By Barry Feldman published July 24, 2013

5 Tips for Creating Content That’s Educational—and Unforgettable

educational contentA couple of months ago, Joe Pulizzi published an epic post, Why Education is a Powerful Content Marketing Strategy: 17 Examples. Required reading, in my book (er, feed).

The lengthy show-and-tell style post featured a long roster of real-world examples of brands delivering on the promise of content marketing by creating content that’s useful and can unquestionably be deemed educational.

The article is not a rundown of metrics, but I’d venture to guess each of the brands-turned-publisher is enjoying the benefits of drawing customers and prospects closer to them by putting the power of utility before promotion.

As is often the case with CMI’s thoughtful articles, a healthy heap of comments poured in:

CMI reader comments

Copyblogger’s Brian Clark wasted no words, stating, “Content marketing is education.” If you’re familiar with Copyblogger (and who isn’t?), you understand — this is a content marketer who practices what he preaches.

Tim Danyo of Imagination Media followed with, “And the best content marketers are the best teachers.” Joe (and the congregation) responded with a hearty, “Amen.”

How to get an ‘A’ in content marketing education

As a responsible journalist, I’m compelled to always cite my sources. While Joe’s article (along with Brian and Tim’s comments) was the inspiration for this post, a good portion of what I’m about to write comes from a conversation that ensued with my kids, Jayna and Leah (ages 14 and 12, respectively) — two experts in education from the customer’s point of view (which we all know is the point of view we most need to tune into).

I explained to my girls (who generally don’t look up from their iPhones to discuss what the old man writes about) that, in my opinion, content marketers who stand out from the crowd, elicit sustained interest, and can be counted on as catalysts for inspiring learning experiences are the best teachers in my industry. Then, being careful not to talk explicitly about blogs or eBooks, I asked them to explain why they so often say school is boring. They were all over that one.

We got into a conversation about the rare occasions when school isn’t boring — i.e., what it takes, in their estimation, to make it exciting. Much of that conversation turned to the little tricks their favorite teachers have up their sleeves.

As a content creator, I’m sure you’d like to be considered your audience’s favorite teacher; so let’s take a look at what some youthful insights can offer in the way of lessons on becoming an ace educator — and, thus, an effective content marketer.

1. Funny teachers rule

The results were unanimous: My daughters didn’t hesitate to cite humor as the teaching tool that works for them. Examples poured out fast and furiously: One science teacher likes to light her lab counter on fire. Another has made use of a marshmallow gun in demonstrations. (Rest assured their school’s not as dangerous as these activities might lead you to believe.)

I thought back to my favorite teachers. They, too, were funny. Perhaps my little gene pool doesn’t make this theory absolute, but I suspect a larger sample would still confirm the hypothesis: Sense of humor is a serious teaching tool.

Think about your challenges in creating content. You are tasked with engaging the audience — pressure that can be intensified when you have dry material to cover. Can you get a joke in there? An anecdote? How about a little self-deprecation or stunt of some sort?

I’ll tell you, after having attended a whole lot of conference sessions and webinars the past few years, the short list of the ones I remember vividly are the ones where I did a fair share of laughing.

2. Let your students get their hands dirty

Call me biased, but I thought it brilliant when my 12-year-old said, “The best lessons are hands-on.” She went on to assert that props are great teaching tools.

Now let’s be realistic. Your content lessons aren’t likely to include the dissection of frogs, or the creation of an art project (though they are not outside the realm of possibility). However, you can still find plenty of ways to inject some “connect the dots” moments into the content you create.

Perhaps you could write something that calls for interaction, and follow up with the feedback you’ve collected. You could offer a quiz, provide readers with an exercise to complete, construct a two-way webinar, or plan a Twitter chat. I once delivered a keynote at a marketing conference in the form of a participative game show — the audience was buzzing about it from start to finish.

The possibilities are many. Instead of approaching the task as one where your job is to deliver a lesson, think of it as hosting a lesson. Use your imagination to engage your audience’s imagination.

3. Predictability is poisonous

My kids’ biggest rant on school was how almost every day is the same routine — a great reminder that one of our jobs as content marketers is to do battle with predictability.

Now, I’m not suggesting you bail on your agenda or schedule — I’m simply advising that you mix things up once in a while.

I asked my girls, “What if you got to school one Monday and the teacher said, ‘This week, instead of lessons, each day will feature something different: a movie, an experiment, a magic day, a music day, and game?’ ” This elicited two big smiles.

If your content creation routine focuses 100 percent of its efforts on blog posts (or webinars, or any other single content format), you need to break out of your rut. Inject video, audio, case studies, cartoons, infographics, slide shows, or whatever else you can think of to put some variety into your teaching techniques.

4. Encourage field trips (no permission slips required)

This may be shocking, I know, but kids dig field trips. The ultimate way to break the monotony of school is to get on a bus and leave it for the day. Honestly, what’s more exciting: a classroom-based history lesson on the California gold rush, or a trip to visit the California State Railroad Museum? A lecture on state government, or a tour of the state Capitol Building?

Effective content marketers are excellent field trip planners. They charter trips to exciting destinations, where the learning takes place organically.

An obvious example here is to showcase a brand that exemplifies the lesson you are attempting to teach. But let’s take this idea further. Take your chances and tell remarkable stories. Present enthralling biographies. Conduct an online event. Highlight a book or documentary. Borrow existing interest in a seemingly irrelevant person, place, or thing by connecting it to your lesson in a meaningful way.

You don’t need a bus — you just need to get the wheels spinning in your mind.

5. Remove the stress

My kids pointed out how stressful it is to have to learn about stuff they “don’t care about” (in their case, it’s math). And their stress is compounded by the fact that they’ll be tested on the material.

Of course, some students adore math, yet sleep through music class or dread gym class and history.

As content marketers, we really don’t have to force anyone into any lesson or subject. But still, this notion is lost on some.

If content marketing is education, we’ll be far more successful when we teach what our students covet. Do you know what that is? I propose it’s incumbent on you to find out. Work with the “class.” Ask them what they want to learn more about. Ask them if they’re getting bored, or have become particularly excited by any of your content. Ask them where you’re succeeding, and where you are failing, in their eyes.

Pay attention to the nonverbal signs, as well. Your successes and failures will present themselves — if you care enough to perpetually pay attention, and to take steps to improve. Conduct surveys and exit reports. Refer to your analytics. Have “teacher/student conferences” via social media.

Your favorite cook knows your tastes — and your audience’s favorite teacher should, too.

Extra credit

School’s out for kids right now, but it’s never out for us teachers — not if we’re serious about getting better and better at our craft.

Our job isn’t just to deliver knowledge. Our job is to remove the boredom so often associated with learning, and to make our lessons unforgettable. Are you with me?

Have you put any tactics to work that you believe make you a better teacher? Share them today — educate the readers, if you would.

Looking for more content marketing lessons that engage as well as they educate? You won’t want to miss our closing keynote at Content Marketing World 2013: William Shatner. Register today!

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Barry Feldman

Barry Feldman is a freelance copywriter, creative director, and content marketing creator and consultant. He specializes in persuasion and engagement. If you would like a piece of his mind, visit Feldman Creative and his blog, The Point. Feldman Creative has also recently published an eBook, Strike A Chord: Lessons for Making Your Web Content Resonate, where you'll find many more examples of engaging teaching tactics. You can follow Barry on Twitter @FeldmanCreative.

Other posts by Barry Feldman

  • ronellsmith

    Barry,

    Your post reminds me of a college biology course I took that “required” us to think like a child. The reasoning was children view the world through a prism that quashes inhibition. Everything is possible.

    As adults, we favor predictability, but not in the content we consume. Predictability, as you make plain, is a curse. Duly noted.

    RS

  • dsafko

    Totally agree with your observations about teaching/learning. Most of the school lessons we remember for a lifetime involved more than one of our senses. They included an entertaining lesson with an activity, a song, or a tangible object. Think about multiple senses when creating content, as well as surprise, fun and lowering stress. For some reason, too many educators feel that learning is serious business and adding entertainment will distract from the process. My own memory says otherwise.

    • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

      I like that. Serious business need not be boring, right? Great comments.

  • RocketManDigital

    My favorite teacher made her biggest impact on me in the summer when she sent me a Rembrandt postcard she saw in her travels to Europe, just because she knew I loved art. That cemented her place in my mind as the teacher who had the biggest impact on me.

    Lesson learned: Share something unexpected that they’ll never forget.

    Excellent piece! Thanks for the post.

    • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

      Ah yes, the unexpected. Thanks for that RocketMan. (Gotta ask though… Your teacher carried your address around with her?)

      • RocketManDigital

        Creepy. Never thought of it that way.

        Thanks again for the post…and the nightmares! :-)

  • airpacinc

    LOVED this post, Barry! Applies to blogs and all forms of social media. But the one key ingredient that is REQUIRED in all forms of content is authenticity! When you teach, blog, post, comment from a place of authenticity then it’s the best you can do. Some folks will love you and others… not so much. But that’s OK — you need to weed out the “bad fits” early on so you can focus on creating content that will educate and entertain your target personas. Keep churning out the good stuff!

    • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

      LOVE the love. Thanks much.

  • Allie Tetreault

    Excellent points, and a great connection to make! When we’re online, scouting for great articles and blog posts, we’re educating ourselves, and we won’t pay attention unless it’s fun, hands-on, creative and implements a method of show-and-tell. I also think it’s great that you interviewed your daughters, who will become customers soon enough, if they aren’t already! Thanks for the post!

    • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

      Thanks Allie. They are indeed customers and perhaps more importantly, the most influential of all influencers ;-)

  • KAD

    Way to hijack the #socialmadness logo. Practice what you preach, folks!

  • http://www.SocialMediaAndTheBigW.com/ Jason Small

    Great read – in particular I really liked the use of humor, and the stress on variety of delivery of the content. I don’t think you can overstate the humor element, since it’s often the unique POV and sense of humor that captures the most attention. Really enjoyed the post, thank you.

    • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

      Thanks for humoring me Jason.

  • clarestweets

    Great ideas Barry. Everyone talks about delivering quality content. Yours is one of the few posts who show us exactly how to to that. I loved the advice to be hands on. I often include fill in the blank exercises in my blog posts and was genuinely surprised to see how much readers enjoyed the “hands on” approach. Thanks again for your wisdom here.

  • Cat Fyson (Koozai)

    Hi Barry

    Some really brilliant tips here to add life to your content. Sense of humour is definitely a good one, and being a little tongue-in-cheek is great for many brands.

    Unfortunately some brands are not behind the idea of creating content that solicits some (or any!) of these points. Hopefully this will change over time and more brands will appreciate the importance of *good* content that their influencers will not only find mildly interesting, but will want to shout about.

    Many thanks for a great post Barry
    Cat

  • Arthur Lyons

    Barry,
    Very good post. Thanks to you and your girls for the tips. As a content marketer and a marketing professor (Univ. of Phoenix), your suggestions resonate with me. Humor, yes, is a vital ingredient. I try to pair humor with authentic passion for the topic and the organizations that do it well. I like your challenge of “hands on” involvement. This is easier in the classroom but more challenging in blog posts, yet very effective when you find a creative way to do it. I love the “field trips”: that is where “the rubber meets the road.” Show by example and people really get it, especially when the examples are well known (Apple, WallMart, Starbucks, Nike, etc.)

    You helped me better understand that my readers are like the students in the classroom. They want to learn, but, like your girls, they want to be “charmed” into learning and have it be fun and memorable. Keep up the great work.

    • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

      Killer comments Arthur. With you all across the (black) board. Thanks.

  • http://www.craigmcbreen.com/ Craig McBreen

    Hi Barry,

    Love the ideas here and you are so right. I think it helps to think more like a teacher and less like a marketer … A creative, funny, experimental teacher ;)

    It’s all part of immersing yourself in your customer’s world and getting to know them. This is great advice, because I think a mindset like this positions you to best help customers solve their problems and continue on their journey. View them as kids on a journey (the customers you love :)) and you are simply there to help them on their way. Golden!

  • Julia McCoy

    Love this unique, witty blog post about creating content – with the theme of education throughout. Education really IS the theme of content, from educating a customer to make a sale to educating for the sake of informative content that ranks well in Google. From the copywriter’s brain, continually getting educated behind the pen, to the audience that reads, education is a central key!

  • http://www.showyourexpertise.com Carl Friesen

    I particularly like the point about finding out what the audience wants to know about. Many of my business professional clients may think that their market is as passionately interested in the finer points of topics like contaminated-soil remediation or carbon-footprint measurement, but the market isn’t. That’s why they outsource the work. So, I encourage my clients to create content around not so much what they do, but how people in their market can use it. Like, how to “sell” the results of that carbon-measurement study to one’s Board, so steps can be put in place to reduce the footprint.

    Does anyone else have to fight against the tendency for technical professionals to talk too much about what they do, rather than what the market can do to benefit from it?