A couple of months ago, Joe Pulizzi published an epic post, Why Education is a Powerful Content Marketing Strategy: 17 Examples. Required reading, in my book (er, feed).
The lengthy show-and-tell style post featured a long roster of real-world examples of brands delivering on the promise of content marketing by creating content that’s useful and can unquestionably be deemed educational.
The article is not a rundown of metrics, but I’d venture to guess each of the brands-turned-publisher is enjoying the benefits of drawing customers and prospects closer to them by putting the power of utility before promotion.
As is often the case with CMI’s thoughtful articles, a healthy heap of comments poured in:
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Copyblogger’s Brian Clark wasted no words, stating, “Content marketing is education.” If you’re familiar with Copyblogger (and who isn’t?), you understand — this is a content marketer who practices what he preaches.
Tim Danyo of Imagination Media followed with, “And the best content marketers are the best teachers.” Joe (and the congregation) responded with a hearty, “Amen.”
How to get an ‘A’ in content marketing education
As a responsible journalist, I’m compelled to always cite my sources. While Joe’s article (along with Brian and Tim’s comments) was the inspiration for this post, a good portion of what I’m about to write comes from a conversation that ensued with my kids, Jayna and Leah (ages 14 and 12, respectively) — two experts in education from the customer’s point of view (which we all know is the point of view we most need to tune into).
I explained to my girls (who generally don’t look up from their iPhones to discuss what the old man writes about) that, in my opinion, content marketers who stand out from the crowd, elicit sustained interest, and can be counted on as catalysts for inspiring learning experiences are the best teachers in my industry. Then, being careful not to talk explicitly about blogs or eBooks, I asked them to explain why they so often say school is boring. They were all over that one.
We got into a conversation about the rare occasions when school isn’t boring — i.e., what it takes, in their estimation, to make it exciting. Much of that conversation turned to the little tricks their favorite teachers have up their sleeves.
As a content creator, I’m sure you’d like to be considered your audience’s favorite teacher; so let’s take a look at what some youthful insights can offer in the way of lessons on becoming an ace educator — and, thus, an effective content marketer.
1. Funny teachers rule
The results were unanimous: My daughters didn’t hesitate to cite humor as the teaching tool that works for them. Examples poured out fast and furiously: One science teacher likes to light her lab counter on fire. Another has made use of a marshmallow gun in demonstrations. (Rest assured their school’s not as dangerous as these activities might lead you to believe.)
I thought back to my favorite teachers. They, too, were funny. Perhaps my little gene pool doesn’t make this theory absolute, but I suspect a larger sample would still confirm the hypothesis: Sense of humor is a serious teaching tool.
Think about your challenges in creating content. You are tasked with engaging the audience — pressure that can be intensified when you have dry material to cover. Can you get a joke in there? An anecdote? How about a little self-deprecation or stunt of some sort?
I’ll tell you, after having attended a whole lot of conference sessions and webinars the past few years, the short list of the ones I remember vividly are the ones where I did a fair share of laughing.
2. Let your students get their hands dirty
Call me biased, but I thought it brilliant when my 12-year-old said, “The best lessons are hands-on.” She went on to assert that props are great teaching tools.
Now let’s be realistic. Your content lessons aren’t likely to include the dissection of frogs, or the creation of an art project (though they are not outside the realm of possibility). However, you can still find plenty of ways to inject some “connect the dots” moments into the content you create.
Perhaps you could write something that calls for interaction, and follow up with the feedback you’ve collected. You could offer a quiz, provide readers with an exercise to complete, construct a two-way webinar, or plan a Twitter chat. I once delivered a keynote at a marketing conference in the form of a participative game show — the audience was buzzing about it from start to finish.
The possibilities are many. Instead of approaching the task as one where your job is to deliver a lesson, think of it as hosting a lesson. Use your imagination to engage your audience’s imagination.
3. Predictability is poisonous
My kids’ biggest rant on school was how almost every day is the same routine — a great reminder that one of our jobs as content marketers is to do battle with predictability.
Now, I’m not suggesting you bail on your agenda or schedule — I’m simply advising that you mix things up once in a while.
I asked my girls, “What if you got to school one Monday and the teacher said, ‘This week, instead of lessons, each day will feature something different: a movie, an experiment, a magic day, a music day, and game?’ ” This elicited two big smiles.
If your content creation routine focuses 100 percent of its efforts on blog posts (or webinars, or any other single content format), you need to break out of your rut. Inject video, audio, case studies, cartoons, infographics, slide shows, or whatever else you can think of to put some variety into your teaching techniques.
4. Encourage field trips (no permission slips required)
This may be shocking, I know, but kids dig field trips. The ultimate way to break the monotony of school is to get on a bus and leave it for the day. Honestly, what’s more exciting: a classroom-based history lesson on the California gold rush, or a trip to visit the California State Railroad Museum? A lecture on state government, or a tour of the state Capitol Building?
Effective content marketers are excellent field trip planners. They charter trips to exciting destinations, where the learning takes place organically.
An obvious example here is to showcase a brand that exemplifies the lesson you are attempting to teach. But let’s take this idea further. Take your chances and tell remarkable stories. Present enthralling biographies. Conduct an online event. Highlight a book or documentary. Borrow existing interest in a seemingly irrelevant person, place, or thing by connecting it to your lesson in a meaningful way.
You don’t need a bus — you just need to get the wheels spinning in your mind.
5. Remove the stress
My kids pointed out how stressful it is to have to learn about stuff they “don’t care about” (in their case, it’s math). And their stress is compounded by the fact that they’ll be tested on the material.
Of course, some students adore math, yet sleep through music class or dread gym class and history.
As content marketers, we really don’t have to force anyone into any lesson or subject. But still, this notion is lost on some.
If content marketing is education, we’ll be far more successful when we teach what our students covet. Do you know what that is? I propose it’s incumbent on you to find out. Work with the “class.” Ask them what they want to learn more about. Ask them if they’re getting bored, or have become particularly excited by any of your content. Ask them where you’re succeeding, and where you are failing, in their eyes.
Pay attention to the nonverbal signs, as well. Your successes and failures will present themselves — if you care enough to perpetually pay attention, and to take steps to improve. Conduct surveys and exit reports. Refer to your analytics. Have “teacher/student conferences” via social media.
Your favorite cook knows your tastes — and your audience’s favorite teacher should, too.
School’s out for kids right now, but it’s never out for us teachers — not if we’re serious about getting better and better at our craft.
Our job isn’t just to deliver knowledge. Our job is to remove the boredom so often associated with learning, and to make our lessons unforgettable. Are you with me?
Have you put any tactics to work that you believe make you a better teacher? Share them today — educate the readers, if you would.
Looking for more content marketing lessons that engage as well as they educate? You won’t want to miss our closing keynote at Content Marketing World 2013: William Shatner. Register today!
Cover image via Bigstock