When I left teaching to become a writer, I assumed my creativity and my knowledge of grammar, syntax, and the writing process would be the primary skills I’d use at the digital agency that hired me. What I didn’t realize then was how much some of my other skills — soft skills and organizational strategies — would help me in my new role. As I learned more and more, I realized that a lot of what I did as a teacher served me well as a content marketer. And understanding the similarities makes me better at what I do.
In short, applying educational concepts to marketing can improve the work you do for clients.
Lesson 1: Backward Planning is Key to Success as a Marketer
When you begin to teach, you think it’s all about lessons. If I create a brilliant, creative lesson, you think, the kids will be engaged. And it works! It works really well. Right up until the time it doesn’t.
Just as a writer can’t wait around for inspiration to strike, a teacher can’t assume that the students will be engaged and interested every day. The problem with brilliant, creative lessons is that they’re not sustainable. You don’t catch lightning in a bottle every time you stand in front of a classroom. You have to have a purpose behind that lesson, and the lesson that comes next, and the rest of the lessons for the entire year. That’s the necessity behind backward planning, the process educators use to meet specific learning goals.
It takes planning with the end in mind — a standard kids need to reach, a key concept they need to learn — to plan a string of lessons. Not all the lessons will be as brilliant as that one glorious, award-winning lesson, but they’ll all be leading toward something; they’ll have a purpose that the kids will understand.
Marketers can learn a lesson from this, and they can focus more on strategy and goals than they do on a single really good social media post. Turns out those moments of brilliance are far more effective when they’re part of a long-term plan.
Lesson 2: Understand Goals, Objectives, and Success Criteria
When I joined the world of marketing, I had to learn a few key terms, quick. As I sat in that first meeting, I jotted down abbreviations to look up as soon as I could — mysterious letter combinations like KPI and ROI.
I’d been in the education field for so long that these fairly basic business concepts were unfamiliar to me!
But soon, I understood that terms like Key Performance Indicator resembled terms educators used to develop curriculum and measure student learning.
As educators plan curriculum for a school year, we set big goals. Then, as we consider these big goals, the state educational standards, and the tools we have to help kids reach them, we decide on learning objectives. These objectives may relate to a single concept that we’re going to teach, in different ways, over the course of a week or two. Finally, we break that objective down even further into what we call success criteria. That’s how we can tell that students are learning.
As I help my marketing team members develop strategy, I use the same sort of procedure. Together, we get to know our clients. We develop big goals and benchmarks, and then we plan out how we’ll measure our progress and make adjustments going forward. Doing so gives us a solid framework to get creative while understanding the purpose behind it all. We aren’t chasing after that next bolt of lightning; we don’t have to. We have the tools, we have a plan, and we can easily measure what’s working and what isn’t.
Lesson 3: Listen to Understand What Clients are Really Asking For
As a beginning teacher, you lose your voice by September. You talk a lot; you explain things over and over and over again. By year 4 or 5 in the classroom, you realize that you don’t need to talk quite as much. What you really need to do is pay closer attention. Listen. And listen to the questions behind the questions. Sometimes a student’s frustration has to do with a key concept he or she is missing. Sometimes, you realize that certain vocabulary has to be learned before your audience of young people can grasp a difficult idea.
I thought about this the other day when I realized that what one of our clients wanted wasn’t what he really wanted. He may have been attracted by a marketing buzzword, but the tool he needed to reach his target audience was much simpler. He just needed a few marketing concepts explained to him!
When you work with clients, or accept feedback on a project, you have to listen with all three of your ears. That is, you have to use your background knowledge, your intuition, and your communication skills to understand what they really need. Then, you have to deliver.
Lesson 4: Communicate Clearly and Write to Educate
One way to deliver is by giving students, or your target audience, some scaffolding. You start with something they already know and understand. You evoke an emotion they’ve felt before. Then, you use that base and build upon it to teach them something new.
So much of marketing is about educating the public, and doing so in a way that meets them where they are. You wouldn’t talk down to someone you wanted to win over (at least, you wouldn’t if you wanted your pitch to work!) and you wouldn’t lecture them to death either!
Instead, you speak clearly. You give them information they can use. You inspire. That’s the real heart of marketing.
Good Marketing Strategy Takes Both Smarts and Heart
Marketing, like education, is as much art as science. When you’re dealing with messy humans with their very messy feelings, you can’t rely on data alone to excel. You need a combination of hard and soft skills.
I’m so grateful that I came to marketing with my experience as an educator in my back pocket. It’s helped me connect the dots and become more effective, both for my teammates and for our clients.