Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series about branded education.

Any great economy starts with a revolution. The learning economy is no different. Today’s consumers have taken control over what they watch, read, and listen to. Meanwhile, people say no one has attention for anything anymore, but that’s not true. Millions of people binge entire seasons on Netflix in an afternoon. Why?

A few key reasons for branded content creators and for the larger theme of education here:

People emotionally invest in content when it is delivered:

  • in a distraction-free environment — so fewer or highly-relevant ads
  • in a thoughtfully-sequenced manner — so great storytelling and digital product experience
  • with support from social proof of the content’s value (reviews, ratings, discussions)

And that may sound great for Netflix, but what does it have to do with brands and teaching? Well, we know people give their time to good entertainment. We know people constantly use mobile to stay connected, and especially important here:

Like never before … today’s consumers spend time LEARNING.

Millennials are a tsunami in this new economy, and 1 in 3 millennials now say how-to videos influence products they purchase. YouTube is an obvious driver there, which has seen 70% annual growth in how-to video searches, which make up hundreds of millions of hours looking for — and consuming — learning content.

It’s not just millennials, either. According to Pew Research, across all age groups, 73% of adults consider themselves “lifetime learners” — so learning is likely core to how your consumer already sees themselves.

So what are they learning about today? Just about everything. From creativity and business to cooking and crafts, wellness and personal betterment — the list goes on.

Who are they learning from? That question leads to a real opportunity for brands and organizations to step in and create amazing new value in the marketplace. That’s why the learning economy is an emerging opportunity giving rise to branded education.

You’ll realize this is true when you look at how most learning content across the web is being taught by two main groups:

  • Everyday individuals teaching their knowledge or passion.
  • Traditional academic institutions.

Neither of these groups can compete with the production quality or the expertise of most companies or brands.

How Brands Can Contribute to The Learning Economy

Brands employ or have access to some of the world’s smartest minds. So while runners may know how to teach running, they haven’t studied running like Nike has. Or studied pet behavior and nutrition the way Purina has. And beyond the consumer space, no university or hobbyist could compete with IBM to teach what an enterprise needs to power a company.

1. Offering Credibility and Production Value

Neither individuals nor academic institutions have the resources or budgets of leading companies to push the quality of the content to entertain and engage through powerful storytellingI’m confident once brands and organizations get their heads around the impact they can create through education, they will revolutionize the standard for digital learning content.

In other words, brands and organizations can step in and do this better. Brands can turn the expertise inside their walls and use it to demonstrate why their product or organization is better than the restThey can partner with influencers to establish credibility on a given topic, and the right partnerships can extend reach while creating wins for their business, their partners, and definitely for the consumer who gets a higher quality experience.

We don’t know if you call this advertising … if you call it content marketing … I call it branded education, and branded education is the next evolution of brands’ role in culture.

2. Becoming Our Favorite Teachers

The age of advertising has been about mass messaging. We know more people are enabling ad blockers and flooding to commercial-free television. Brands acting like publishers has meant constantly pushing out content. We know consumers are bombarded with shallow content. Which is why brands must evolve from lightweight storytelling to deeper, more meaningful experiences — and one great way to do this is through education that creates a distraction-free environment with thoughtfully-sequenced content that captivates and educates.

Of course, this is not easy to do. It takes the right partners. It takes vision. And you have to identify the right opportunities for your company.

In the next piece, I’ll examine trends driving the new learning economy and lay out nine tangible branded education strategies for your company to take advantage of.

The Author

An Advertising Age Top 100 marketer and Harvard MBA, Mark Addicks served as Chief Marketing Officer for General Mills where he oversaw the creation and growth of iconic global brands for 26 years. Mr. Addicks’ work has been widely recognized for his innovation and marketing expertise, and he’s a coveted advisor to modern brands on how to navigate today’s complex and ever-changing business landscape. He currently serves on the board of directors at The Big Know.

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