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Idea: A Lynda.com Lesson: How Business Content Can Be Far More than Marketing

Earlier this week, LinkedIn announced it purchased the online educational service Lynda.com for $1.5 billion. If you are not familiar with Lynda.com, then you’ve probably never run into a brick wall trying to figure out some nuanced special effect in Photoshop or other Adobe software. With 1,124 courses related to Adobe software in the Lynda.com library, chances are good it will help solve your Photoshop mystery. And because Lynda.com breaks down those courses into 55,000 tutorials, you can find your help fast (without taking an entire course). 

And those 55,000 tutorials are just the Adobe-related ones. Lynda.com has courses on 700+ different software products, ranging from introductory overviews to advanced technical training. And in recent years, Lynda.com’s curriculum has moved beyond software into providing courses and tutorials on using a wide array of business products and web-based services.

In other words, Lynda.com, a company started by a woman actually named Lynda (unlike, say, Mavis Beacon) who is now in her 60s, became a $1.5 billion business unicorn by teaching people who are customers of other companies how to use the products and services made and sold by those other companies.

Content not only adds value to products. Content can also be a product.

Longtime readers of Idea Email may recall our recurring advice: Don’t sell pots and pans, teach customers how to cook. (We were inspired by a line of customers waiting to get into a class at Williams-Sonoma.) Unfortunately, because there is so much emphasis being placed on the term “content marketing” these days, it has created the perception that “content” is something that belongs only in the marketing department.

While we greatly agree that content adds value to a product at each step of a customer’s journey, we know (and even work with) some companies that have discovered that content itself can become a profitable product.

Companies like Adobe and Microsoft have seen the success of Lynda.com and others and have created their own teaching and certification courses, events, books and other products. Even the company that created the software we’re using to send you this email (Emma) has launched a successful conference called Marketing United that hundreds of marketers will pay to attend in two weeks. (Sidebar promo for attendees: Rex Hammock will be on a panel.)

Creating valuable brands and “content products” goes far beyond the world of tech, however, as Orvis Schools and Michelin Guides proved decades ago.

Bottom line: When you recognize the value of helpful content, you see that such content is more than marketing: It can become a profitable product and enhance the value of your entire company. If you don’t teach your customers how to use your products to accomplish the objectives they have when purchasing your products, you are (1) treating your product as a commodity, or worse, (2) shifting value over to companies like Lynda.com who recognize that it can often be more valuable to help people learn to cook than it is to sell them pots and pans.

Image: Lynda.com

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