Marketing and Education: Frenemies After All

by Mélanie L. Sisley

“Be safe instead of sexy.” In the 1990 movie Crazy People, Duddley Moor plays a bitter ad executive who lands in a mental institution after a breakdown. There he turns his bitterness into craftiness and starts a new trend in the advertising world: tell the truth. Moor’s “revolutionary” technique becomes a raging success and everyone wants to work with the “crazy” people.

Clip from the movie “Crazy People” (last bit for mature audiences only)

There is much to take away from this 20-year-old movie. Indeed, it would appear that the traditional pushy, over confident sales pitch is loosing its credibility in our communication savvy world. But marketing professionals are not the only ones having to adjust to a new tone. Educators also have to step up their game to help optimize attention and retention.

Can’t marketing and education be friends?

Forbes explores how education-based marketing reaches both education and marketing objectives. The key ideas of the strategy rest on: building trust, finding the knowledge gap between the topic and the user, establishing credibility, being transparent and having the audience best interest in mind.

In his own way, Lee Lefever, author of “The Art of Explanation,”  adds evidence to “sales pitch overdose” trend by advancing that explanations that are lower on luster and polish are often more successful because it makes the content seem more accessible and easier to digest.  His hugely popular “In Plain English” YouTube channel features short videos on common topics utilizing nothing more than paper cut outs (and brilliant scripting) to animate the ideas. The argument he makes is that when it looks too perfect it is no longer relatable.

What marketing professionals are taping into is that education content has the strength of authenticity. Sharing what you know, as an expert and not as a TV host, helps builds a relationship of trust with viewers.

Fictional poster from the movie “Crazy People”

What can education learn from marketing?

The above examples show how marketing is learning from education, but what can education learn from marketing? Marketing professionals have the uncanny knack of finding the “sticky” aspects of a message. Uncovering the hooks, stories, the timing and emotions that can help us remember the key elements is a strength in marketing content. It is rooted in the basic cognitive principle that in order to remember something, we have to be able to connect it to something familiar or meaningful. Much like filling a document, if you don’t know which drawer to put it in, is likely to get lost in the miscellaneous pile.

Also, taking a bit of time to shape and “dress up” content shows that you care about the audience as much as what you have to say. Again, the theme of connection seems important here.

Frenemies are hard to forget

Back in the days when I worked for training design firms, I used to accompany the sales representative to visit prospective clients. When we were done the meeting, we always had a bitter ride home, him criticizing me for my long-winded exposés and me having an inner dialogue about his boring empty sentences. In reality, I was too long winded and he to shallow. If we were smarter, we should have worked together to find the middle ground.

Live and learn.