Providing needs-based, consumer education is a powerful way to take control of the purchasing narrative and create content marketing that works.
In the nineties I worked for an ad agency that did both traditional advertising and direct response marketing. The traditional side of the agency was creating consumer ads for magazines, billboards, and television. The direct response side developed direct response TV ads, infomercials, and lots and lots and lots of direct mail.
There was little agreement over which was better. The traditional advertisers saw themselves on the side of brand. It was enough for them to tie their message to the coinciding emotion and count on that emotional link to drive purchasing decisions. The direct marketers felt that relying solely on brand might drive decisions between competing products, but wouldn’t be enough to sustain new and under-represented products or directly increase sales. They both agreed that the results from a brand campaign are much harder to quantify than the number of phone calls or business-reply cards received from a direct marketing campaign. But it’s hard to argue against brand when companies with stronger brands generally out-perform their competition either in the marketplace, the stock market, or both.
Two decades later it would seem they both won. Every branded message and contrived feel-good moment now pushes us to connect, comment, like, share, tag, pin, text, blog, or download an app to show how much we appreciate it. This is the measurable, modern day equivalent to the business reply card. But what are we supposed to appreciate? Their brand? Their product?
Shifting to Consumer Education
Social media seems to have placed all of the power in the hands of the consumer. Messages that miss their mark get instant negative feedback in the comments area. Hashtag campaigns can backfire when detractors take over the tag to voice complaints or make cynical remarks about a company’s hypocrisy.
Consumer education provides a unique space for messaging that doesn’t have to feel contrived or pushy. Instead, consumer education experiences deliver the information consumers already want, through subtly branded learning experiences.
The oldest examples of this predate the internet by a century. One source of pride for me is my ability to make a superior chocolate chip cookie. My mom taught me how to make them when I was eleven, but it wasn’t until my late twenties that I realized Mom’s recipe was on the back of the bag. I’ve used other chips since then, but I would never use another recipe. Now when people ask how I make them, I tell them what brand of chips have my recipe on the back.
Food manufacturers have always seen the value in providing DIY information that just so happens to involve using their products. In decades past, the information had to be on the product itself. They have tapped into a subject that people already love to share: recipes. Now those same food companies have encyclopedic websites describing every recipe they can think of that uses every product they manufacture in some way, shape, or form. And their marketing photos come across so much more sharable on Pinterest and Instagram than Jenny’s smartphone pic of grandma’s meatloaf.
Providing the experience that a consumer is already looking for is a powerful way to take control of the narrative. There’s no need to push. If the campaign hits the mark, consumers will use and share it because they want to, not because the company asked them to. If the campaign misses, the risk for backlash is minimal. When a consumer looking for information finds a source incomplete or irrelevant, they keep looking elsewhere. Not a great result for the company, but much better than having one’s hashtag appropriated by haters. Done right, consumer education creates promoters of a brand or product that they read about after clicking on their friend’s shared link or searching for answers to questions they care about.
What are your favorite consumer education examples and success stories? Share your experiences and thoughts with us below.
Interested in more on consumer education? Read Allen CEO Ron Zamir’s Consumer Education article, check out best practices in our case studies, or schedule a demo with one of our learning directors to see award-winning examples of how to take control of the narrative with consumer education.