Why indeed. Typically Learning has been considered a part of the Human Capital Management (HCM) function of the HR department. It is integral to the development of the employee base and has been majorly linked to increased productivity, innovation and satisfaction. Outside HR though, learning has struggled to find a foothold in any of the other corporate functions. I would like to make a case for using learning as a marketing tool.
Before you say “…but isn’t educating your customer a very commonly used marketing technique?”, hear me out. Learning is not about wrapping pieces of information in shiny wrappers and throwing it at the target audience, hoping some of it will stick. ‘Infomercials’, ‘Expert Advice’ and the sanctimonious doctor in front of an animated tooth, are all in essence advertisements. They are designed to sell, rather than educate. It is after all, the primary function of marketing. But there is a lot of merit in having a more meaningful teacher-student, advisor-seeker relationship with your client. A viable case for the more rigorous forms of learning and training that we see being practiced inside organizations. That would include: understanding the learning needs, designing e-courses with sound ID principles, managed and targeted delivery, monitoring progress and certification.
Why bother? Well, here are five good reasons:
- An educated customer base creates a higher entry barrier for competition: For a brand, it is important to have a discerning target audience. When people learn the intricacies of a product, they are able to appreciate the nuances of any offering. They take logical decisions, and are more prone to stick to those decisions with convictions. This prevents brand switching and provides a loyal customer base. Many technology companies see this behavior in their customers, where brand loyalty is a product of knowing the pros and cons rather than emotional connect.
- Proper teaching builds a higher level of trust: We inherently trust people who we think do not have an agenda which serves their own self-interest. Advertisements, however informative are seen as a selling tool, not a learning medium. An example will be a microwave company sharing recipes which can be made in the said microwave. The information is useful and in some cases desired, but it is not taken as seriously as a cooking class. It is instructing the customer to use the product but not teaching her cooking. Taking this approach of a holistic learning experience, which may contain portions only loosely connected to the product, leads to a trusting relationship we generally find between teacher and student.
- Customer data about product comprehension gives deeper insights: A properly monitored learning process generates a lot of data about the learners. Most of this data is about how much the learners understand the subject matter. Proper data mining can lead to valuable insights about your customer base, which can be used in product enhancements, go-to-market strategies and new product development. A platform like this can also be used to start discussions about new concepts, gauge reactions about competition, and even generate ideas.
- Create a Word of Mouth juggernaut through your most ardent students: Your best students become your experts. Think of them as customers whom you have empowered, through education, to be able to advise others. The better their comprehension, the more convincing they become. More people come to them for advice. In turn these people also become informed and opinionated, creating a sizable discerning customer base even outside the learning system
- Build a relationship that goes deeper than loyalty: Through the entire course of the learning program, customers will be a part of a community. The relevance of your brand becomes more than just your products. Customers who participate will start to feel a sense of ownership in the brand, making them your new Brand Ambassadors with expert knowledge in the domain.
The reasons are compelling; however, the system works only if customers engage with the process and actually learn useful skills. The challenge is to create the right content and delivery mechanism. As a top tier learning company, we have a few ideas about that.