The psychology behind what causes people to purchase, and the impact of social and content on that dynamic, is a massive research project (and one we’ll be tackling with The Social Habit project). But one thing we know can be effective are companies that wrap the pitch in information. It’s the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Here are five brands that do an exceptional job of educating their audience, which then drives purchase.
Whole Foods has the upper hand simply because of the nature of its product, and the interests of its shoppers, but the healthy organic food it offers isn’t enough to make Whole Foods unique. Their community blog is unique, however. They share delicious recipes along with stunning photos of ingredients, tips to keep your kids healthy, and spotlights on new local vendors. To take the educational value one step further, Whole Foods puts posters around their stores explaining things like updated sustainable seafood safety lists, and the source and taste of the different types of mushrooms they offer.
The current meh economy weighs especially heavy on recent college graduates who have a massive amount of debt and often a small amount of financial knowledge. A free online budgeting application from Mint.com helps solve this issue by providing beautiful charts, graphs, and lists for users to set budgetary limits and see exactly where their money is going. The best part about the application, aside from its mobile-friendliness and secure server, is its community center with informational blog posts and videos about how to manage money no matter what your current financial situation is. Mint.com is powered by Intuit, which you would never even know unless you scrolled to the bottom of their site and found the small Intuit logo. Their lack of branding and emphasis on free information encourages a positive experience with Intuit, so that if the time for paid accounting software comes, Intuit sits at the front of a customer’s mind.
This is my favorite example of a company that really takes pride in its core values. I first started paying attention to GE when I was at the Maker Faire last summer in Queens. I was tweeting pictures of different exhibits and technologies that I was experiencing, sometimes using the hashtag and sometimes not, when I received a tweet from @generalelectric. They were asking me what my favorite exhibit was so far and encouraging me to do some more exploring. We had a nice back and forth interaction that lasted the entire time I was at the festival, and there was no mention of any contests, coupons, or sales language. I realized later that GE was one of the sponsors of the festival, but felt it was an appropriate and useful way for GE to reach its target audience. I looked into their other social channels, only to find that everything they were sharing was fun, useful, timely, and directly in line with their company values of cutting-edge innovation and technology.
I’m a bit of a cheese fanatic, so I was somewhat partial to this one when I came across it, however Cabot had never been particularly intriguing to me in the past. When I thought about Cabot, I thought about orange cheddar and Vermont, but nothing especially delicious. When the Pinterest outbreak took hold of me, however, the cheesy recipes grabbed my eye. Cabot is not promoting the healthy route like Whole Foods, they stick to the delicious. After further investigation, I found their use of Pinterest spans much further than the 100 different grilled cheese recipes. They also offer information about their farms and farmers, New England skiing, and options for people who require a lactose-free diet. These resources combined with their “How to Make” video series hit a home run in the value-added customer experience department.
Stanford has been able to capture the power of each popular social channel for different purposes. Their educational approach is a little unusual because it appeals to a more specific (but still enormous) audience of folks who are interested in higher education either for themselves or for their children. Using a combination of Facebook, YouTube, and their customized mobile application, Stanford is able to share student work and experiences, hold open “office hours” for teachers to answer fan questions, and provide on-the-go resources for current and future students.
So Why Aren’t More Businesses Educating?
It’s time-consuming. While most of the tools that can be used to share valuable content are free, someone needs to be spending the time either writing or curating this content.
Solution: Commit to small goals. One blog post per week. 2-3 curated Facebook/Twitter posts per week. Even if the process is slow, building up a navigable library of evergreen content will become increasingly more important as your raise awareness for your brand. Mark Schaefer wrote a great post the other day about how real relationships start with small interactions. If you can cut through the clutter of shameless self-promotion and give your current and potential customers something useful once in a while, they’ll remember you when it comes time to make a purchase.
No immediate ROI. If you’re not promoting your product all the time, do people know what you’re really offering? And will they buy from you if they’re not explicitly asked to do so?
Solution: Social is a process that takes special care and time. Relating to your customers is the first step in building a trusting relationship with them, enough so that they’ll feel comfortable with your motives and confident with your product as a result. Social ROI is a marathon, not a sprint.
What are your favorite examples of businesses using education to engage?