5 Reasons Why You Need to Stop Marketing and Start Teaching

by Mack Collier

Another gem from Kathy Sierra, click image for post

I think many companies are completely misusing Social Media as a marketing channel. These content-creation tools are the perfect outlet for companies to create content that teaches their customers how to solve their own problems, how to be better at something they love, how to kick-ass.  Teaching and empowering your customers creates a level of loyalty that regular marketing could never hope for.  Here’s 5 reasons why your company should stop marketing to your customers, and start teaching them:

1 – Teaching gives you a competitive edge.  Let’s be honest, most of us in the business world are operating in a crowded marketplace.  There’s no shortage of competition, and many of your peers may have deeper marketing budgets than you do.  But the funny thing is, a lot of businesses don’t like to pull back the curtain and actually teach their customers about their products and how to properly use them.

Years ago I spent a Summer selling pesticides and lawn care products at Lowes throughout Northwest Alabama.  I had never sold before in a retail environment, and being an introvert, the idea of stopping people and selling to them as they walked up and down the isles at Lowes scared the hell out of me.  Luckily, I had a great mentor that was also a professional landscaper.  As such, he understood all the products we were selling as well as the competitors’.  So I learned about all the products so that I wasn’t selling the products, I was selling solutions to problems.

So when a customer walked up and started looking at the pesticides, I didn’t try to push them toward a particular product, I asked them what problems they were having.  Once they told me what problems they were having, I explained to them what was causing the problem, and how to fix it.  Then I showed them which products would work best for them.  And sometimes (and this is key) the product I was selling wasn’t the best option.  If that’s the case, I told the customer and pointed them toward the competitor.

The end result was that I made more on commissions from sales than I did on my actual salary as a vendor.  In fact the area I serviced led the nation in sales for multiple product lines.  I think a big reason why was because we were focused on trying to teach our customers how to solve their lawn-care problems versus trying to simply sell them our products.

2 – Teaching creates value.  If I’m in the market for a digital camera, what I’m really looking to buy is a way to take better pictures.  So if you are trying to get my business, don’t throw a lot of techno-babble at me that I won’t understand anyway, teach me how to take better pictures.  By teaching me how to take better pictures with a digital camera, you’ve already solved my core problem.  So by creating that value for me, I feel on some level like I ‘owe’ you my business when it comes time for me to buy a digital camera.  I want to reward you for the value you gave me, free of charge.  Now granted, the product still has to do the job, but creating value for me via teaching makes me feel much better about committing to the purchase.

3 – If you teach me, that helps earn my trust, and loyalty.  I am used to marketing.  I am used to companies trying to ‘trick’ me into buying their product.  I’m not used to companies teaching me how to be better at something.  That’s unexpected, and that gets my attention.  If your company can create value for me without asking for anything in return, that makes it far more likely that I will listen to your message, and share it with others.  Plus, it greatly increases the chance that I will trust you, and buy from you.

And don’t be afraid to spotlight the competition, if they have a better product.  Recall in the first step how I mentioned selling lawn-care products in Lowes.  Often, I would encourage a customer to buy a competitor’s product if I really thought it was the best solution for their particular problem.  You wouldn’t believe how many times I had a customer come back a week or two later and tell me that I was right about the competitor’s product working on their ant problem, now did I have a suggestion for getting rid of wasps?  I sure did and this time, my company’s product was better.  Since my first suggestion had worked for them, they trusted that this one would as well.

4 – Valuable content get shared.  During this week’s #Blogchat a few of us were discussing how Twitter has become our source for information.  We know that the people we are following will be sharing valuable information, so they send it our way, and then we pass it on.  Why?  Because we want to create value for others.  If someone sends me a really useful article, the first thing I want to do is RT it so others can get value from the article as well.  If your content teaches, that creates value, and greatly increases the chance that it will be shared.

5 – Sharing what you know means sharing your passion, and that inspires people.  Don’t we all love hearing someone talk that truly loves what they are doing?  Because they aren’t talking from a script, they are sharing what’s in their heart.  Teach what you know and share with us why you love what it is you do, and who knows, you may convince us to love it just as much.


So when you are trying to sell your products, again think about selling solutions to problems instead.  Think about how you can teach your customers to solve the problems they are encountering, or simply how to kick-ass at whatever it is they love doing.  Oh and BTW, blogs are excellent tools for this 😉

Besides, helping someone kick-ass at something is often the best marketing you can create for your products.  Here’s a bonus video from Jason Fried on the value of teaching as marketing: (HT @Copyblogger) –

Jim F. Kukral April 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Excellent thoughts Mack. I completely agree.

Bobby April 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm


100% agree…that is why I teach on the collegiate level. First it is credibility, plus it helps you learn how to “teach” in the business world so you are not commanding but truly teaching.

The balance is learning how to teach to empower and engage not to command as “I am the only one that hung the moon.”


Mack Collier April 12, 2012 at 9:14 am

Bobby that’s a great point about teaching college students. They are so inquisitive and hungry to learn, they will probably ask many questions you haven’t had to answer before! Which helps you formulate your thoughts in the process of answering them.

Anne-Marie April 11, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Thanks for this. I’ve always been explaining to clients that a blog provides them the platform upon which to share their expertise and thus be perceived as experts through the valuable content that they share. Your spin about “teaching” makes the argument even more valuable.

Josh April 11, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Hi Mack,
I completely agree with you on social media. This new way of marketing has changed the definition of marketing. Now it is more productive and less boring.

Raghu Raghuraman April 12, 2012 at 9:42 am


What an excellent article and learning moment for me. I do realize now that most of my success has come from when I look at the customer problems and get into how I would solve it type of thinking. Great results and experiences happen. Thank you.

Raghu – @jraghu

Chris Baldwin May 1, 2012 at 2:44 pm

As a kid, it was always easy to spot the teachers who really cared and those who were just going through the motions. And the former made such an impact. I wonder why we think it’s any different in business / marketing / sales… Nice post.

James Dabbagian May 26, 2012 at 4:36 am

I’ve been adapting this strategy myself. When I got started in social media, I’d give my friends free social media consultation. The hope being that they would give me referrals and new clients. Now, I’m giving tidbits of free advice to people on Wordpress and HTML, and if the job is too much, I offer to do it. The best part is, you’re still selling to them, but it doesn’t sound like it.

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