Content marketers: Think like a teacher

The time is right for brands to deliver valuable educational experiences, writes the president of GoKart Labs

While most content marketing is designed to win SEO and SEM battles, smart marketers see the potential digital, educational content has to drive more than just near-term traffic and conversion objectives. 

They recognize how Red Bull has built a devoted following as they became an owned media powerhouse, and how Patagonia has used content and stories to build and maintain premium pricing position. Marketers and brands that will win the future will do so by delivering genuinely useful, valuable educational experiences that inform and enlighten their audiences.

Already, brands are forging a path in this direction, such as Cabot Cheddars initiative to educate people about nutrition and healthy lifestyles, or L’Oréal supporting YouTube star Michelle Phan as she teaches millions of viewers to bring creativity into their life through makeup. There’s room for much more educational content marketing and one sure sign that it’s the next, best phase of content marketing is the rise of unbundled education.

In 2014, more than 21 million people registered for a course on Coursera. That's more than the enrollment figures for the entire U.S. higher education system, and it happened in less than four years. Not only are courses going online, most of the students enrolled in them aren’t signing up to pursue a degree or skills accreditation. Instead, they’re visiting the online classroom for a much more simple reason: personal enjoyment. Just as we enrich our lives through educational mediums like documentaries and books, many people are now logging into online courses simply for the sake of learning.

This is a prime opportunity for brands to deliver on something the public is clamoring for: a wide selection of great courses taught by experts, sponsored by brands we trust. Skeptics may look at this concept and argue that brands could never provide educational content, that the public doesn’t have enough trust in brands to listen and learn from them. But the reality is that brands have been doing this all along, and with great success. Whether it's Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Kingdom or Betty Crocker’s recipe books, brands have been educating and illuminating for years. So why not meet consumers on one of their preferred media — the online classroom?

To succeed and build loyalty between brands and consumers, the recipe couldn’t be simpler — bad content that is overly promotional and dry won't stick, but great content that piques curiosity and brings enjoyment to the experience will. Education is that content.

This model works across generations, genders and races. Brands should look to deliver educational content to audiences with a passion for DIY and self-improvement. Self-motivated consumers will connect with the benefits of learning and turn into more conscious and engaged customers. While other marketing metrics struggle to keep eyeballs on posts, videos and ads, brands teaching through courses will find their audience interacting for longer and becoming more empowered consumers with a closer connection to the brand itself.

Any brand can be a teacher, but those working directly with consumers are in a strong position to win. By tapping into their audience’s desire for learning, aspirational brands stand to add value to consumer’s lives in a more authentic way. The teaching possibilities are endless for lifestyle brands like Patagonia and Under Armour, both of which are looking to make a greater impact on their consumers outside the store. The same holds true in other spaces from retail to pharma and finance to healthcare. For example, UnitedHealthcare not only provides health coverage, their commitment to wellness extends to great content and efforts to educate consumers on living better lives, all of which tie back to their overarching goal as a brand.  

It's time for marketers to start integrating educational concepts that align naturally with their brand story into their content marketing plans. There is really no limit to what brands can do with content, and that lack of constraint makes it difficult for many marketing teams to hone in on the right strategy. More and more, the strategy of smart brands will shift towards content that favors utility over advertising, empowerment over engagement, and purpose over promotion. Great brands will inform and teach on meaningful subjects that capture the attention and interest of the audience. It’s not about what your product does, or why it’s better than the competition. It’s about providing something genuinely valuable to the consumer, and giving them ways to make their lives better.

Jim Cuene is president of GoKart Labs.

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