One recent Saturday I put clothes in the dryer before heading out for a bike ride with my kids. I pressed the Start button. Nothing happened. I checked the knobs, opened and closed the dryer door. Still, nothing.

So I Googled "dryer won't start." Within seconds, I was on a site that listed the seven most common causes of a dryer's failure to start. Within minutes, I learned our problem was the door switch--the lever had broken, so even though the door was closed, the dryer didn't "know" that and wouldn't start.

I jury-rigged a folded dryer sheet in the door to compensate for the broken lever, got the dryer started, and got back to biking.

Now, who do you think is behind the site that helped me diagnose my dryer problem? A company that sells dryer parts.

And who do you think I got my replacement door switch from, so I can fix the dryer properly? That same company.

This is just one example of what I call learning marketing--and I bet you have your own examples.

Learning marketing is a subtype of content marketing. Content marketing focuses broadly on stimulating interest in products and services in ways that are not overtly promotional. Learning marketing creates interest and (even better) value by teaching something--interest and value that ultimately benefit the provider of that learning.

Here are three suggestions to help you leverage learning marketing.

1. Think like a learning business.

No matter what your organization provides, think of yourself as a provider of learning. If you sell courses, how-tos, coaching, or other explicitly educational products (as do most of the organizations I work with at my company, Tagoras), no great imagination is required. But even if you offer dryer parts, there's a benefit to seeing yourself as a learning business.

In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini outlines six principles of influence, among them reciprocation--that impulse we feel to repay another (whether a person or an organization) for something we've received.

Knowledge is a gift--and, whether they realize it or not, customers and prospects are inclined to repay the learning we offer with their future business.

2. Act like a learning business.

Most of the best marketing is educational. My company offers a complimentary Webinar series and a weekly podcast. While both are clearly marketing tools, we always think about them as ways to help prospects learn--how to price products or how to avoid the pitfalls of a technology selection process.

Adopt your customers' perspective. What do they need to learn to capitalize on their opportunities and surmount their obstacles? The answers give you topics you can teach through your marketing--and, of course, tie back to what you offer.

3. Apply the lessons learned.

Not only can your customers and prospects learn from your marketing, you should too. Which of your marketing efforts yields the best results? Why? Engaging in such questions allows you to continually up your marketing game--and can help you identify new products and services.

At my company, we periodically review which parts of our Web site, issues of our e-newsletter, podcast episodes, etc., perform best and analyze why. Looking at the top performers holistically led us to see the opportunity to create the Learning Business Maturity ModelTM, a framework that has become integral to how we facilitate learning in our market and connect with prospects. We used the model to structure one of our major events, the Leading Learning Symposium, and it will drive our marketing efforts and product development going forward.

Successful businesses focus on applying lessons learned to improve their marketing efforts and to identify new ways to serve their markets.

Applying a learning frame to your marketing efforts can produce powerful results. So when you think about what business you're in, remember you're in the learning business.

About the Author

Celisa Steele is the co-founder and managing director of Tagoras, a firm that provides expert guidance in strategy, learning, marketing, and technology to organizations in the business of lifelong learning. Celisa is a seasoned entrepreneur with a unique blend of experience in marketing, technology, and education, and for more than a decade at Tagoras she's helped trade and professional associations and other organizations in the business of lifelong learning reach more customers, grow revenue, and have a greater impact. Clients have included major organizations such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the College Board, the College of American Pathologists, the American Society for Training and Development, and many others.