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An Instructional Designer’s Case for Consumer Education

  1. Pen Ron Zamir
  2. Calendar July 23, 2014

The Case Consumer EducationWhy is instructional design becoming increasingly important to consumer education?

In the past months, we’ve been focused on how consumer education is creating a new marketing landscape. Since we regularly work with the best-known brands on over 100 projects each year, we’re often able to track movements in the training world. We have seen several thousand of you visit our portfolio and consumer education site. AllenComm’s success in moving its design to the world of consumer education and marketing presents a great opportunity for all of us who believe and work in the field of instructional design.

Why Consumer Education

It’s been a learning experience to talk with clients across industries about how to upgrade the ways they educate not just internal employees but the buyers of their products. It’s become very evident that marketers and brand managers are acutely aware of the fact that in today’s always-online culture, consumers are increasingly tuning out traditional marketing. Cutting through the noise to make your brand and product a long-term value is in our instructional sweet spot, and it resonates now more than ever.

It’s important to note that we’re not just talking about more content marketing. Instructionally driven consumer education strategies connect much more deeply with audiences, allowing the audience to “pull” exactly what they need, when they need it. By thinking broadly, organizations who use consumer education are reaching their audiences earlier in the purchase process and growing their brand reach, winning customers over before their competitors can. Not only does consumer education increase reach it also creates brand champions. When freely provided with valuable educational tools, customers are 94% more satisfied with their purchase.

Current Practices

See Full Infographic

See Full Infographic

Companies are already building consumer-education strategies. Recently, for example, I was planning a trip to Alaska and searching for camping equipment. I stumbled onto a very informative page from REI. Their focus was not on a product but on tutorials on how to pick a tent and sleeping bag. I got the information I needed for my trip, and my opinion of REI as a valuable retailer invested in helping me make the right purchases increased. This same thing is happening across industries. We believe all these endeavors can learn from what we, as an industry, have accomplished in training and educating employees and consumers. The following are some examples that are being practiced today by leading companies in the market:

The Allen Difference

Despite this positive push toward better consumer education resources, such campaigns still draw too heavily on push-based content-marketing strategies. We believe that the most effective consumer education approaches align strong brand strategies with the best adult learning technologies and principles that allow learners to pull exactly the right information at their point of need. Research has shown that customers who find the right educational assets are 29 times more likely to buy compared to ads alone. We’ve seen these positive results as we have developed best-practices for building interactive learning experiences that unify company messaging, are personalized to the learner, and integrate subtle but powerful branding. These instructional design approaches allow us to build complete brand and learner experiences for our clients and their audiences. For example:

  • Use existing messaging as source content to create personalized learning by roles, allowing your audience, whether a sales rep or a customer, to find the information they need in no more than 1 to 2 clicks
  • Create a central brand education portal, with built-in analytics and dashboards, allowing you to monitor results and streamline the user experience across a range of mobile and desktop devices
  • Incorporate a unified visual strategy across the program and include interactive tools and strategies, not just passive content pushes, to help learners consume information at their pace
  • Integrate ecommerce features into your learning to remove purchasing barriers and create a seamless transition from education to sales
  • Build a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy into your design phases to ensure your consumer education campaigns attract the widest possible audience and spread your brand messaging

With instructional design and marketing continually merging to create valuable consumer education, we challenge both sets of professionals to look to each other for new ways to engage their consumers. Our vision is to continue to work with our partners to drive this sort of brand and education innovation, helping our partners build and control the most-used and most influential sites and content in their industries.What is your organization dong to build brand leadership in consumer education? Share with us below.

If you’re working on instructional design or content marketing and want to upgrade your approaches using the latest consumer education strategies, contact us for a 20-minute consumer education demo.

Comments 18

  1. Excellent points, Ron. Your REI example sounds very familiar: I have recently gotten back into trail running, and I was browsing around looking for advice on trail running shoes. REI has a page (http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/running-shoes.html) with very good advice, but I remember thinking as I continued scrolling and scrolling that a little bit of instructional design would go a long way toward making this page more effective. Your larger point remains, though–their willingness to invest their time in my education meant a lot to me.

  2. I appreciate the emphasis here on the audience experience. If we focus on the learner first and work toward how we can bring them the right information at the right time we will be far more effective in conveying our message. Bringing various training applications to the marketing realm to drive the way the content is presented is honestly going to be the next move toward personalization. A good marketing strategy will need to incorporate different message channels, tools and delivery methods to accommodate different types of consumers. Thanks for the blog.

  3. I might add that it’s definitely important to make sure that any educational efforts go hand-in-hand with existing branding. Building a brand is building trust and good will, and while offering no-obligation educational materials would be a great way to do that, you want to make sure that you don’t undermine any existing efforts.

  4. Excellent blog. I really enjoyed your comments on push vs pull strategies. With pull strategies the demand is already there. Someone is already interested in the product or service and actively seeking information. I’ve been in that situation before, actively looking for educational content when researching pre-purchase. More often than not I end up digging through pages of search results not finding quite the right information. It seems as though the most successful companies are aware of their audience’s questions and are providing the answers in a way that is easy to consume. Thanks for the examples that you have provided, they are great inspiration for future “pull” projects

  5. Speaking from the customer’s point of view, the point on pull-based, personalized content is such a critical point! I’m tired of having to.sort through mazes of content to find the product information I need. My business increasingly goes to the companies that take the time to provide my with a full product experience, including support and education, and like the REI example you cite, these days I’m willing to pay a small premium to get that. I’m sure you could’ve gotten your gear cheaper, but the full experience building on approaches such as yours matters more and more in decisions among similar products and stores, in my opinion.

  6. Definitely a “trending topic” in our industry with plenty of opportunity to fill unmet needs, especially for niche markets or secondary consumer segments. Personal case in point: as an avid racquetball player, my brand of choice is HEAD, however, I feel like an ugly step-child compared to the HEAD tennis players, which enjoy more of everything including consumer education. When looking for education on how to select a racquet, HEAD did not offer much more than specifications and feature descriptions. I had to go to one of their distributors for an education, which did nothing to strengthen my brand loyalty to HEAD products.

  7. As someone trying to market an Initiative, this was a great blog post to read and to help me evaluate our plan of action when it comes to consumer education and brand immersion.

  8. Nice blog, you brought up some interesting examples of consumer education. Valuable info is a great way to subtly build a brand without feeling like you are getting a sales pitch.

  9. Nice read. Some great validation here. For years we have seen that educating the consumer is key. The majority of the market is just coming to this realization as traditional avenues see less satisfactory results. The brands themselves do not provide nearly enough information to make an educated decision. They rely on brand clout to do the talking, which more and more, people seem to care less about. Consumers want to know that they are spending their money on something reliable with the features they need and with so many players in the field, direction is needed. Enter great opportunity for third parties.

  10. Interesting read. The digital eco-systems being built around products is an interesting – and exciting – development

    Simple (http://www.simple.com) is another example great financial industry. Their whole experience makes them far more than a credit card provider, but a financial coach and analyst.

    I tend to like push-based education from companies or products I am passionate about. Push marketing for things I value, but don’t emotionally connect with, are generally disregarded as noise.

    The majority of my pull-based education is done while researching a product, troubleshooting it, or trying to find a community / tips / tricks around it. Easy to navigate resources and a vibrant community definitely enhance a product/service’s value. Conversely, I tend to appreciate products/services that lack those resources less and less with each failed or difficult experience.

  11. Thank you for illustrating the importance and benefits of consumer education. It has been an important factor in several of my recent purchases and decisions. With many markets becoming saturated with similar products, how companies interact with customers and clients will only continue to grow in importance.

  12. Excellent post. As a market researcher with experience in shopper insights, I appreciate the reference to research data to support the claim, “Research has shown that customers who find the right educational assets are 29 times more likely to buy compared to ads alone.” This applies not only in the retail world but the SMB and enterprise spaces too. Having the right consumer education at the right time in the right place doesn’t just create a better customer experience, it can mean the difference between someone choosing to buy your brand or your competition’s.

  13. I very much appreciate this post. I work in formal education and we can learn a lot from this. The pull strategy is so much more effective – do you have advice for creating that desire for understanding in more students, particularly at the high school level?

  14. This is an excellent post! I will share this with some people internally. Consumer education is something that Simplot needs to look at more closely and become more aggressive on. I really like the infographic that highlights some data behind this post.

    This was well put together and is representative of the kind of value that you guys bring to the table…beyond just reacting to our needs but helping us see opportunities where learning can make a difference to the business!


  15. Thank you not only for this informative post, but for the insight you offer throughout your website on consumer education. When I was a Marketing Director for a national network of audiology clinics, our company relied heavily on traditional marketing tactics. Since the average age of our patient was over 70 years old, this seemed to be the most effective means of not only attracting new patients, but also retaining the patients we had. However, as each year passes and as each patient becomes more internet savvy, consumer education is critical. If the patient is not conducting research on best practices, their children most certainly are. A prospective patient is bombarded every single day with competing direct mail pieces and television commercials; however, what our patient cared about most was not the product advertised, but what was in it for them. The more opportunities a company can give patients to pull the most relevant information about the personal care and product(s) they need, the more trusting they will become in the company that provided this education.

  16. Post

    Hello all, great comments. It’s been a real eye opener for us to realize how much of our context driven design has relevancy for content and brand managers. Jeffery’s comment is intriguing to me as we do tend to focus on consumer education. An interesting exception for us is how we can help a franchise or a direct marketing firms support their customers through the education of distributors and owners. Pushing the brand narrative with some depth of content seems a no brainer. Sterling makes a great point that we must always keep at the forefront, the user experience is much more than the way we set up our mouse trap. I have always admired Lego and Disney for their amazing store layout. Now we see that electronic real-estate can do so much more to impact buying decisions even before a new customer really does experience your brand. My personal example is worth repeating, I went from a person who thinks REI is overpriced to a buyer who understands that knowledge in an REI web site and store makes the premium purchase a good deal. Why not stay loyal to the brand that educates you and makes you feel better with your purchase!

    Michelle, Ryck, and others have tapped into a real dilemma for our designers, what is the right balance between push and pulling of content. Is it a sequencing issue? Do we scaffold it or do we go for broke with one strategy or the other? In the employee educational world we can push more effectively since we have control in many ways over our leaner. The instructional experience has changed for many of us as we adopt a more foundational pull approach. Let the learner graze, so to speak, and interact with the content. Current technologies lets us analyze these pull patterns and augment them with push strategies that are already in so much use in the world of web marketing.

    So here is my question back to you. What do we as designers need to know about the world of the content marketer to get us a seat at the table!?

    Share your thoughts … good learning to all.


    1. Ron, you and the brilliant folks at Allen Communication are doing the entire learning industry a great service by blogging about customer education. Thank you!

      What do we need to know about content marketing? That nobody wants boring content. That great marketers make content fascinating, even addictive. That most instructional designers were trained to boringize our content. If I see another eLearning couse that opens with perfectly written learning objectives, you’ll hear me screaming from Chicago to Salt Lake City.

      Maybe this is the year that I won’t be the ONLY learning professional I meet at Content Marketing World. That’s where you find out what you need to know. And by following Joe Pulizzi and the Content Marketing Institute, Jay Baer at Convince and Convert, and Sally Hogshead at Howtofascinate.com. By learning from Todd Wheatfield that SlideShare is the #1 B2B research tool…who knew? And that even PowerPoint can become fascinating if you follow Nancy Duarte’s advice on slide:ology. Just find those five people on Twitter and you’re through the looking glass.

      We’ve got a few hundred learning professionals talking about this very stuff in the first ever MOOC on Corporate MOOCs. All are welcome , so come and join us at mocm.intrepidlearning.com!


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