Content Marketing

5 Brands Successfully Using Education to Engage

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

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.

Whole Foods blog

Sustainable seafood information

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 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. 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. Facebook updates encourage discussion

Financial planning tips from

General Electric

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.’s updated homepage for the Olympics

Funny and relevant Facebook updates from GE

Cabot Cheese

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.

Cabot’s How to Make Video Series

Cabot Cheese on Pinterest

Stanford University

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.

Stanford’s Open Office Hours on Facebook

Stanford Student Projects on YouTube

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?

Facebook Comments


  1. mike_mcgrail says

    Some great examples here. Brands etc need to realise that this type of activity is the way forward. I see it as a major way of not only attracting custom, but retaining it. It makes people interact with your business outside of usual buying times and the value of that is huge.

  2. ChrisQueso says

    Eye opening and inspiring post Jess. Educating your customers and the public in general is not only a way to build authority, but it shows that you really friggin’ care! Love it.

  3. snouraini says

    Great article, and I am glad you are advocating the important role education must play in 21st century marketing.  My company is not a big brand, but education is the main venue through which I have promoted my business.  What I am doing recently is weekly educational workshops delivered live via Google Plus On Air, and each week I cover a different topic.  As you suggested in your blog post, I aim for ever-green content.  Also, my main motivation for having an education-centered strategy is to help my potential and future clients understand my industry and what it takes to deliver value to them.  Here’s the original blog post where I introduced the video series for including a link, but it is relevant to the discussion.Again, glad someone is talking about the importance of education.

  4. says

    Great examples, Jess! I don’t mind when businesses/brands post promotional messages once in a while, as long as they don’t engulf my entire news feed. But man, am I a sucker for fun facts and educational tidbits like the ones you highlighted here. They really stand out. :)

    • says

      Jill Tooley Exactly! Everyone loves that stuff, which is why it’s surprising to me that the people calling the shots aren’t thinking about it. Thanks for reading!

  5. williamroth says

    It’s been a rally cry from the company I work for to provide educational content through social. We are an outdoor school, NOLS,  and have to find the balance between educational and adventure inspiring entertainment. People aren’t used to getting an education while browsing their social networks, they are looking for funny pictures of friends, or the latest viral video. There has to be an expectation built that the brand is providing an educational content for a little while before people start to become receptive to it. I found that anyway.

  6. TyneDarke says

    @DioFavatas @jessostroff @jaybaer Great examples, and I love the point at the end: “Social ROI is a marathon, not a sprint.”

  7. JasonBoies says

    Great idea for a post here, Jess.  These are some really good examples you’ve highlighted here.  Great post, which I even shared from our corporate handle today. :)CheersJason BoiesCommunity, Salesforce Radian6

  8. fundinggates says

    Read this whole article, was ready to post about how much I loved it, then I realized you wrote it Jess! Great stuff! Whole Foods and Mint have been two companies we’ve watched in modeling our content, glad to have some others to reference!Best,Meredith Wood

  9. says

    Great Examples of marketing. I liked that used subtle marketing techniques. I will agree with the I am finding blogging to be very time consuming. I know the social process takes time, but I didn’t realize how much before I would see ROI. I don’t plan to give up and looking at this as a journey.


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