Educational content marketing and the advantages of driving engagement
Your business exists because you provide goods or services that people want, ergo your business is special. Unless you operate in an area that is so niche that there is only one customer, or that you operate a monopoly, you are constantly trying to attract new customers. But even the thickest-skinned sales people will tell you that despite the fact that your business is brilliant (remember, it is, otherwise you wouldn't still be in business!) this can be an uphill challenge. Consumers have developed the ability to block out traditional marketing and when those consumers enter their workplace they employ the same attitude towards B2B marketing.
The dilemma here is that you know that your product or service is well suited to some of your prospects, but getting the opportunity to explain that is a challenge. And when you do generate the opportunity, most people retreat if they feel a hard sell coming at them.
Education content marketing could be the strategy you're looking for.
It's the technique of selling without selling; of building a relationship with a counter-party that will ultimately be of mutual benefit.
Educational content marketing can, at a simple level, be about providing information in an effort to build your brand. Here at Coracle we have spent several years following this strategy with our podcasts at ShippingPodcasts.com. Now with nearly 8.4 million downloads (updated daily here) these podcasts are listened to around the world and have allowed us to build trust with students before they embarked on our professional development courses in the shipping industry.
Pushing information as podcasts is useful, but what the strategy lacks is the opportunity for us to drive engagement and that means that converting potentially interested parties into customers relies on something much harder to quantify - fortuitous timing.
Using well considered educational content to drive engagement requires a more detailed plan, but it does result in a higher level of conversion. Providing free access to content which is valuable to the reader is a gesture that you may initially baulk at, but consider the fact that the reader is now aware of your brand and that you're aware of how much time they spent with your content; where they got stuck and where they understood or failed to understand the point being made. Your next contact with that prospect is so much more targeted than it would otherwise have been, and they feel good about you because you gave them something of value, for free.
This case study illustrates the case in point:
GROUNDBREAKING EDUCATIONAL PRODUCT FOR THE SHIPPING AND BULK COMMODITIES MARKET
SSY Futures Ltd is part of Simpson Spence & Young (SSY), a large independent shipbroking group headquartered in London and with offices around the world. Much of the group’s work involves arranging contracts in the shipping and bulk commodities markets, using Forward Freight Agreements (FFAs), iron ore and steel swaps.
SSY are brokers of products that are perceived as difficult to understand and time-consuming to learn.
Contracts made months in advance for the sale or transport of commodities help shipping companies, steel makers, car factories and governments reduce risk in turbulent markets. They help organisations manage cash flow, allow them to budget accurately, and can keep the price of big public infrastructure projects manageable.
But these contracts are sometimes viewed with suspicion. They have nothing to do with financial wizardry but have their own jargon and are seen as complex. They are understood as locking a firm into a course of action, when they are in fact a way of dealing with an unpredictable future. Hence companies can overlook their financial benefits.
SSY and Coracle identified a strong case for educating the global market place about the role and structure of forward contracts and the part they can play in risk management. We therefore set out to develop a solution that took account of the mobile, 24/7 nature of the identified sectors. The aim of the programme was to provide education on the topics to as broad a range of industry participants and potential participants as possible, whilst generating qualified leads for SSY to provide their services should the learners wish to become more involved.
With a mission to bring transparency through education to the market with regards to derivatives, we launched an innovative course in plain English for anybody whose work is influenced by the volatile trade in iron ore, steel and ship chartering.
The project partners developed ssy.mycoracle.com to deliver content which features:
- Modules on iron ore swaps, steel swaps and forward freight agreements
- Software that reflects the latest thinking in online learning
- Explanations of key terms and industry jargon
- Graphs and charts drawn from real data to illustrate ideas and rules
- Assessments of understanding
And includes topics such as:
- How the contracts work, who uses them and the benefits they bring
- Relationship to the value chain
- Index construction and use in settlement of contracts
- Role of clearing houses
- How and why forward curves are constructed
- Differences between markets in contango and backwardation
Learning objectives were carefully devised to meet the needs identified in the research phase. The style and tone of the content was a key priority, but Coracle’s Learning Line platform was important too. By allowing users to record their newly found skills through the structured content, whilst also offering the means of capturing unstructured learning and to freely communicate with course moderators within the context of an area of learning, the platform enables them to record their whole learning journey in one place, making it easier to preserve and share.
The courses went live in April 2013 and have been extremely well received by the industry with learners ranging from junior traders to senior managers of some of the world’s largest trading companies. The number, global reach and variety in job titles reinforces the relevance of the offering to a broad spectrum.
Freight Trading Analyst, major trader: “The content was impressive - containing the right amount of information for new or more experienced shipping professionals to take on board. The ‘Learning Line’ was very easy to navigate and the percentages of pages visited or understood was clear in terms of ensuring that all content was covered.”
Education is an excellent way to build demand in the marketplace and Coracle’s innovative platform is built on the concepts of open, social learning using 'next generation' standards. By offering easily accessible content to learners for free, we are educating them in the nuances of derivatives, whilst helping them maximize the financial benefits of fixed price contracts. In summary, a carefully researched proposition has been executed and is delivering on its goal of broad reach, market wide education and standards raising.
Embarking on an education programme aimed at a highly competitive marketplace such as the derivatives market was a considered risk. This programme is proving that well constructed content on a well designed platform and offered as a content marketing strategy can be extremely beneficial to all parties.
One of the first questions that we considered was, what are potential learners looking for? The first thought might be information, but we knew that information is easily found. It is not some scarce commodity that learners need us to help them with. In fact, there's far too much of it generally and despite our ability to store it cheaply, we can't process it all, or even find which bits are useful or useless. Whilst we often think we want information, what we really want is to learn something, to acquire knowledge. When there's an overload of information, knowledge and understanding takes more effort to come by. The partners take great pride in offering a training solution that meets the criteria of aiding knowledge and understanding in a business environment perceived as complex and exclusive.
Could content marketing help your business? We'd like to talk with you to see…