Blog Post

Content Types for Customer Education

Vicky Kennedy
May 1, 2021
Illustration of 2 documents converging

Many organizations are turning to customer education as a solution to improve retention, increase spend, and drive customer satisfaction and loyalty. But what exactly is included under “customer education”? Do we mean product training, support centers, tutorials, or workshops? What about podcasts, white papers, or blog posts?

You could easily argue that any time we are providing information to our customers, we are educating them. And if that’s the case, how do we define the scope and content strategy for a customer education initiative?

Content Types for Customer Education

The first place to start is by defining and categorizing any existing customer-facing content across the organization.

Generally, there will be content that serves one of three primary purposes: marketing, thought leadership, and education. Notice I said “primary” purpose, because we know marketing content can also educate, thought leadership content can serve as a marketing tool, and so on. But, when looking at primary goals, marketing content is focused on building awareness and conversions.

We want marketing content to reach a wide audience, and we measure success through reach, engagement, and call-to-action metrics. Thought leadership content, which may include webinars, podcasts, and white papers, is related to marketing but builds on brand awareness by establishing trust and loyalty. Those success metrics may focus on customer sentiment. This leaves education content, which is intended to drive longer-term behavior change in the way customers interact with the organization's products and services. The measure of success here should be the business impact we see from those changed behaviors.

Now that we’ve categorized all customer-facing content across three broad categories, let’s further the discussion by exploring specific types of education content. Here’s an illustration I like to use:

Let’s say you’re learning to drive a car for the first time. Would you pull out your car’s owner manual to begin? Of course not. You’d likely sign up for a driver’s ed course where you’ll learn, over a period of time, the competencies needed to be a safe and confident driver. Now let’s say you already know how to drive but just purchased a new car, and you’re not sure what kind of fuel to use. Would you sign up for a driver’s ed course? Obviously not. This is where the owner’s manual comes in quite handy. 

You’ll see from this illustration that we have two very different, yet equally important types of educational content. The first (driver’s ed course) is curriculum-based, outcome-driven education that builds conceptual understanding and teaches specific competencies. The second (owner’s manual) is reference material; help articles, how-to tutorials, and glossaries. Customers will want access to the second type of content when they’re seeking an answer to a specific question and want to know how a feature or process works. 

Sometimes organizations new to customer education may only consider the latter, focusing on how-to articles or short demonstrations. Understandably, it’s an easier place to start. But fully educating your customers should involve more than simply instructing them in what different buttons do. It involves enabling them to think critically about why and when they’d click one button over another. This is where the curriculum-based education comes into play. This typically takes the form of self-paced e-learning, live interactive workshops, or a hybrid approach. This type of content builds on concepts that empower the learner to make confident decisions and maximize their experience with the organization’s offerings.

So you see, while “customer education” could be a very broad term that includes all content that informs and educates customers, it’s beneficial for organizations to consider specifically the scope and purpose of their customer education initiative and how it fits within the existing content strategy. It’s equally important to provide education that enables customers to both use product features correctly and think critically about how, when, and why to use those features.  To do this well, we use two types of educational content: how-to tutorials or reference articles, and curriculum-based, outcome-driven courses.

For more about content types and customer education, visit Intellum.

About the Author

Vicky Kennedy headshot
Vicky Kennedy
Chief Strategy Officer
Vicky has a passion for merging the demanding needs of corporate environments with the skill of effectively educating adult learners. She's most nerdy about strategic approaches to education in the workplace.