least a print magazine, the ideal mouthpiece for communicating those brand values.  

“Our mission statement at John Deere is that we’re committed to those linked to the land. And The Furrow plays a vital part in shaping and supporting that statement,” says Roller. “We pride ourselves on understanding what matters to our customers; their pain points, their daily business, what they need to do to improve.”