Teach, don’t sell: Why educational content marketing matters
There are a lot of advertising and marketing maxims out there, but one of our absolute favourites is the perfectly simple ‘teach, don’t sell.’ It might seem short and sweet, but there’s a lot to unpack from those three little words and how they relate to content marketing.
In fact, ‘teach, don’t sell’ serves as a pretty good shorthand for what content marketing is all about – providing content that is engaging and that educates an audience.
What is educational marketing?
‘Teach, don’t sell” can be traced back to a very basic concept – people don’t want to be sold to. They want to buy. The Content Marketing Institute boils this down to one simple truth:
“Our customers don’t care about our products or services; they care about themselves. If we buy into this, then we must also accept that the majority of the information we produce for marketing purposes cannot be about ourselves. Our content must be based on fulfilling our customers’ needs and interests, so that they come to build a trusted and emotional connection with our brands.”
This is where educational marketing comes into play, providing customers with information that relates to what they want, rather than simply plugging a product or service. It’s a technique that’s worked for decades, and not just online or in traditional advertising.
Imagine that you’re buying a new car. Educational marketing is the difference between “this car is the best. You should buy this car” and “This car is great for the environment. Here’s the proof, and why it matters.”
Turning up the education factor with content marketing
Content marketing can take educational content even further, providing an audience with information about all sorts of different areas within an industry. Some business leaders get a bit worried by this approach, assuming that their marketing spend is being wasted on material that doesn’t get sales, but as Forbes explains, this isn’t the case:
“Even when you’re creating educational content, you are still marketing. You’re just marketing the content, not your products and services. You’re still selling those products and services, but the selling is just way in the background. Way, way in the background.”
You don’t have to just take Forbes’ word for it though. Let’s take a look at a couple of great examples where brands have taken the educational route with their content marketing.
Example #1: General Mills
The American food manufacturer General Mills has launched an entirely new website, Tablespoon, where customers who are keen to learn more about entertaining or find great recipes can go for high-quality, ad-free advice.
In a 2012 interview with Forbes, Erin Anderson, Interactive Marketing Manager at General Mills explained that: “It’s not our goal to overtly brand all the company websites as General Mills. There is value in the voice, the engagement, the content that is resonating with a particular consumer group.”
— Whole Foods Market (@WholeFoods) June 26, 2017
Example #2 Whole Foods
Here’s another example of educational content marketing drawn from the food industry (we were hungry, okay).
Not only does Whole Foods have a fantastic blog that shares everything from delicious recipes to profiles of local vendors, the brand also provides information that it knows will be relevant to its customers, such as tips for keeping kids healthy. This type of high quality content isn’t particularly relevant to what Whole Foods sell but plays a massive role in positioning the company as a leader that consumers can trust.
Top tips for creating engaging, educational content
Hopefully by now we’ve established just how powerful educational content marketing can be. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to achieve however, with the 2016 State of Small Business Report revealing that almost half of small businesses are still using their content marketing and social media to promote products or services, while 38 per cent are focused on sharing promotions or sales.
To help break out of this bad habit, we’ve put together a brief list of a few great tactics for making content informative and relevant to any audience.
- Ditch the hard sell: This is one of the most difficult aspects of creating educational content, but it really does pay off. Customers can sense brands that only want to make a profit a mile away, and nothing turns them off quicker than an article that just keeps beating them over the head with a product or service.
- Avoid repetition: It’s tempting to frame content around the many different ways that a product or service can help a business’ target audience, but just like the hard sell, if this is all the content you have available, your content quickly loses any educational credibility.
- Use experts: Conducting interviews with industry experts is one of the best ways to provide an audience with quality information they can trust. Whether these come from within a business or elsewhere in the industry, articles with valuable and hard-to-replicate insights go a long way.
- Don’t skimp on engagement: Just because an article is educational doesn’t mean it has to be boring. All of our favourite school teachers were the ones who made their subject leap off the page, and regardless of your industry it’s important not to get so caught up in providing educational value that you forget to be entertaining.
If you follow these rules and make a concerted effort to provide your audience with what they want and need in your content, it’s possible to unlock all sorts of great content marketing results that other businesses are missing out on.