It’s really about blurry lines …

If you’ve been following content marketing as a discipline (yes, apparently I am that boring), teaching your prospects and customers things that add value to their life or work is a good idea.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Training & Development Director for a global manufacturing company. We were discussing how savvy learning organizations are using Marketing Automation (MA) to create demand pull for training & development. Giving salespeople and technicians “just-in-time” micro-learning nuggets when they are best able to absorb the material is a good thing.

That’s where MA comes in… A reminder text or email with a link to the new braking system module and an explainer video arrives with their bagel and coffee on a Saturday morning. Using this time slot is much more likely to result in ‘content consumption’ than an invitation sent while the technician is working under a car, or late on Friday afternoon. Plus, if the link isn’t hit … Boom! Another reminder. They are applying inbound marketing strategies for learning.

But, I was also curious as to whether their marketing team was reaching back to the training organization for content. The reply I got was as expected:

“All the time. We actually get a lot of the new technology updates first, as the technicians usually need to be spun up before the marketing goes out. But content moves in both directions. They grab learning assets from us because our core demographic actually does want to know almost everything about how the latest technology works. We grab cool videos and product photography from them to make our learning content more engaging and professional looking. It’s a very symbiotic relationship. What we’re seeing is that the lines between learning and marketing keep getting blurrier.”

Nailed it. That’s what the content marketing pundits are seeing too.

The additional intrinsic beauty of learning content as marketing content is that many learning assets are now being “chunked” in those smaller packages. Micro-learning (about 5-minutes per module) is finding itself to be a perfect fit for today’s business professionals and consumers, most of whom suffer from technology induced ADD. These mini learning elements are also well-suited to be dripped out in support of lead generation and nurturing campaigns by marketing. What better way to drive engagement with an audience than to start them down the path of learning about something that interests them, and then dole it out in short ‘episodes’ and timely intervals.

Also surprising is that eLearning content is becoming all the rage with an unlikely demographic: Baby Boomers. According to an article titled A+ For E-Learning from this month’s AARP newsletter, seniors are actively embracing learning content delivered online.

“My husband and his friends were so addicted to online courses, talking about them like young hipsters discuss fashion, that I decided to give a couple of them a try. Not for college credit or anything, just to better myself — without having to go anywhere or even change out of my sweatshirt.”

So Who Is Actually Doing This?
Whole foods uses Learning in it's content marketing strategy.

You can learn about a lot more than recipes at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/!

You can learn about a lot more than recipes at wholefoodsmarket.com

According to author and co-founder of KISSmetrics, Neil Patel, in his CMI (Content Marketing Institute) article from the summer of 2016 – 8 (More) Absolutely Brilliant Content Marketing Innovations From the World’s Best Brands, Whole Foods is making learning a focal point of its marketing strategy.

“Whole Foods does a great job of living those brand principles in its content marketing. Articles about how to save money but still eat healthy or tips to change your diet for the better make Whole Foods’ products and lifestyle more inclusive. On top of that, it uses a lot of proactive language (“I want to learn/do/both” as a search option in its navigation bar) which makes the audience feel like they have an active role in the experience.”

Whole Foods gives its audience a lot more than recipes to chew on (pun intended) by serving up content that includes topics like seafood sustainability, food safety, GMOs, and organic gardening to name just a few.

Colgate uses learning content in its content marketing strategy.Salesforce’s The 30 Most Genius Content Marketing Examples of 2015Oral Care Center provides a sprawling list of resources to learn more than you ever thought possible about tooth brushing, the effects of alcohol and chlorine on teeth, and even the definition of bruxism (tooth grinding)!

The Technology Tangle (Getting Blurrier Too)

Footprints are also falling on top of one another with Customer Relationship Management (CRM), (MA), Learning Management Systems (LMS), Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS), and Content Management Systems (CMS). Yes, these are all actually individual ingredients in the learning and marketing technology acronym soup mix. For the entertainment value alone, take a look at the “Where’s Waldo-esque” Marketing Technology Landscape  infographic from chiefmartec.com. It is dizzying.

Using these systems to nurture learning among the company’s stakeholders just makes sense. Although applying some basic complexity reduction in the process is clearly in order. If you want to create a learning culture — market it. Using marketing automation to keep learning front and center on staff members’ minds is a natural evolution. Then layer on social learning, learning communities, and the ability for Tin Can (the Experience API) to track engagement across multiple learning channels. The business benefit is the ability to leverage both marketing automation and learning management systems to continually drive learners back to the learning nodes, where your “learning athletes” can be tracked and incentivized. This is enabled by the fact that learning engagement, even across this broader landscape – is measureable.

On the marketing side, they’re doing the same things by using learning assets as content, but targeting external audiences. However, instead of using the metrics collected for performance review, engagment becomes an element of lead scoring. Audience members that are active get moved further into the marketing funnel.

Using these technologies optimally (pick just a few of them), allows savvy organizations to develop more ‘born again’ LLLs (Life Long Learners) by making it easier to engage, and addressing the different learning styles that are part of today’s information overwhelmed reality. It is powerful: Technology being used effectively to help people learn vs. people learning to use technology effectively. Or, maybe both are happening at once?

The Bottom Line:

According to the Cleveland-based CMI, more than 4 out of 5 business – whether B2B or B2C, are actively engaged in the practice of content marketing. The good news is, all that technology is like a bag of hammers without nails in the absence good marketing content, and good learning content is good marketing content.

More positive news is that learning content developers and marketing content developers are both being required to create truly engaging material in order to be relevant and effective. The fact that they are ‘sharing their toys’ in an effort to do that enures to the benefit of us all. Content marketing is indeed here to stay, and via the inherent nature of competition, better content will keep bubbling to the top!

So, blurry lines between learning content and content marketing might not be so bad after all.