Customer education vs marketing: How to educate
Everyone knows about the importance of education, but businesses have for years taken a backwards approach on keeping their customers informed. Some businesses try not to educate their customers about their industry or in general, fearing that a more educated and discerning customer will be less loyal. As long as they keep the customer informed about their product through marketing, many businesses are convinced that will be good enough.
But the internet has been around for 20 years, and customers can already educate themselves about an industry. A business should thus take a proactive approach and see that a customer learns about their business or industry on their terms. Far from creating disloyal customers, a solid customer education policy shows customers that a business cares about them enough to keep them informed not just about their product, but in general. This creates loyal customers and should be a key part of your business strategy.
Customer education vs marketing
The first confusion about customer education is that businesses fail to distinguish it from marketing. Marketing informs a customer about a particular product or service, often through an emotional appeal. Customer education is more general and informs customers about something not directly related to your product.
If you are still unclear about the difference, look at these five examples of customer education from various businesses or groups. These groups like Whole Foods are not explicitly telling customers that they should use their product for various reasons. They are imparting information which can improve the customer’s life in general whether it is health tips for their children, giving out recipes, or tips on how to invest.
While it is obvious how the information each group imparts is connected to their business, this less in your face approach is more appealing to customers who do not want to feel like they are being sold to.
What are your business goals?
Customer education is a more indirect approach compared to marketing, but a business still needs to make sure that the educational topics can be easily connected to the business.
But even that is not enough. A customer education strategy should be tied not just to the business, but to the business’s goals. What is your business’s highest priority? Is it to increase brand recognition, increase the number of consumers, or turn already existing consumers into loyal consumers? Differing business goals require differing educational approaches.
Take the Whole Foods example listed above. By listing recipes or health tips, Whole Foods is attempting to persuade customers to go with their product over competing large store brands. That is a good strategy now, but that would not work as well 20 years ago when Whole Foods was much smaller. A better educational strategy then would be to emphasize the benefits of natural and organic food, educating customers about the market in general.
If you are trying to build up brand recognition, then you will want to educate to the lowest common denominator. But if you already have a loyal consumer base, you should try to appeal to those consumers and thus assume that they know something about your product and industry.
How to educate
So your business knows what kind of information they wish to educate the public with. The next question is how to do it.
There are many approaches which a business can take. At minimum, any business can launch a blog which talks about the company and industry. Podcasts are also a good approach as well.
Another approach is to directly educate customers with workshops or seminars. Some cloud companies like HubSpot or Oracle award certificates to thousands of learners who complete a seminar with them. Those learners thus become part of the cloud industry and likely stay predisposed towards the company which set up those seminars. Investing into seminars or workshops over the short term thus improves those companies’ reputation and revenue over the long term.
While setting up a blog or workshop may seem easy, there are a lot of challenges with customer education. No one becomes educated overnight, and a business may get discouraged as they will not see a return on their investment immediately.
Whether your business uses a blog, workshop, or take a more creative approach, the most important thing is to stay consistent. Customer education shares certain similarities with content marketing, and a content marketing strategy, like a customer education strategy, cannot succeed if a business does not consistently put out content.
Customer education may not produce much in results at first. But a solid strategy shows that a business is interested in helping their customers with information, and will almost certainly improve your brand recognition and number of loyal customers in the long run. The important thing is to stay patient, know precisely what your business goals are, and think of a practical yet creative ways to educate the most people possible.
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A social media marketing executive and entrepreneur, Alex has led the marketing divisions of some of the UK's leading advertising and PR firms. He specializes in usng the power of big data and business analysis to deliver actionable metrics.
As head of social media strategy, Alex is directly responsible for the customer experience and...