Towards the end of last year, my LinkedIn timeline was overtaken by executives who emphasized the importance of continuous learning and development and shared the shiny new certifications they had earned.
I don’t know if this sudden burst was because LinkedIn’s algorithm decided I was interested, or if a significant surge in people certified in Q4 and wanted to go public.
The interesting thing is that all the courses were academic certifications from traditional universities. Although very reputable, these certifications are more expensive and require specific time commitments. Instead, the certifications on display come from a range of players, including:
- Ivy League MOOCs: paid certifications.
- Aggregation learning platforms such as Coursera and Udemy: Free and paid certifications.
- Industry bodies such as the Digital Marketing Institute, Certified Online Marketing Professionals and Content Marketing Institute: Certifications paid.
- Walled garden learning platforms such as LinkedIn: Paid (by subscription).
- independent content entrepreneurs (Neil Patel, The Tilt): Free and paid certifications.
- Suppliers offering courses around their products, category and beyond. For example, HubSpot, Drift, SEMrush, Ideas Trust, Sweet Fish Media: Mostly free.
The last group was intriguing.
Informative and educational content have long been a cornerstone of B2B marketing for acquisition and engagement. Still, education is generally intended to help potential buyers (members and Personas the ideal customer profile fit) make a more informed buying decision. You don’t see a lot of certifications in the mix. It seems to be changing.
Why do B2B companies offer certifications to industry professionals?
This trend – of product companies offering reviewed and certified courses – marks an evolution in content marketing. Fundamentally reframes this educational content as a brand medium, while creating new opportunities in perspective and customer engagement, retention and advocacy.
That’s why more product companies (beyond HubSpot Academy, which remains the top mover and leader in the space) offer educational certifications that “help you do your job better” versus educational content that helps to “make a more informed purchase decision. »
Here are some of the benefits a brand can expect, if this long-term commitment of funds, resources, and expertise goes well:
1. Build an Engaged Community
The community model has seen some evolution: from communities to more interactive, transparent, and internally decentralized communities hosted on platforms such as Slack and Discord. Brands is now leveraging certified courses and programs to add new dimensions to community engagement. Not only does it proclaim “we care about your career and have a stake in your long-term professional success”, it also gives the mark a direct line into the pain points and expectations of users and customers. Since professionals tend to think of themselves as learners, not students, B2B brands can do a better job of engaging them by weaving around the larger community experience.
Drift VP Mark Kilens previously led HubSpot Academy and recently launched Drift Insider, a community of marketers who want to take conversational marketing further. Certified courses, he said, offer a powerful new way to bring high-value content to prospects and customers, deeper down the funnel. “As things get more serious, community as well as education can really help brand attraction prospects deeper into the world. The trick is to organize all three types of content (brand building, engagement and conversion) under one team so that we can align these content experiences across the business lifecycle,” he said.
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2. Create a category
When a brand starts out in a relatively unknown solution category, they need to build awareness, use and demand, as well as drive adoption with the process and culture change. Community as well as education can play a key role in enabling this goal. Think about content marketing, inbound marketing, and marketing keeping the conversation going: all three categories have benefited from building a community that also offers category-specific certified education. The approach creates a new cohort of practitioners (users and customers) who understand the new solution (ahead of their peers), and even champion the category as they progress in their careers.
3. Shaping the industry narrative
B2B companies that invest in practitioner education and certification actually play a big role in category integration, driving standardization or setting criteria across customer verticals. They bring deep niche knowledge that others like MOOCs and learning platforms simply cannot. Robert Rose, founder of Content Advisor Strategy Consulting and head of the Content Marketing Institute said that B2B companies are able to offer much more timely, relevant and differentiated offerings in their niche. “It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see a company like GE, or Apple, or LinkedIn offering a fully accredited four-year degree. Why hasn’t a big B2B brand done it yet, candidly, baffles me,” he said.
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4. Improve customer success results
New products, brands in highly dynamic industries, and those with adoption challenges can all benefit from certified courses that reinforce the perceived value of the solution. Training customers to use your product will help them get better results. Certifying customers as authorities in your products creates champions who can drive adoption within the company long after a training session is over.
The Evolution of Content Marketing Creates a Win-Win Situation
When brand certification is done right, everyone wins. For example, let’s say a B2B company decides to launch a podcast. Their options are: hire an expensive consultant or agency, and remain dependent; hire an outside marketer with a proven track record of running podcasts. Or develop internal talent by letting a mid-level manager take a course offered certified by an in-demand B2B podcasting platform.
With the third option, the company obtains an internal expert for a fraction of the cost of a consultant or an agency, while valuing internal talent. The employee acquires a new skill and becomes more employable; the podcasting platform likely makes a sale and creates a tangible stake in the manager’s long-term success; the podcasting industry gets another informed “certified” champion; and the largest pool of marketing talent is growing.
As you can imagine, this approach is effort- and resource-intensive. Interactive course content designed by real subject matter experts, real educators to weigh in on pedagogy, relatively high production values, and follow-up evaluation, feedback, and long-term upgrades. While the greater availability of technologies such as ready-to-use learning platforms enables more cost-effective content delivery at scale, it also requires stand-out content and learning experiences. Compared to providing a bunch of how-to guides, certification is a long-term commitment.
In Part 2, we’ll explore how brands can leverage this trend to drive real business results. What are the best practices and key considerations for getting the right model? What does the future hold? Don’t miss Robert Rose, Mark and Ann Kilens Gynn’s expert insight into tilt in the next article.