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Upgrade your users, not just your product


Learning is a drug. To the brain, learning new things is inherently pleasurable.

So if markets are conversations, why not use the conversation to help someone learn?

A lot of the marketing-folks-with-a-clue have begun talking about the need for brands (or whatever comes after brands) to offer something more meaningful to users. Just yesterday Hugh talked about the marketing-spirituality thing, and Evelyn blogged on purpose-driven marketing.

The consensus seems to be that a user/customer today wants something to believe in. To be part of something bigger than himself. But if you're a customer looking for something to believe in, and you're looking Out There, why couldn't that bigger-than-you thing be... a better YOU.

What better way to give your users the "I Rule!" experience than to help them learn new things... maybe things that stretch them in ways they never dreamed possible. While you're upgrading your product to version 2.0, why not help upgrade the user's brain. Why not help build Person 2.0.

I bought a Nikon Coolpix 5700 because I wanted to get a little more serious about my photos--to do something a step beyond point-and-shoot. I wanted to learn more about photography. It's certainly in Nikon's best interest to help me get hooked on photography, because next thing you know... I'll be buying the extra lenses, and then pretty soon I'll have to get a better camera, and on it goes. IF they can get me to become passionate not about the camera, but about photography.

So they provide photography lessons on their site. Sure enough, I'm getting sucked in. I almost whipped out my credit card for a new lens just during the time I was researching this : )

And what you teach doesn't have to be about what you sell, if your product doesn't lend itself to something people could truly become passionate about doing. We talked about this with the garbage bag thing earlier. Yes you could teach them about issues around garbage, but perhaps it's more motivating to teach them how to make a mockumentary about the issues around garbage. Teach them something that might not be perceived as quite so cool, in the context of something that is. So maybe it's not so crazy for a company that makes garbage bags to teach video editing and movie-making, and help people have an outlet for those new skills. The Digital Garbage Film Festival.

Skyler learned to make her switcher parody on the Howard Dean site. Yes, the site was encouraging people to make "I switched to Dean" ads, that you could vote on, and the site included a complete set of instructions on how to make one. Storyboards, lighting techniques, everything.

Part of what we're trying to do on the Passionate Users blog is encourage people to use learning as a tool of choice in inspiring users, because it works. Learning is one of the fundamental reasons games are so engaging. For most games, the moment you have nothing left to learn is the moment you become bored and move on. Most teachers know that real self-esteem doesn't come from people thinking you're good at something... it comes from actually being good. Almost any activity gets better and better the more you improve, the improvement is nearly always a result of learning.

Musicians know this. Snowboarders know this. Programmers know this.

The more you learn, the better you are at something. The better you are, the more engaging it is. If you can help people have more of that feeling, they won't talk about how good you are-- they'll talk about how much they kick ass.

And that's a powerful formula for creating passionate users.

Helping someone become more than they were before is a wonderful gift to users and to the world. If your customers are older, they might not even realize they're still capable of learning so much, or that the new brain research on plasticity shows it's almost never to late to even become an expert at something new. You could change a life in a really cool way.

Now I want to see Microsoft help teach me to hack my XBox. Now THAT would be a turn-on... ; )

Posted by Kathy on February 2, 2005 | Permalink


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» marketing-as-we-know-it, what's the alternative? from sig's blog
I was enjoying Kathy Sierra's post yesterday, and Evelyn's, and Hugh's, and... but something gnaws on my bones: We all agree that marketing as we know it sucks, it is is not right, and we all rack our brains to [Read More]

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» New Education, More Learning from The Newest Industry
In an e-mail I had with Scott Jones last night, I talked about how I was getting an business and marketing education through some of the best minds in the world...those in the blogosphere. Then Kathy Sierra weighs in with some comments on upgrading ... [Read More]

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» Great Brands Make Us Bigger from smallbusinessbranding blog - small business marketing
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» Rule of Thirds... from blahgKarma
My parallel to Kathy Viera's comment on creating passionate users: At any given time one third of the folks in your organization will love you. One third will hate you. One third will be on the fence, so convince them"... [Read More]

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A Smart Blogging Babe kickin my ass on XBox turns me on! Cool post - mp ;-)

Posted by: Michael D. Pollock | Feb 3, 2005 3:26:39 AM

From my post this morning:

It's about relationships

Marketing that is. And I'm not talking about Relationship Marketing. I'm talking about brands and their place in our world. Our life is about relationships. Without them life is shallow and meaningless. Relationship with our creator, fellow humans and the world around us. Brands that have a purpose of making money, acquiring customers are doomed. They need to understand that life is about relationships. A brand's purpose is about realtionships.

Think about the brands in your life that further your relationships, with our Creator, other humans, or the world around us. Many do it, but don't position themselves that way and thus lose all meaning when a competitor copies their approach.

Just a start to my thinking. Love to hear other comments.

Posted by: Tom Willerer | Feb 3, 2005 9:55:52 AM

kathy, i think this is such a great post. the example of Nikon actually teaching photography is a powerful and innovative approach to subliminal selling. now, if they incorporated a blog whereby people could ask questions and seek improvement techniques, i believe they would obtain even more up sell for lens, etc.

more importantly, your post highlights that "helping someone become more" is a strategy that all companies should have as a core competency. certainly, it can't be the only strategy, but it sure as heck should be a key approach to the market....thanks for illumination.

Posted by: jbr | Feb 3, 2005 4:13:25 PM


The Consumption Theory, which is what this basically is, has created a lot of evangelist/customers for those savvy enough to use it.

Don't just sell someone a product...teach them to consume it. It decreases refunds and creates customer satisfaction, which creates more sales.

PDF's, teleseminars, webinars, etc are only a handful of the many ways companies could increase the stickability of their brand and it's not nearly as expensive as refunds are.

Posted by: Mike Sigers | Feb 3, 2005 5:22:37 PM

Prediction markets + learning resources + prediction tools + showcases of top predictors = a great way to support and reward users/customers/ecosystem partners who want to learn.

Precedents/variations: Stock market portfolio simulations, fantasy sports leagues.

Prediction: Google, MSN, and Yahoo will roll out these environments in a big way, because the meteoric rise of search engine marketing has set the stage for a good ole fashioned platform war...

...And, as such, ad-bitrageurs, who are to SEM what developers are to a software platform, must be courted...

Posted by: Frank Ruscica | Feb 3, 2005 7:49:18 PM

I just wanted to drop a note that I posted an article on my new company blog (new as in company and new as in blog) talking about teaching users: http://www.immergetech.com/blog/2005/6/20/i-rule-potential-customer.html I referenced this article, but don't have trackbacks working.

Posted by: Joshua Blake | Jun 20, 2005 9:24:26 AM

I just stumbled in from the search engine dunes and can honestly say that this blog is a tall cool one, with what tastes like to me, a hint of Seth Godin, but different. Though my brain is not as big as yours, I can appreciate the basic flavor here. I like it. Thanks, Thalia

Posted by: Thalia Miller | Apr 4, 2006 3:17:22 PM

I like this entry very much ,I am trying to teach my students some new ideas or even train them how to evaulate things ,students inChina don't know how to evaulate things

I hope you could have some ideas on this to help me

thank you !

Posted by: leo | Apr 5, 2006 12:59:30 PM

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