Education Through Marketing – Thinking Beyond the Pen and Paper
If you ask what reminds people most of fall, “Back to School” will be a popular answer. Even if you don’t have kids going to school or you aren’t in school yourself, you know fall is a sign that the year is starting over again, with a fresh start and a fresh perspective for learning something new. In marketing, however, fall is not the only time to start learning something new. There is always an opportunity to provide education – education on an issue, a brand, a specific product or a new opportunity. More and more, marketing is being leveraged as issues management to provide education for a specific cause or subject matter.
Digital Marketing in particular is being utilized because of the speed and control it provides in delivering a message, in mass. Education campaigns can range from promoting the importance of a product category, an idea, an association or an issue, such as “Got Milk” (educating on the importance of calcium), “The Truth” (promoting the facts of big tobacco) and “The Other White Meat” (educating on the benefits of pork). At the end of the day, all brands or organizations are prone to having some sort of issue – it’s how you deal with it that shows strength to the public.
So how do you effectively educate through Digital Marketing? A few guidelines that apply across all facets of marketing will help:
- Goal – Determine the goal of providing the education: The objective of leveraging digital marketing for education may not be for the audience to completely change their minds about a particular subject or take a specific measureable action…as it’s not always that easy when you are influencing opinions. Your goal may simply be to:
- Educate enough to prevent further confusion about the issue
- Reduce negative perceptions
- Decline the volume of negative “noise” being made about the issue
- Create more neutral sentiment
- Who – Identify who you are trying to educate: When educating on an issue or subject matter, you need to be conduct research and analysis to be able to segment your audience to know who you will and will not be able to influence through digital marketing. Research may include focus groups, on-site surveys or analysis of digital behavior. Break the data down into groups of people who are searching for information on the subject or issue you want to educate. Here are sample audience segments:
- The Worriers – Actively seeking information about the issue or subject matter because they are concerned, but could be convinced to be either for the issue or against the issue. Therefore, a critical target to reach through your digital marketing efforts.
- The Haters – Strongly opposed to the cause or subject, cannot be educated or influenced to change opinions. Therefore, should not be a direct target for digital marketing efforts.
- The Lovers – Strongly agree with the issue or subject and therefore do not need to be a focus of digital marketing efforts, as they are already educated and meeting your goal.
- The Influencers – May or may not agree with the issue, but are in a position to educate others and are therefore a critical target to engage.
- If the issue you are educating on is mostly getting negative feedback, Facebook or video may be sources that only add fuel to the fire as “haters” may flock to these mediums to rant or poke fun. (i.e. very few people will “like” a page on a really controversial issue without creating more controversy…perhaps this medium isn’t ideal)
- For the content network, or Google’s display network, you may want to opt into managed placements where you can target specific sites and avoid bringing the issue to the attention of someone who may not have even known about it in the first place.
- The search network may be the best area to spend your dollars, as you will have more control for those who are actively seeking out information.
- Natural search engine optimization will be critical to ensure your message and point of view is seen next to the opinion of others within news articles or blog posts.
- Social is key for better understanding what topics are being discussed. Create a decision tree to then determine who/what issues you should spend time addressing.
- Messaging – Ensure that you are limiting negative impact from skeptics by influencing opinions about the issues as they form. Since issues being addressed through digital marketing programs are usually up for debate or controversial, stick to the facts and ensure your messaging is communicated in an official, objective and authoritative tone. Avoid the appearance of a commercial marketing campaign to increase credibility.
- Key Performance Indicators - Identify how you are going to measure success. Effective communication may not be determined from the usual KPIs benchmarked in consumer/product campaigns. You will need to think outside of the box here – gauge changes in behavior measured from focus groups, on-site surveys or from site user paths on the site.