Five trade secrets marketers can learn from teachers

Five trade secrets marketers can learn from teachers

Teacher as content marketerThink back to the best classes you’ve taken. The ones that stick with you. What did they have in common? The same elements that made those lessons memorable, that got your juices flowing, are the same ones that can turn tired content into remarkable content.

One of the toughest challenges for teachers is taking complex concepts and communicating them clearly to an audience that has varying skills, a decreasing attention span, and many competing interests. Not so different from the challenge we face as marketers, right?

I come from a long line of teachers and I’ve been a teacher myself. My first job was as an English teacher in Japanese middle schools. These days I’m teaching a graduate course at Johns Hopkins University and conducting marketing workshops for clients. I’m always testing out new ways to connect with students.

Below are five of the top lessons I believe marketers can learn from veteran teachers to help us educate and inspire our audiences more effectively.

1. Vary your techniques

Students learn in different ways. Some want to read materials on their own. Some are auditory learners and prefer word games or oral reports. Some are visual learners who respond to images, graphics, and colors.

Teachers therefore apply multiple teaching techniques to reach students with different learning styles. Even experienced teachers continually test new techniques to see what works best. 

What that means for marketers

We already know that most people skim websites. Recent research also tells us that visual content is 40x more likely to be shared than text. That means we can’t rely simply on the written word to get our message across.

The good news is that we can repurpose and repackage longer form content into a variety of digital experiences for different types of audiences.

A single piece of bedrock content can be sliced and diced into social posts or transformed into a SlideShare. Tools for podcasting and video production let us test out new ideas without a large investment.

2. Stories stick

Storytelling is the oldest form of teaching. Our brains are hardwired to think in terms of a beginning, a middle and an end. Teachers use stories as a powerful technique for shaping mental models, increasing retention, and putting information into context. 

What that means for marketers

In his book, Winning the Story Wars, author Jonah Sachs advises marketers that in today’s oversaturated media marketplace, “you either tell stories that inspire people to act and share, or you get immediately forgotten.”

As we create a content strategy, we must back up marketing messages with real-live case studies and examples as much as possible. If it takes a while to gather customer stories, we can describe rich scenarios that show applications of a product or service.

Not all marketing stories need to be War and Peace. You can make content more memorable just adding in elements of a story.

Let me show you what I mean:

  • Contextual examples. Instead of saying something is 100 yards long, say it is “as long as a football field.” Suddenly the reader has a greater understanding of what is an otherwise arbitrary figure.
  • “Two men walk into a bar.” Try opening a blog post with an imagined scenario. Even just a sentence that starts with “Picture this:” draws your reader in.
  • Sensory details build empathy. “My palms were sweaty” is a more intriguing statement than “I was nervous” and builds a stronger connection with the reader.
3. Link concepts

Learning is all about connecting the dots and combining new patterns, according to elearning curriculum developers. Creating associations between concepts can increase our ability to remember details by as much as 40%.

What that means for marketers

What may be obvious to folks within our organizations may not be well understood by an external audience. It’s our job to build a trail of breadcrumbs across content assets that demonstrates the connection from problem to solution. We can do this in a number of tangible ways by cross-linking content across our website and providing clear next steps for users.

4. Less lecture, more interactivity

Gone are the days when teachers would simply stand behind a lectern and talk while students took notes in passive silence. In contrast, classes where teachers encourage discussion, conduct experiments, and integrate hands-on activities are much more compelling. Students can’t just hide in the back of the room. As a result they learn more and retain information for longer periods.

What that means for marketers

To engage web visitors, we need to provide opportunities to interact with content, not simply absorb information. Tools such as games, quizzes, assessments and ROI calculators increase visitor engagement and retention for B2C and B2B companies alike. What’s more, interactive content helps us evaluate lead quality. If web visitors are taking the time to interact, they are likely higher quality leads, which means they are more likely to convert to a closed sale.

To start using interactive content, you don’t need to be a developer or invest a large percentage of your budget. DIY tools such as Offerpop, Ion Interactive and Qzzr offer pre-built templates you can customize to match your brand.

5. The instructor is not the only source of knowledge

Social learning theory explains that rather than simply accepting information provided to them by an expert, people learn best from one another, via observation, imitation and modeling. Teachers who integrate social learning strategies into lessons emphasize group work and other opportunities for sharing. Social media tools help virtual courses recreate the real-time, collaborative atmosphere of an in-person class.

What that means for marketers

According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. Word of mouth marketing can build a groundswell of support for your brand that is perceived as more authentic than anything created solely by your organization.

Increasingly, marketers are using customer engagement strategies to encourage their network to participate actively in content creation and promotion. That could include:

  • Influencer marketing programs
  • Online customer communities
  • User-generated content
The bottom line

In all of these approaches, the most powerful thing to recognize is the importance of building a connection. The most effective teachers get to know their students and tailor their approach to meet their needs. In the same way, marketers who truly know their audience and communicate with passion and authenticity will have the most success.

A content marketer’s job is to shape a story that demonstrates value, motivates users, and clearly defines next steps. In short, to be a teacher.

By Margie Agin, Centerboard Marketing Chief Strategist