Every day, we're tasked with figuring out complicated stuff with limited amounts of time. Take health care, for instance. If you're a small business, figuring out changing regulations and how they affect you and your employees can be a daunting prospect.
In situations like these, educational content marketing can play a pivotal role. When people have questions about complex or confusing topics, they look for authoritative voices that help explain, illustrate, or enlighten. And when they find an expert opinion on the subject in question, they begin to form a relationship with that content source-perhaps even becoming a future client.
The Power of Content that Educates
On the surface, brands may balk at the idea of giving away expertise for free. After all, the idea is a bit counterintuitive: Companies (particularly B2B companies) want potential customers to rely on their expertise, so why should they give away their insight via free content?
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking tends to devalue the customer's needs. Of course companies want to sell their products and services. But customers care much more about their own challenges, and how to solve them, than the fact that you have a product you sell. For example: How do I know if I'm doing my taxes right? How do I get more people to notice my business? How do I find the right talent for my company?
Educational content addresses these challenges and provides tools to overcome them, ultimately building trust and connection between brand and consumer. What's more, companies in essentially any industry can use educational pieces to strengthen their overall marketing strategy. Online banking service Mint, for example, uses educational blog posts to explain everything from how to budget to how to save money by making fancy coffee drinks at home.
Australian accounting software company MYOB addresses a broad range of topics as well: Readers can gain insight on practical matters, like tax compliance issues for small businesses (MYOB's target audience), as well as more fanciful items, like the emergence of crypto-currencies.
Anthem, a health insurance plan provider, ramped up its content marketing program several years ago with an emphasis on education. Initially, the company aimed to keep employers up-to-date on changing regulations in the Affordable Care Act, translating the law into understandable content, and highlighting what the changes meant for employers. The content proved popular.
"When we saw there was an appetite for that, we started to expand the things we talked about," said Andrew Reinbold, content marketing director at Anthem, Inc.
Anthem's content expansion led to the launch of thebenefitsguide.com blog, an education content hub. In partnership with Skyword, Anthem has populated the blog with hundreds of articles, infographics, videos, and white papers, all geared toward its target audience of small business owners.
In one unique blog post, Anthem used unique segmentation data to build a quiz experience that encourages benefits managers to discover their personality. Quiz takers end the experience with an infographic that shows how similar companies are making their benefits decisions. The combination of proprietary data and an interactive, educational content experience helps these quiz takers "better understand a complex product that they often otherwise view just as a commodity," Reinbold said.
All of this plays an important role in the marketing/sales funnel. Since the blog's launch in August 2014, the blog has generated 2.4 million page views and is becoming an important source for lead generation, Reinbold notes.
Not only is Anthem spreading brand awareness, it's keeping its audience engaged.
"We think offering objective information on topics that employers are curious about, like health care reform, builds trust, and [we] see that as the beginning of a relationship with a prospect or as the continuation of a relationship with an existing customer," he said. "When you have a strong content engine, it helps the rest of your marketing strategy."
Is Thought Leadership Educational?
Both education-focused content and thought leadership can help companies build authority. Often times, thought leadership serves an educational purpose. So what is the precise difference between the two concepts?
One difference has to do with intent. Typically, education-oriented content aims to fill in an educational gap in the audience (think how-tos, infographics, or tutorials). It answers direct questions your audience might Google (e.g., How do I create a budget?).
Thought leadership, on the other hand, tends to be more expressive-with more opinions, ideas, and creative expression than other content types. Often, this form of leadership taps talented employees within a company to express their viewpoints, passions, and personal perspectives to the audience. While education content offers answers to specific questions, leading through thought encourages audiences to think about big-picture ideas.
To get a better feel for what this content looks like, simply browse through the podcast titles in Stanford's Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders speaker series. From "The Ethics of Innovation" to "How a Facebook Designer Thinks," the podcast inspires entrepreneurial-minded listeners through deep dives on fascinating topics. While the series is certainly educational, it tends to branch out into deeper, more conceptual territory than your typical piece of educational marketing.
Put another way, education-oriented content can help establish a company's reputation as an expert in the industry. Thought leadership can solidify a company's reputation as a source of innovation. Using both can help draw your audience in-and give them a reason to stay awhile.
Featured image attribution: Tran Mau Tri Tam