Why “Learning Centers,” Not Blogs, are the Next Big Thing for Content Marketing

by Marcus Sheridan

learning_in_the_digital_age

As many of you know, I’ve never liked the word “blog.”

Why? Mainly because the word itself devalues what the action is supposed to be, and the impact it can potentially have for businesses that embrace the practice properly.

I’m not the only one who feels this though, as I’ve talked with many companies over the past few years that not only dislike the phrase, but hate putting it as a main option on their website’s navigation bar.  These feelings make total sense if you think about it, especially for those companies looking for a word that better encapsulates *all* their content, in all its forms.

It is for this reason, more and more businesses are developing “Learning Centers”—a place that not only includes blog articles, but the rest of their content as well. Here is how it works:

The Evolution of Teaching and Communicating (i.e. Marketing) in *Their* Language

Some consumers (you and me) love to read content. Others want to watch videos or listen to podcasts. And then there are folks that utilize all 3 learning methods, depending on the situation.
Great companies and brands understand this reality, and therefore the need to produce content in all of these forms so as to make the greatest connection with their consumer base.

But once a company “gets it,” the different types of content that can produced is profound:

  • Blog articles
  • Videos
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • White Papers
  • eBooks
  • etc.

With so many ways to do this thing we call “content marketing,” a Learning Center on a company’s website becomes a natural means whereby to allow all your content to live in one place so that web visitors can find what they’re looking for and find it quickly.

How to Create a Powerful Learning Center for your Web Visitors: Health Catalyst

To show you a company that is doing this at a very advanced level we’ll look at the example of Health Catalyst (client), a Healthcare Analytics Company out of Utah.

At the top of their Learning Center, Health Catalysts explains to visitors a simple drag and drop method of collecting and sharing the shown content.

At the top of their Learning Center, Health Catalysts explains to visitors a simple drag and drop method of collecting and sharing the shown content.

Despite the fact that Health Catalyst has only been fully engaged in content marketing for about 1 year, their dedication to this side of their business development has been astounding, led by the visionary leadership Senior Vice President, Paul Horstmeier. The image below shows the Learning Center page for Health Catalyst, clearly demonstrating all of the  unique types of content the company has created for their customers, prospects and web visitors.

Content Marketing Learning Center

Whether a visitor wants to read, watch, or listen to their content, Health Catalyst has given them an array of options to learn in *their* preferred learning style

I could go into a long explanation of how producing such incredible content in all of these different areas has impacted Health Catalyst’s bottom line, but suffice to say they’ve had an astounding return on investment and are already viewed as an industry leader in their space, despite some of the Goliaths that they have to compete with on a daily basis.

Going forward, more and more companies are going to have literal “Learning Centers” on their websites as they embrace the power of content and produce it in as many forms as effectively possible. This is what consumers want, and just like everything else in the digital age, industry leaders will be made by those that can do it well, and do it first.




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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

jason jue May 20, 2014 at 4:20 pm

When I ran Dell ecommerce, we introduced learning centers in 2007. They didn’t help drive enough sales to justify the effort. Perhaps, it was poorly executed or we were too early.

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Marcus Sheridan May 21, 2014 at 7:33 am

Interesting story Jason. I’d love to know more about what you all did…Did you end up scrapping the whole thing?

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jason jue May 21, 2014 at 7:43 am

We continued to iterate and improve because we thought it was important for future sales, although we couldn’t directly track the benefit. We introduced learning centers at Dell because we wanted to expand beyond our core customer, DIY consumer/business buyer.

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Nichole Kelly May 21, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Great post Marcus!

Jason – Just a thought it sounds like it might fall into the category of a measurement challenge versus a results challenge. Learning tends to happen in the brand awareness and research phase of the buying cycle. It’s much earlier in the process than current attribution models tend to give credit for. The only way to be able to show whether or not the learning center is influencing sales is to have a multi-touch attribution model. Do you think that could have been a contributing factor for being able to show results?

Nichole

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Mike Gingerich May 21, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Excellent follow-up points Nichole!

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Nichole Kelly May 21, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Thanks so much Mike! I hope you are doing well. ;-)

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jason jue May 21, 2014 at 7:45 am

That’s the important thing, really, is knowing your core customer you are trying to attract, and understanding their needs.

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Muhammad Umair May 21, 2014 at 8:10 am

A really nice and great story which you have discuss with us and i think this is really great chance for us to understand about
nice and keep it up
Thanks

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Mark Reutzel May 21, 2014 at 10:37 am

This is fantastic! So great to see a company digging in and setting their internal and external customers for success! The ROI for companies that heed this clarion call will be emense and deserved, waxing eloquently as stalwart examples of Brogan’s Trust Agents!

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Jon Yoffie May 21, 2014 at 11:52 am

Guess we were ahead of the times when we launched Hanley Wood University 5 years ago!

As a B2B media company, we developed this tool as a lead gen device for our clients and it has proven to be wildly successful. Course content provides everything from from general knowledge to certification and continuing education credits.

Check it out!
http://www.hanleywooduniversity.com/learncenter.asp?id=178409

I’m no longer with the company, but am a big believer in the idea that the blog was the baby step and applied content like education and training does a far better job of generating qualified leads. Surveys and gamification are two other great applications worth exploring.

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Jeff Long May 23, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Jon,

This looks like a similar thing to what I’m building for some clients. One is for a medical training company at http://BrainyNurses.com There is a huge potential for companies to not only teach/train but also to sell products to a new audience.

Were your courses video based, Flash or something else?

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Bill Cobb May 21, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Hi Marcus,
Exactly, you’re so right on here! You renew a major frustration in me with Wordpress or really any website these days in terms of “Navigation” – how to create a site that’s visually optimized for Learning Center sections of Blog articles:
Videos
Webinars
Podcasts
White Papers
eBooks

Without such a theme or site layout, great content gets buried, lost to an average visitor to the homepage, if they begin their search there instead of backend of Google. This has bothered me for years on my sites where I try to use widgets to help content get found (welcome and learning videos), but the flow of widgets frustrates design. I think Michael Hyatt’s new get noticed Wordpress theme is a step in the right direction. I’ve searched and searched for such a “Learning Center” type theme and have been disappointed so far. Do you know of any awesome themes where the homepage is optimized for Learning Center layout?

Thank you, Bill

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Jeff Long May 23, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Bill,

Perhaps you could find a Magazine type theme and filter what blocks of content are shown based on the category (video, ebook, white paper, etc). I’m a big Genesis user but I’m sure there are other Magazine theme layouts available elsewhere.

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Wendy K May 21, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I love this article–perhaps it’s the teacher in me. But I think it would be so cool to work with an agency to produce these learning centers for my niche (lawn care/landscape/outdoor living). It’s just common sense–everyone has their own unique way of learning–whether that’s through listening, watching, or reading. So, why not have content that reaches people’s learning styles?

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David Shaw May 21, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Marcus my man,

This has got me pumped, this is the future my friend. This is the perfect example of being the best teacher in your industry.

The power of a company that buys 100% into this concept is massive as this example shows.

Understanding how the world now works and how consumers want to consume.

Kind regards

David

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Mike Gingerich May 21, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Marcus – really love your note on “blog” as a bad term and “learning center” as a much more helpful and value adding term! Good to see this specific example as well.

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jason jue May 21, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Nicole, yes, you are right, we didn’t have a multitouch attribution for website pathing back when we first launched learning centers many years ago. We stuck with it, though because we were expanding beyond the tech-savvy do it yourself (DIY) customer.

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Nichole Kelly May 21, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Jason – It might be interesting to look at the results today with a multitouch attribution model. I wonder if the ROI would look different? Thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s an interesting challenge to consider.

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jason jue May 21, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Agree that’s where some of the new marketing software that’s out there makes it easy for all of us to do now.

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Frank Strong May 21, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Interesting concept. I thought this was what a website was supposed to be…perhaps it shows just how brochure-ware they’ve become.

And I don’t like the word blog either. It does trivialize the meaning, as you say Marcus. But man, I love what they provide.

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Marcus Sheridan May 23, 2014 at 11:34 am

Indeed Frank. The way I see it, the difference between the learning center and the rest of the site is that one is “company/product” centric, the other is “Problem-solving centric”….if that makes sense :)

Great seeing you bud,

Marcus

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shabarish May 22, 2014 at 10:12 am

Bold Article. Awesome Concept Tooooo

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Craig McBreen May 22, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Marcus,

I’m really enjoying your posts lately, the case studies in particular. I plan to do the same in the fairly near future.

As a graphic designer turned content marketer (ooooo, how I’ve grown to hate that term) the case studies are a great benefit.

And of course the word “blog” and the phrase “content marketing” do NOT work very well in the context of an initial client meeting (Blank stares are not good). In fact these words could kill a plan before it even gets off the ground, so I’m working on changing my language too.

Thanks, my man! Have a great weekend.

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Marcus Sheridan May 23, 2014 at 11:32 am

I think we’re overdue for a call Craig. We should catch up soon man, seriously…would be nice.

Marcus

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craig McBreen May 23, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Sounds like a plan :) I’ll be in touch.

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Tony H May 23, 2014 at 1:37 am

This is a great concept, I would much rather run a learning center than a blog. Thanks for sharing!

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Marcus Sheridan May 23, 2014 at 11:32 am

Glad you liked it Tony :)

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Victoria May 23, 2014 at 5:41 am

The idea of creating learning centers is really interesting. The only drawback I see is that learning center should be focused around one, no matter how wide, topic, and your blog can have posts on different topic. But maybe it is the positive thing for visitors, who come and find out all needed information in one learning ceter

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Marcus Sheridan May 23, 2014 at 11:31 am

I’m not sure if I see it that way Victoria. Your blog is part of your learning center. If you want to write about all types of stuff, you can. It’s totally up to the business.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Marcus

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Yoav Schwartz May 23, 2014 at 7:49 am

Great post! You’ve hit the nail on the head as far as how companies need to produce and surface educational content for their audience. One thing I think is missing, and why “learning center” may not be the best term, is other non-educational content. Sure content marketing is all about adding value, but sometimes that value comes from “fun” or “snacky” content too. It might also include educational content about other areas in your industry. At Uberflip we prefer the term “Content Hub” as it is all encompassing of our educational (articles, ebooks, videos, etc) and entertaining content (Instagram, etc). Check out our Hub to see what I’m talking about: http://hub.uberflip.com

Another point to make is that not all people find content the same way, so it’s important to categorize or divide your content in multiple ways – some people are going to want videos and search for that in particular, but others will want to find content by topic, where multiple forms of content may do the job.

Cheers,
Yoav

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Marcus Sheridan May 23, 2014 at 11:29 am

Hey Yoav, thanks for your comment here and props to you all for all the good content you’re creating.

Regarding your point though, I don’t agree that “content hub” is necessarily the right phraseology for the average consumer.

I say this because consumers want to come to a site, in a majority of the cases, to be educated (there are always exceptions). They do not come for “content.” That’s a marketing word we use, but that’s not an emotional word consumers are connected with.

But, a simple split test would tell us both what we’re looking for here :)

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Yoav Schwartz May 23, 2014 at 2:13 pm

“phraseology” – great word!
You’re right. Sadly most consumers (myself included) look for words like “Blog” or “Resources” on a site’s menu, to dig deeper into what that company is all about. The reality is websites themselves should be full of this content but instead they tend to be full of high level abstract concepts with all the good stuff buried in these “resource” or “blog” sections. But my point is smart companies are going to look beyond just their educational content when defining their content marketing strategy. For example, where does your social activity live? It’s valuable too and can be leveraged for lead gen. Why kick people to Facebook or Twitter if they’re already here on your site? It’s good to show them what you’re tweeting about, just do it on your terms. And at that point this section is more than just learning about your product or service, it’s also learning about your culture, partners, industry, or anything else you think your core audience may be interested in.

Maybe it’s the new “About Us” section :)

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Hana May 23, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Love this article Marcus. It echos some of what we’ve been saying and doing at Uberflip (working with HubSpot on this too). One of the main problems our customers have is the ability to organize various forms of content in a targeted way.

Would love to show you what we do.. are you up for a brief chat?

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Jeff Long May 23, 2014 at 4:50 pm

This is such a good article. I’ve read it several times as it’s something I’m teaching my clients. Some of them think having a blog page is enough, while others hire us to produce videos but don’t have an overall strategy to teach/train on their website.

I’m giving a presentation in a few weeks to a large group about the topic of eLearning/Learning Centers and this has been a great tool as I think through the content of my presentation.

Thanks for the awesome Learning Center content on this page! :)

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Marcus Sheridan June 1, 2014 at 5:11 pm

So glad you liked it Jeff. Good luck to you on the presentation!!

Marcus

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Shahnawaz Sadique May 24, 2014 at 5:04 am

You have quoted some valid point but I am wandering that why not a blog can be turned in learning center .Have seen some pro blogger blog who are actually converting their blog into knowledge or learning center in their particular niche…

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James Novak May 25, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Marcus, Excellent article! This is cutting edge information. You have added a lot of value and insight here. I’ve already been in contact with my web designers to discuss creating a “Learning Center” for my website. I also shared your article with introductory commentary on Google Plus. Now following as well. Thank-you.

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Marcus Sheridan June 1, 2014 at 5:10 pm

So glad you liked the post James, and once you implement, I’d love to hear from you and take a look at it. Very exciting stuff!

Best,

Marcus

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Master138 May 25, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Great article! The idea of creating learning centers is really interesting. Thanks for sharing :D

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Thomas van Leeuwen May 26, 2014 at 2:59 am

Hi Marcus,

What are your thoughts on SEO performance for the words ‘blog’ and (for example) ‘learning centre.’

Would ‘blog’ be ranked better/higher because it’s a more established term? Established in the SEO sphere?

Would love to here your feedback.

Cheers,
Tom van Leeuwen.
BCR

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Marcus Sheridan June 1, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Hey Tom, good question.

I would say for the most part, consumers don’t like the word, don’t use the word, and don’t search the word.

And if they type “(your company) blog”—they’ll find what they’re looking for.

To me, all that matters is that consumers can find what they’re looking for….and they can find it quickly.

Good stuff,

Marcus

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Thomas van Leeuwen June 1, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Hi Marcus,

Thanks for the reply.

I understand from a internet user/consumer perspective that they are not as concerned about searching the term ‘blog,’ but how does Google as the search engine rate the word compared to, say, ‘knowledge centre?’

Have you ever recognised differences between how Google would rank a ‘blog page’ which is an established term compared to something else i.e. resource centre, learning hub etc?

As you can probably tell from the spelling, we’re looking at this from an Australian perspective. SEO and content marketing within B2B is still reasonably fresh here compared to the US in terms of businesses utilising quality online content to target customers. Would evolving ‘blog’ to ‘resource centre’ be frowned upon by Google (search algorithm) because it’s not as established/searched/understood?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts Marcus.

Best Regards,

Thomas van Leeuwen

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Davina K. Brewer May 29, 2014 at 11:33 am

Language is some powerful stuff Marcus. When I was a young whippersnapper new to Atlanta, I skipped looking at the ‘luxury apartment homes’; so naive was I that the ‘home’ branding made me think they weren’t rentals. And yes, I felt like an idiot when I figured it out. :-) Words have connotations and meanings far deeper than what Webster or the Urban dictionary tells us. Even if we know them, we assign value judgements based on our individual biases. Tell someone one thing, it’s great; let them know it came from ‘social media’ or a ‘blog’ and you might get a different reaction.

For a business that produces a range of content and resources, the change in terminology is smart. Customers read ‘blog’ and think the brand is talking at them; they see ‘Resource’ or ‘Learning Center’ they see it as something the brand’s done for them.

All semantics aside.. this is one of my sticking points, always has been. Defining and framing myself (none of those blank stares!!) as I seek to further my career, land those jobs I know I’d rock. In this case, a ‘blog’ is the framework for the content I deliver, but it’s always about teaching, always about that ‘big picture meets small detail’ analysis. My blog is easily “About Me” and my business philosophy.. something to think about for sure. FWIW.

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Marcus Sheridan June 1, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Davina, as always, so very great to read your thoughts here and get your taking on something that I know has been on both of our minds for quite some time now.

May the evolution continue… ;-)

Marcus

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Dr. Jason June 2, 2014 at 11:29 pm

I’ve been thinking about this very topic for some time. Trying to figure out how to make my content more relavent than calling it a blog.

I truly like the idea of calling it a learning center, and look forward to seeing how I can implement that idea.

So many ideas going through my head. Thanks so much

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Head Honcho June 11, 2014 at 11:28 am

Nice advice Marcus,

Blog has been the universal term. And, educating clients will help content marketing take a firm root in the true definition. This is not only necessary but detrimental. I’ve listened to clients who really don’t know what a blog is… many say it’s a “journal like thing to get more business.”

Like the word “Kleenex” which describes a soft piece of square paper of a basic size, the term “Blog” does as you mentioned “devalues” what comes after the click.

The word “Blog” could easily be replaced by “Knowledge Base” which reinforces your nod for a revolution of sorts using the term “Learning Center.” As creatives get thinking and marketers get crafty, more fashionable and relative descriptions to replace “Blog” will rise to power.

In due time the term Blog will seem very old-school – perhaps even retro!

Head Honcho

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Adam Kielich June 13, 2014 at 1:02 pm

The whole idea of a blog (a weblog) was to create content in a diary-like format where it is written and published in chronological order where the chronological order mattered. If the chronological order of the content isn’t meaningful then it shouldn’t be published in a blog-like format. Blog because an easily adaptable structure for any kind of content creation but it isn’t always a good fit for a site, particularly a business. The blog might be a good fit within a learning center where some of the information is time-based and the chronology of publication matters but that is probably the exception rather than the rule for many sites.

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Christian Newman June 18, 2014 at 11:08 am

I’ve been thinking about this. I agree with the concept of Learning Centres, but I’m not convinced it has to replace a blog.

There’s an element of time or chronology to a blog that is valuable; for example, on The Sales Lion, observing Marcus’ progression of thought and experience.

Learning Centres is a great way to *organize* content into specific themes. To me, the example given in the post did it wrong. I’d recommend re-organizing the content not by format, but by outcome. For example:

“Improve hospital revenue cycle management”
- blog post
- video
- worksheet
- case study

Repeat this for all the outcomes desired by your ideal customer with the content beneath each proving your knowledge, experience and therefore authority, and making it clear that only you can help them achieve those outcomes.

I’d love to get the group’s thoughts on this perspective.

Christian

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Marcus Sheridan June 19, 2014 at 7:45 pm

No doubt Christian, it’s not about “replacing” a blog. It still has a strong purpose. But in terms of “evolving” and allowing your website to become the ultimate educational source, a learning center is the ideal solution.

Keep rocking brother.

Marcus

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Rida July 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm

i just come here by search engine but i am very happy that i learn a great and more informative knowledge here i think it sounds well nice writing style everything is clear
keep it up

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