Marketing Director vs. High School Teacher: What’s the Difference?


By Dominick Sirianni, VP of Operations, Primavera and VP Interactive Education, Internet Marketing Association

As marketers, we seek to share a brand with an audience.

As educators, we seek to share a concept with a classroom.

There isn’t a difference. At their core, marketing and education are one in the same. As host of the IMA Leader podcast, I’ve engaged in a series of episodes that explore the intersection of education and marketing. You’d be surprised how much a Social Media Manager can learn from a former 9th grade teacher and vice versa.

Modern marketers know that success no longer comes from shouting the loudest. Chris Moody is a Director of Marketing for Oracle and a recent guest on my show. He said in episode 37 that it’s not like the days when if you built it, they would come. There’s a boatload of content out there now and, like a teacher, you have to look for signs that your audience is listening and then present your concept in a way that can be easily consumed.

Otherwise, today’s consumers act like the kids in the back of the room and just tune you out. Now they can even take action like barring telemarketing calls, shutting off ads, blocking emails, and surfing incognito. As Brian Wong the CEO of Kiip said in episode 18, marketers who do their jobs poorly might end up pushing the entire industry over a cliff.

Today, success comes from asking, listening, responding, and engaging. This is where good educators shine. They know that what they are teaching may not be the stuff of a Hollywood mini-drama, but they get creative and pull their audience in. They differentiate the instruction and personalize the learning experience as much as possible for each student. Good teachers are true modern marketers and most don’t even realize it.

Here’s how to rock marketing like an expert teacher:

1. Present Material in a Creative Way

Diane Senffner, the CEO of Cine Learning Productions, describes in episode 34 how she was commissioned to educate a community about chronic illness and Type II Diabetes. Past campaigns just listed off symptoms and recommendations on a brochure which put the entire audience to sleep.

Instead of avoiding drama, Diane and her team went looking for it. They created a short telenovela about a family facing chronic illnesses. Through a story, they made sterile and confusing medical terms personal and emotional.

They saw a 20% increase in the health literacy rate of their audience.


Photo: The Perez Family – Created under the Medicaid
Transformation 2 Grant, AHCCCS – Summer 2008 

2. Tell Someone Important

David May (guest in episode 36) is the Director of Web for Chapman University and has website designers and content developers working for him. He’s also in charge of the University Phone Operator.

Just like a student who tells his teacher about a problem from the book he can’t figure out, empowering the teacher to cover the material in a different way, when a prospective student calls Chapman with a question, the Operator is able to escalate trends in those questions to his boss who can then directly affect change to the school’s website.

Schools tend to be very flat organizations with teachers empowered to facilitate learning without a lot of direct oversight from Administration. Is your organization structured to facilitate the free flow of information from the area who talks to your customers and the area who markets to them?


Photo: Chapman University shows how they embody innovation 

3. Give it Away

Good teachers teach anywhere and any time they see an opportunity. Good parents look for teachable moments when they can teach their children something important because the child asked a question.

Entrepreneurs and companies who believe in giving away valuable information for free are more likely to be viewed as an expert on the topic and sought out for objective feedback in the future. Laura Petersen – the co-founder of Student-Tutor, a former high school math teacher, and episode 33 guest –  took her company from zero to 36,000 website hits a month by giving away insights about SAT prep, scholarships, and tricks to make math easier. Student-Tutor hit the first page of Google for important search terms by giving away relevant information.

As Christoph Trappe said in episode 5, quality content will always rank high. Whether that’s on a search engine or in the minds of your potential customers, learning to market like an educator can give you a leg up on your competition.


Photo: Student-Tutor’s blog post #1 for “top math websites” search on Google 

Adding it All Up

I spent several years working for a Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes company that assisted CEOs in learning how to properly tell stories that sold their products. The education I received was invaluable.

At any given point in time only 3% of your total market is actually looking to buy the product or service you are selling and about ⅓ wouldn’t take what you are selling if it were free! (Source: Chet Holmes, best-selling author of The Ultimate Sales Machine)

If you have a solid product, you will get a piece of that 3% automatically. Most of your competitors are going to be focused on getting as much of the 3% as possible. Even bad teachers have students who learn the material. A portion of every class is filled with high performers who either already know the content or can teach themselves. Teachers focus on the kids who need the help.

Start looking at your audience like a teacher looks at a classroom. Find the prospects who don’t yet know they need what you’re selling and educate them.

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