The internet has democratized education and businesses should take notice.  You are in business because you have some area of expertise.  Sharing your expertise is a way to help you build your brand and provide value. By using a combination of digital and offline tools, business can take advantage of the opportunity to add teaching to the marketing mix.

I’ve been reading The Education of Millionaires, a book by Michael Ellsberg that proposes that the best investment in education is one that offers lifelong, relevant knowledge that will make you financially successful.  He urges people to find mentors and experts to teach the skills they need, rather than investing six figures in a traditional college education that is unlikely to contribute to their ability to earn a living.

I have mixed feelings about suggesting that people forgo or drop out of college, but I believe we are seeing a trend worth noting.  People are looking to non-traditional sources to learn from. Education and business are merging.  How can you take advantage of this trend and  integrate education into your marketing mix?

Your product is a commodity. Education differentiates.

People can buy any pair of shoes, any skin cream, or any design service. The difference between a commodity and a product that people line up for, is that a great product adds meaning and purpose to peoples’ lives.  As a brand, your expertise in the product you sell — in every way it affects the people who use  it — sets  you apart.  If you sell shoes, you could teach fashion or fitness. If your product is food, teach nutrition. If it’s paint, teach design.

In a fast-paced world, relevant information matters.

People want to keep up with technology, trends, culture and innovation in the areas that matter to them.  They need a source that helps them stay informed.

Louis Vuitton knows that their customers are interested in travel, art, culture and design.  Through their digital marketing efforts, they share information about  the wider world that gives meaning to their products.

Consumers need information to choose when there are too many options.

Overwhelmed by choice and complexity, people freeze up and fail to make any decision. Teaching gives them a reason to choose you.  I recently walked into a Home Depot to purchase a space heater. I had literally nothing to base a decision on and had concerns about the safety of these devices. I read what was on the cartons, but left confused without buying anything.

If retailers or manufacturers could see their jobs as education, it would make it easier for shoppers to make purchases. Manufacturers can create QR codes leading to videos that explain how their products work and address safety concerns, or demonstrate the product in use, showing the best choice for different types of household needs. Retailers could hire product educators rather than people who move goods around on shelves.

Education is a form of curation.  

Ironically, in a world with too much information, teaching is more important than ever.  There’s a reason that being a geek has become fashionable.  Knowing and caring deeply about a subject and spending a lot of time and energy on it is what being a geek is about. If you can focus and select the information for the connoisseurs and geeks among your customers, they’ll flock to you.

Educational content improves SEO.

Having a blog allows you to teach.  When your blog answers the questions that people have about your product, it establishes your authority, helps gain the trust of your audience and is great for SEO.  When you answer the questions that people have about your product; when you address the issues that concern people who use your product; when you discuss the ways in which your product helps make peoples’ lives better, you are answering the questions that they type into the Google search box.

Good teaching encourages engagement.

If engagement is the holy grail of social media, then teaching is the path.  People hang out longer when you teach them something pertinent to their needs. They ask questions and get involved with you and the rest of your community when they are there to learn. Learning requires participation.

Education makes you memorable.

You always remember the person who taught you something you use your whole life.  You remember the teachers who had an impact on you, even if they taught you twenty years ago.  If you want to stand out from the sea of brands, be a trusted source of valuable information.

Education is a source of revenue.

If you’re a consultant, an agency or coach, you don’t need to give all information away for free.  In addition to charging for your time, some information can be packaged into e-books, webinars, and access to learning communities.

The changing face of education offers opportunity.

In the same way that the dissemination of music is no longer owned by a handful of music companies and book publishing is no longer controlled by a handful of book publishers, education is no longer the exclusive realm of large, formal institutions.  I believe that the democratization of education is going to cause changes that are as radical as those we have seen in these other industries.  If you’re a college charging $50,000 a year for a degree, these changes may be of concern. But, if you’re an expert in any area of knowledge that people care about, it’s an opportunity.

Related

Education Is The Key To Effective Referral Marketing by John Jantsch for Intuit

 

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About Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://Social-Tango.com Billy Delaney

    Indeed.
    Agree and thought I would say so here.
    All the best sales people happen to be the best teachers too!
    Thanks. Billy

  • http://Social-Tango.com Billy Delaney

    Indeed.
    Agree and thought I would say so here.
    All the best sales people happen to be the best teachers too!
    Thanks. Billy

  • http://twitter.com/DigitalSherpas DigitalSherpa

    Great stuff

  • http://twitter.com/DigitalSherpas DigitalSherpa

    Great stuff 

  • http://twitter.com/DigitalSherpas DigitalSherpa

    Great stuff Ilana!

    I think a good addendum here would be how educating through content goes hand in hand with customer support. When your website is full of answers to frequently asked questions, your clients will stop there first when they have questions about your product or service.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Good point. Understanding what customers are already asking and providing an FAQ saves, money, helps site SEO, saves customer support expense, and most importantly, is valuable to customers.

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  • http://twitter.com/DigitalSherpas DigitalSherpa

    Great stuff Ilana!

    I think a good addendum here would be how educating through content goes hand in hand with customer support. When your website is full of answers to frequently asked questions, your clients will stop there first when they have questions about your product or service.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Good point. Understanding what customers are already asking and providing an FAQ saves, money, helps site SEO, saves customer support expense, and most importantly, is valuable to customers.

  • http://mpparadise.wordpress.com Mike Poynton

    Excellent article. I’m wondering how traditional educational institutions are dealing with this trend. Anyone?

    • http://tommangan.net/ Tom Mangan

      Most major universities have online learning programs — which makes sense, given that schools are the first place people think of when trying to get educated. However, the programs can be inflexible and expensive, opening up opportunities for disruptive enterprises.

      The key in years to come may be far wider use of certification to separate the experts from everyone else.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent article. I’m wondering how traditional educational institutions are dealing with this trend. Anyone?

    • http://tommangan.net/ Tom Mangan

      Most major universities have online learning programs — which makes sense, given that schools are the first place people think of when trying to get educated. However, the programs can be inflexible and expensive, opening up opportunities for disruptive enterprises.

      The key in years to come may be far wider use of certification to separate the experts from everyone else.

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  • http://targetstars.com/blog LaTosha Johnson

    Ilana, I thoroughly enjoyed this post! We must be on the same wavelength because I wrote a post called, “Is college worth the hassle?” I am not against those who choose to receive a formal education, but there are so many different pathways to go about acquiring the information you need to be successful. I have my degree and I can honestly attest that what I learned outside the classroom has been of greater value to me than what I learned while attending college. In my opinion, in order for college to be a logical or financially feasible option colleges need to concentrate on incorporating more practical experience.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      LaTosha, I agree and the resistance that is likely to come from people starting to question the traditional path of getting into the best kindergarten, learning just the right things to get you good grades and gearing your whole life to getting into a $200,000 college. For people with experience and expertise in fields like marketing, copywriting and social media, like Jason, here on SME, who teache people to use highly valuable marketing techniques, this is a great opportunity.

  • http://targetstars.com/blog LaTosha Johnson

    Ilana, I thoroughly enjoyed this post! We must be on the same wavelength because I wrote a post called, “Is college worth the hassle?” I am not against those who choose to receive a formal education, but there are so many different pathways to go about acquiring the information you need to be successful. I have my degree and I can honestly attest that what I learned outside the classroom has been of greater value to me than what I learned while attending college. In my opinion, in order for college to be a logical or financially feasible option colleges need to concentrate on incorporating more practical experience.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      LaTosha, I agree and the resistance that is likely to come from people starting to question the traditional path of getting into the best kindergarten, learning just the right things to get you good grades and gearing your whole life to getting into a $200,000 college. For people with experience and expertise in fields like marketing, copywriting and social media, like Jason, here on SME, who teache people to use highly valuable marketing techniques, this is a great opportunity.

  • http://twitter.com/KristinMMarie Kristin Demidovich

    Wonderful post and could not agree more that “Ironically, in a world with too much information, teaching is more important than ever.”

  • http://twitter.com/KristinMMarie Kristin Demidovich

    Wonderful post and could not agree more that “Ironically, in a world with too much information, teaching is more important than ever.”  There is so much information out there, it is wonderful how many “teaching” “learning” organizations are trying to organize the learning content online to make it easier and more engaging to learn from!  Thank you for sharing this post! 

  • Phyllis

    I really enjoyed your article, Ilana, and truly appreciate how you put your theories into practice with your work at Lion Brand.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Phyllis, thanks so much for your comment. One of the keys to being able to educate is to have employees who are knowledgeable and passionate about the product, which fortunately, we have.

  • Phyllis

    I really enjoyed your article, Ilana, and truly appreciate how you put your theories into practice with your work at Lion Brand.  Your site, blogs and videos are the epitome of online education and I use your example repeatedly to show my clients and university students how it should be done. 

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Phyllis, thanks so much for your comment. One of the keys to being able to educate is to have employees who are knowledgeable and passionate about the product, which fortunately, we have.

  • http://coupsmart.com Nick Sweeney

    Thanks, Ilana. Geeks are in style and I think you hit the nail on the head as to why (focused knowledge on one subject), but I’ll add another ingredient to their rise: passion.

    Knowledgeable geeks are usually that way because they possess an extreme passion that drives them to learn more, more, more. And for the majority of us, that kind of enthusiasm is attractive.

    I might not care one iota about the dance patterns of African honeybees, but I’ll damn sure listen to someone talk about it with enthusiasm and vigor. That’s why TED.com is such an amazing site. It’s not just about the knowledge; it’s about the people delivering that knowledge.

    It’s fun to watch someone share their passion, no matter what the subject.

    By the way, did I say passion enough in this comment? No? Okay then.

    Passion, passion, passion.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Nick, that’s a good point.

  • http://coupsmart.com Nick Sweeney

    Thanks, Ilana. Geeks are in style and I think you hit the nail on the head as to why (focused knowledge on one subject), but I’ll add another ingredient to their rise: passion.

    Knowledgeable geeks are usually that way because they possess an extreme passion that drives them to learn more, more, more. And for the majority of us, that kind of enthusiasm is attractive.

    I might not care one iota about the dance patterns of African honeybees, but I’ll damn sure listen to someone talk about it with enthusiasm and vigor. That’s why TED.com is such an amazing site. It’s not just about the knowledge; it’s about the people delivering that knowledge.

    It’s fun to watch someone share their passion, no matter what the subject.

    By the way, did I say passion enough in this comment? No? Okay then.

    Passion, passion, passion.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Nick, that’s a good point.  The intensity with which people  ceaselessly delve into their chosen subject is driven by passion. It’s also interesting that you mention that we find that attractive. It points to another trend I’ve been following, which is about being true to yourself and not trying to homogenize yourself to fit in.

  • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

    Really think you nailed this one. Never before has there been such a need for strong content and education-this is the big opportunity for companies (which “get it”). Yrs ago I create a program for Intel where I was able to run around the country doing workshops in dozens of cities educating parents and teachers about the Internet. Reached millions of people,but we eventually played out. I think now

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Mark.

  • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

    Really think you nailed this one. Never before has there been such a need for strong content and education-this is the big opportunity for companies (which “get it”). Yrs ago I create a program for Intel where I was able to run around the country doing workshops in dozens of cities educating parents and teachers about the Internet. Reached millions of people,but we eventually played out. I think now  with the new evolution of the Internet, those programs can be more easily parlayed into sustainable online education programs. BTW-you mentioned Home Depot coming up short, but I’m insulating my attic and one of the resources I came across online was nice video by HD on the subject-doesn’t mean I’ll buy from them, but doesn’t hurt (actually I did end up buying the insulation from HD, but mainly because it was on sale). Nice piece!

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Mark.  As for Home Depot, I think they do educate well on their site but in the store, like in most retail stores, you are really on your own. If the salesperson I asked for help could take me over to a computer in the store and show me their content, or that of a manufacturer in answer to my questions, I would have been able to make an informed choice. I think that bricks and mortar retailers are going to be the last to learn the value of education because they think they can’t afford to help people in the stores but if they leverage their online content, that would be a solution.

  • http://justindupre.com/31-days-of-affiliate-campaigns-day-8-my-real-income-bizop-offer/ Justin Dupre

    Sometimes the traditional educatioal approach in universities is not enough to equip us with the skills needed in the real world.

  • http://justindupre.com/31-days-of-affiliate-campaigns-day-8-my-real-income-bizop-offer/ Justin Dupre

    Sometimes the traditional educatioal approach in universities is not enough to equip us with the skills needed in the real world.

  • Anonymous

    Great Marc Ostrofsky nicely said: Learn more – earn more :)

  • Anonymous

    Great Marc Ostrofsky nicely said: Learn more – earn more :)

  • http://kempedmonds.com kemp

    Thanks for this. I echo your thoughts entirely.

  • http://kempedmonds.com kemp

    Thanks for this Jason. I echo your thoughts entirely.

  • http://twitter.com/schnoerrchen Katharina Schnorr

    Thanks for this really interesting article. I totally agree with the need to use educational approaches more and that the democratization of educational will have an effect on university education and the like. But I guess, one shouldn’t forget the status effect a university education has: I sometimes feel in many cases you just need to have it for your resume, no matter what it was really about.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Katharina, no doubt that today, a degree from a prestigious university offers status (if not a guaranteed job) but if the trend continues, the real status will be expertise.

  • http://twitter.com/schnoerrchen Katharina Schnorr

    Thanks for this really interesting article. I totally agree with the need to use educational approaches more and that the democratization of educational will have an effect on university education and the like. But I guess, one shouldn’t forget the status effect a university education has: I sometimes feel in many cases you just need to have it for your resume, no matter what it was really about.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Katharina, no doubt that today, a degree from a prestigious university offers status (if not a guaranteed job) but if the trend continues, the real status will be expertise.

  • Charlotte

    Great piece! There is nothing quite like knowledge to give one an “edge” and there is no time like the present to re-think what you do and WHY? Discussions over LUNCH are most revealing!

  • Charlotte

    Great piece! There is nothing quite like knowledge to give one an “edge” and there is no time like the present to re-think what you do and WHY? Discussions over LUNCH are most revealing!

  • http://twitter.com/mattsanti Matt Santi

    Relationships. Teaching people and actually engaging with them – regardless of the format (text, email, blo, video, etc) if people get value out of it, you can win their trust.

  • http://twitter.com/mattsanti Matt Santi

    Relationships. Teaching people and actually engaging with them – regardless of the format (text, email, blo, video, etc) if people get value out of it, you can win their trust. 

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  • Jaylenwatkins

    Education is the new marketing article is well justified one. I am very much delighted to read this.

    http://www.educationrequirements.org/jobs/marketing-education-requirements

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  • http://tribalstylemarketing.com/blog TribalStyleMarketing

    This is so true.  I wondered why last year that all of my mentors/teachers were also actually practicing *what* they teach.  They said ‘How good of a teacher would I be, if I didn’t do what I preach?’  That’s another reason I think traditional education is not what it used to be.  Certainly not all, but a many teachers do not do what they teach.

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