The car was a modern invention in early 20th century Paris. Fewer than three thousand cars roamed the city streets, but hopes were high for the future of the automobile industry. Two brothers shared those hopes, had a vision and founded a tyre company. They faced a challenge, however: how could they encourage more families to take their car for a drive? This is the story of how they succeeded.
André and Édouard Michelin did something that made competitors scratch their heads. They published a small red book: The Michelin Guide or Le guide rouge de Michelin in 1900.
The tiny red book was packed with necessary information for hungry explorers. It included tips on how to change your tyre and where to re-fuel your car. At the end of the book, you could find lists of places to eat and suggestions for hotels.
The Michelin Guide is one of the earliest and best examples of content marketing. The company ties the content to the target group’s needs as well as their own business goals. But the Michelin Guide hasn’t always looked the way it does today, and its development can teach us many valuable marketing lessons.
From free guide to premium product
In the beginning, the Michelin Guide was distributed for free. It was a clever tactic to gain exposure, but the book got misused. One of the brothers discovered that some car workshops piled the guides on top of each other and used them as workbenches.
So in 1920, they began to charge money for the book. The first copy cost seven francs – a small, yet significant amount. The Michelin brothers also removed all paid advertising. The content needed to provide the highest possible value for the audience. They should want to pay for it.
A new star is born
As the years went by, the Michelin brothers listened carefully to the audience. They learned that the restaurant section was the most popular among travellers. In 1926, they decided to hire anonymous restaurant inspectors who would rank the food and the service.
There was only one star at the beginning. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the three stars were introduced to award the most exceptional restaurants in the world. To receive a star in the Michelin Guide was like winning a Nobel Prize.
Great food can make tyres roll
The Michelin Guide is an international bestseller, with more than 30 million copies sold since it was first published. The small red book has encouraged many families to go for a ride and explore new places. And it continues to inspire people to try out unforgettable food experiences all over the world. The main lesson for marketers is to find the sweet spot between what you offer and what the audience needs.