Why Marketers Must Be Teachers in the Era of Self-Education

May 26, 2015 Braveen Kumar

Educational Content

There are two things you can be sure people look for on the Internet every day: Knowledge and Entertainment.

As marketers invested in content, or in inbound marketing in general, part of our focus is to become those things with what we publish and put out there on the web.

Joe Pulizzi puts it well:

“The more we educate them or entertain them, the more they don’t mind being sold to.”

And while entertainment gets an audience going, it's not  going to be what gets the buy-in for, say, a software subscription. Teaching is where the real potential for content marketing lies: in-depth, useful, consistent knowledge passed on from your brand to your audience about your industry and your product.

But content marketing isn’t a new idea. What IS new is the Internet, which makes independent learning and research more accessible than ever. And when 94% of B2B buyers conduct their own independent research before purchasing anything, content is now your first point of contact.  

It’s not only easy to educate ourselves—it’s free.

Your potential customers are looking to learn about your industry and your product, which gives you a chance to teach them through content.

That means, as content marketers, we need to be capable of passing on knowledge to our audiences—not unlike teachers.

The Marketer is the teacher; Content is the class

Your content is where your audience goes to learn. You, as the author, are the teacher standing at the front.  Your blog or resource center is the "classroom"; an engaging environment that should make learning and consuming information easy. 

When it comes to teaching through content, specific formats make more suitable "classes" than others. 

A blog post is like a lecture where you share insights, actionable tips and stories.

A video webinar is like a smaller, more intimate seminar where audiences can directly participate.

An infographic is a crash course, delivering information fast and providing a resource that’s worth sharing or saving.

From there you can choose your teaching aids:

●Examples

●Stories

●Graphs

●Images

●Mnemonic devices

●Anything at your disposal

And here's where the difference between good and great content comes into play: there are tons of teachers in the world, but not all of them know how to "make it stick".

It’s a competitive world of content out there; you need to strive to be better in some way. Sometimes that means publishing novel information or research; other times it just means communicating knowledge in a more engaging manner. 

The best "brand" is being a good teacher

Good teachers, the ones who do more than regurgitate readings from a textbook, are the ones who know how to create impassioned audiences around a desire to learn. They take material in a curriculum and find a way to connect the content to their audience.

Good teachers are:

Inspirational: They motivate action and passion.

Engaging: They know how to hold an audience’s attention.

Authoritative: They are credible.

Take Canva for example. The platform has a freemium pricing model where they charge $1 to own each visual asset, despite the fact that you can use it fairly effectively without buying any icons or images. You can always upload your own assets too.

However Canva’s Design School, a blog filled with design education and examples created using their own platform, teaches us about design while opening doors to new ideas and approaches to using their tool.

Canva Design School

The more you empower people to use your product, the more they’ll use it, the more likely it is to become a habit, the more likely they’ll be willing to pay for premium benefits.

Canva went a step further and offers “Teaching Materials” to empower not just users, but those users who want to teach Canva to others.

Establishing this sort of leadership through teaching helps you expose your brand and product to new audiences.

Thought leaders are teachers

“How do I become a thought leader?” is a question asked by many marketers. Not only is it recognized as an approach for building a brand, it's often considered one of the strategic goals of content marketing.

Jon Miller of Marketo sums up thought leadership as a strategic consequence of content marketing:

“Thought leadership consists of ideas that require attention, that offer guidance or clarity and that can lead people in unexpected, sometimes contrarian directions (think of Seth Godin).  Thought leadership needs to be educational and ideally provocative; content marketing can simply be fun or entertaining.”

So while content marketing on its own does not necessitate a focus on “thought leadership”, it is a means of pursuing it.

You establish thought leadership over time by being useful to your audience through teaching and coaching and tying your brand to a specific idea.

Rand Fishkin at Moz does an excellent job of leveraging his thought leadership as part of his own personal brand as well as the Moz brand. The two brands are inseparable, literally—Rand’s blog shares the same home as the Moz blog.

Rand Fishkin Rocks!

The brand equity you build through thought leadership, whether for a personal or company brand, is something that you can leverage to extend your reach, encourage advocacy, and earn the trust you need to get people to opt-in to being nurtured over time.

Empowerment: Your best customer retention strategy

A successful customer is a happy customer. The best way to ensure their success is to equip them with the knowledge to seize it.

Shopify, for example, creates content that caters to a specific niche for a clear target: commerce for entrepreneurs.

Shopify University

It's easy to get started with Shopify because their platform is tied to an ever-growing collection of resources to help you find your own success with the platform. They cover the ins and outs of commerce from psychological pricing to advice for entrepreneurs.

By also including company-centric content in your mix, you have a chance to not only educate your audience specifically about your product, but make them understand what it would be like to solve a problem using it.  

Resource centers, content libraries and knowledge bases that specifically house either product-related content or industry-related education is an investment in the success of your users.

Here at Uberflip, we recently built our own Knowledge Base for platform-specific content to enable our customers with self-serve product education.

Uberflip Knowledge Base

"When it lives in an easy-to-navigate Knowledge Base, educational content is a scalable approach to customer success that can decrease support costs, drive product adoption, and lead to dramatically better customer experiences."

—Sam Brennand, Customer Success Lead at Uberflip

Creating company-centric content around challenges you hear from your Sales or Customer Success teams alleviates inquiries or concerns and helps shift some of the burden away from your reps.

Teach a person to fish...

Sell someone a fish and you might never see them again. But teach someone how to fish and you can sell them fishing gear, which they can use to reel in their own results.

You could say that a huge part of content marketing, especially in B2B, is about finding or creating “fishermen”: potential customers whose interests overlap with your industry and the solution you offer.

By using education to pave their road to success, they'll be more likely to come back for more, maybe even tell a fellow "fisherman", and you start to see the slow build up of benefits over time that comes from enabling customer success by spreading knowledge.

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About the Author

Braveen Kumar

Braveen is a Content Marketer at Shopify.

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