By Joe Pulizzi published May 25, 2013

Why Education is a Powerful Content Marketing Strategy: 17 Examples

powerful content marketing strategyI just finished reading this Richard Branson post about following your passions in life. In it, he restates this magnificent quote from Nelson Mandela:

Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.

I truly believe in this. I also believe that the brands that place a priority on educating their prospects and customers through the creation of remarkable content are wisely choosing the road less traveled.

Think about this 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.

If you get a chance, take a look at this interview that CMI’s Chief Strategist, Robert Rose, conducted with Coca-Cola’s resident content marketing expert Jonathan Mildenhall. In it, Jonathan said something quite profound: “If I can fill up the emotional level of the brand [Coca-Cola], then I have to trade on it less and less.

Isn’t that the key? Yes, at the end of the day, our content needs to help us sell more, lower expenses, or create happier customers. Our customers know this, and our content marketing strategies are built around achieving these goals. But the more we educate them or entertain them, the more they don’t mind being sold to.

So if we want to change our world through content marketing, we need to distinguish ourselves as the leading educational voices for our industry. No excuses.

Here are a few examples of companies that are successfully working this educational angle. I’m sharing them with the hope that they will inspire you to do the same for your own customers and prospects. 

IBM

ibm-cityone

IBM’s “CityOne”

In IBM’s “Sim City”-style business simulation game, “CityOne,” players are challenged to solve problems in four key areas — banking, retail, energy, and water. Each scenario offers opportunities to understand the real-world implications of business decision-making.

Since its launch in 2010, “CityOne” has racked up over 20,000 players from more than 130 countries, proving simulation gaming/gamification may be a powerful new content initiative that can engage, educate, and influence. 

Indium

Seventeen engineers from Indium have discovered content gold with their “From One Engineer to Another” blog. Through it, they produce valuable content and videos and answer questions about a variety of engineering topics (e.g., how to set up and operate the Indium sulfamate plating bath). Even if you don’t know what that means, you can appreciate what they are striving for: bringing ideas to life through interactive conversations. According to Indium’s marketing director, the company has seen a 600 percent jump in leads since the launch of the blog. 

Intuit

intuit labs-entrepreneurs

Intuit Labs

Intuit Labs is an open collaboration platform that asks entrepreneurs to help solve the company’s latest product challenges — and rewards winners with cash. Intuit designs challenges for both code-writing techies and tech-challenged entrepreneurs, serving as a great way to foster innovation and engagement while gathering user-generated content, as well. 

Zenith Infotech

MSPtv is an educational community for managed service providers. The steady flow of useful content on the community, which includes podcasts, webinars, videos, and other content formats, helps resellers position and troubleshoot their products, allowing Zenith Infotech to educate customers in a new, interactive way. 

P&G & NBC

life goes strong

Life Goes Strong

On Life Goes Strong, an online community for baby boomers, Procter & Gamble provides content relevant for this audience in a variety of forms including articles, Q&As with experts, blogs, and polls. 

General Electric

GE is using its Ecomagination site to familiarize consumers with different aspects of its business by discussing science and innovation and embracing great challenges for ideas that will better our future. With a mix of bright visuals, videos, and cutting-edge articles, it’s a go-to site for anyone interested in the latest environmental issues, serving as a “forum for fresh thinking and conversation around clean technology and sustainable infrastructure.” 

General Mills

General Mills-tablespoon

General Mills’ Tablespoon

General Mills’ Tablespoon is an attractive, interactive community for people who are passionate about food and entertaining. The site gathers the best of the best, and uses a clean categorization technique for its content, splitting it up by topics that matter most to its core audience, like Quick Dishes, Taste for Adventure, and Rock UR Party. Depending on the type of cook they are or event they’re hosting, these categories help users find content quickly and easily in a more innovative way than traditional websites. And, with help from its newsletter, readers can also stay in the know on the latest recipes and inspirations. 

Roberts & Durkee Law Firm

Epic content solves problems. Even so-called “boring” brands can take advantage of the opportunity to share information that improves customers’ lives or helps them to do their jobs better. For example, in 2008, Roberts & Durkee, a Miami law firm, used content marketing to become the de facto consumer advocate for victims of the Chinese drywall problem that hit the U.S. market toward the middle of the decade. The firm created a website/blog called Chinese Drywall Problem to help thousands of Florida homeowners whose homes were built with toxic drywall. This content strategy established Roberts & Durkee as an expert in litigation for Chinese drywall problems and resulted in tremendous business opportunities for the firm. 

Sherwin-Williams

stir magazine

Sherwin-Williams’ “STIR” magazine

“STIR” magazine for iPad targets a very specific audience that includes interior designers, architects, and people who are simply passionate about decorating their homes. The digital magazine combines high-quality articles, videos, interactive tools, blogs, events, and “chatter” (comments from Sherwin-Williams’ social sites) into a comprehensive resource for consumers seeking design ideas, inspirations, problem-solving tips, and more. 

NLB

NLB, the largest Slovenian bank, wanted to break the mold of cold, distant financial institutions and get closer to its customers and prospects. To do this, NLB launched Financial Advice, a new content marketing project that uses a mix of digital media and live customer engagement to reposition it in the financial market. In addition to a new web portal, a print magazine, and an iPad app, NLB also opened a new branch in the capital city of Ljubljana, where its customers can get free personal financial advice, pick up free coffee, read educational materials, and stick around for daily presentations on personal finance. 

Agilent

puppet chemistry

Agilent’s Puppet Chemistry

Agilent Technologies produces measurement instruments that help scientists, researchers, and engineers measure variables in chemical analysis, life sciences, and electronics. Going completely against type, Agilent resisted the typical dry technicalities in favor of creating content that was truly unexpected: a video puppet show. This technique proved to be highly successful for Agilent, increasing traffic to its website and encouraging more prospects to click through in search of more information.

Liberty Mutual

Liberty Mutual uses content to help associate its brand with “responsible thinking, preparation, and doing the right thing.” Its site, The Responsibility Project, tackles issues pertaining to ethics, politics, and economics (and much more) to support its theme of “being responsible” in all aspects of your life. The site features interactive polls, videos, articles, and a blog — all of which communicate minimally about the company’s products and services. The effort demonstrates how good content that serves a broader purpose is often much more effective than promotional content. 

Lauren Luke

makeup videos

Lauren Luke videos

In 2007, Lauren Luke began selling makeup products on eBay in an effort to subsidize her modest day job as a taxi dispatcher in Newcastle, England. In an effort to improve her eBay sales, Lauren began creating practical makeup application videos and distributed them on YouTube. Five years later, Lauren has her own brand of makeup (distributed exclusively by Sephora), she has a series of teen books called “Lauren Luke Looks,” and she’s built a bigger brand than Estee Lauder on YouTube. Most impressively, Lauren Luke hasn’t spent a dime on traditional advertising. 

Google

ZMOT, or the “Zero Moment of Truth,” is a phrase used to define the key activities online consumers take before making a decision to purchase. Google developed ZMOT as multiple eBooks, research reports, and videos about the changing nature of consumer purchase patterns. Today, this research is quoted in almost every online presentation given around the world. 

RCI

rci-endless vacation

RCI’s “Endless Vacation” for iPad

RCI, the largest timeshare vacation network in the world, has embraced the future of content marketing by focusing on creating the great content that its readers want — helping the brand take a leadership position in the travel category, in the process. What was once a custom-published magazine available only in print, RCI’s “Endless Vacation” has moved beyond the boundaries of glossy paper and onto the iPad. The application allows readers to dive deeply into its travel expertise through interactive articles, photo galleries, alternate covers (just shake it!), panoramas, and more. 

Caterpillar

The Caterpillar online community is an online forum where professionals who work with Caterpillar equipment and engines can exchange information, find answers, and get expert advice from their peers. 

Society of Fire Protection Engineers

fire protection engineering

“Fire Protection Engineering” magazine

Fire Protection Engineering” magazine is the official publication of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (a 60+-year-old society with over 4,000 members dedicated to the practice of fire protection engineering). The key to success for the mag? Using content that’s been vetted by an editorial advisory board, which is a surefire way to align messages across multiple online, print, and in-person initiatives. Take a tip from the SFP and have people on your board who are either readers of your magazine or members of your association to make sure you’re hitting the mark. Readers of FPE magazine can find all the latest articles online in an easy-to-read list or get the print version, depending on their reading preferences.

For more inspiring examples of educational and informative content, read CMI’s Ultimate eBook: 100 Content Marketing Examples

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, Managing Content Marketing and Get Content Get Customers. Joe's latest book is Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill). If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • Houssem@ContentGems

    I love it when Marcus Sheridan says that we all need to be teachers in this space. However, I believe that “Education” is a more accurate word than “Teaching”. I think it’s not enough to teach people how they can solve their problems using our solutions because what big brands do is more than that. They empower, inspire and impact lives (aka: Educate). Great piece Joe :)

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Inspire! Yes!

  • http://www.wecompletepayroll/ John Reeves

    Great post…Thanks for helping me focus on an avenue of content I have let slide.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/donnanneman Don Nanneman

    Another excellent reminder that the most effective content marketing is ‘about them’ and not ‘about us’. Educate vs. sell. Great post Joe. Thanks!

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Don…it’s so hard for organizations to think this way.

  • Brian Clark

    Content marketing *is* education.

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Amen!

    • timdanyo

      And the best content marketers are the best teachers.

  • KHAGESWAR RAO K

    Incisive.

  • Cam

    “Bringing ideas to life with interactive conversation” love it Joe

  • Gordana Stok

    Thanks for addressing this topic. Nothing drives home the point more that you’re in the business of education as working for a technology start-up that is first to market with a new solution category. This was my foray into content marketing back in 2000. Traditional marketing communications wasn’t working, so we had to be very creative in our messaging. We created a lot of of thought leadership pieces that raised awareness and educated people on why they needed this new product category. It spoke directly to their pain points and needs and explained how the technology delivered on those needs.

  • http://twitter.com/neomammalian Danny Ashton

    Big
    brands have been using education as a way to connect with their consumers for
    a long time and it’s great to see these examples of how they are using this
    education process in their content marketing strategy.

  • Heather Sloan

    Nice article! Education changes the world and in marketing, It also shortens buying cycles and overcomes price barriers. What could be better?

  • Anna

    Great roundup! Samsung has created an app with a lot of educational content as well. http://on.fb.me/135Kkel

  • Arupa

    As a corporate trainer and innovator, I find myself producing more educational marketing and content for young innovative companies, so it’s not just the larger companies going down this path. Thanks for the interesting examples.

  • Arupa

    As a corporate trainer and innovator, I find myself producing more educational marketing and content for young innovative companies, so it’s not just the larger companies going down this path. Thanks for the interesting examples. http://learningpaths.ca

  • Richard Israel

    Great article Joe. I lead a team for #ConstantContact of “educators” across North America that will inspire close to 200k small businesses, live and in person in 2013. Our reach and impact on SMBs is unprecedented. We rely on terrific marketing content that gives folks the confidence they need to successfully market their business. Education and content marketing is king and is the NEW marketing norm!

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Richard…I thought your CEO’s book was a nice touch as well.

  • http://msgiggles.com/ Amanda Ingle

    I have to put in a shameless plug for Anytime Fitness. We have created a platform for our members to get healthy outside of the gym. They can log food and activity, get support from other members in our support groups, ask trainers for advice, get daily tips/tricks/advice on our blog, http://anytimehealth.com/blog – it all comes back to the idea that we care about our members and their success in the clubs!

  • http://www.EVNlaw.com/ Thor Roundy

    I sincerely appreciate the content links here. Particularly in B2B, there is an untapped potential for content collaboration across industries. Over the next 10 years, companies that engage will emerge as brand leaders in their own industries, I believe.

  • Julia McCoy

    Great stuff here. Education is such a powerful and important key in content marketing. You want to educate them to buy…educate them to keep following you and to know who you are…educate them to be your audience, your clients–etc., etc. Value + education in content are often tied hand-in-hand.

  • Sanath V

    Thanks Joe, Sounds great, I design loyalty training solutions for corporate sector and here in Sri Lanka we have a great case study where telecommunication company had use retailer education (workshops on mind setting and improving small business management skills) as the main tool of marketing. Today the company had obviously become the market leader in telecommunication and it really shows the return on training investment (RoTI) is much higher than the return on advertising.