As consumers change their buying cycle, companies are forced to shift their marketing style. Consumers are engaging in the buying cycle later than ever. In 2013 Forbes reported “customers being nearly 60 percent through the sales process before engaging a sales rep.” And a resounding number of journalists in 2014 reported that 81 percent of shoppers conduct online research before making a purchase.

Forward-thinking markers are using the same tools to share a different message. They are turning a cold shoulder to over-bloated sales pitches and instead turning to classrooms; webinars; and content marketing including e-books, blogs and white papers. What do all of these tactics have in common? You guessed it: good old educational content.

Buyers who experienced a loss in the 2008 economic downturn are more conservative with their money. They don’t want to and ultimately can’t afford to be taken advantage of at this point in the game.

Additionally, buying power is shifting to younger generations. My generation, Gen X, has been marketed to our entire lives. We’ve been conditioned to ignore messaging that doesn’t apply, and we were raised to distrust the sales process. We don’t like to be sold to and instead rely on our own investigative skills to get the job done.

First, give your clients what they really want to know, the thing they ask for the msot. Make it easy, make it free, and if you can, make it fun. When I tell clients this, they often say: “I’m not going to give that information away. Then they’ll never call, and I won’t get to sell them anything.”

Nobody wants to play with someone who doesn’t share. It’s the ultimate kibosh on playtime fun.

Change isn’t always comfortable. “It’s a shift in your mindset as a marketer,” says Don Brockleman of Influence and Co., a local company providing content-marketing services. “Traditional marketing is product driven, and educational marketing is customer centric. It’s less about the product or service and more about how your company can help your prospects be successful in relation to your product or service.”

Those opposed to change and sharing need to do a gut check. The greatest opportunity for business success lies in the whitespace: doing what your competition can’t or won’t do. Apply that principle to marketing, and you have a way to bring in business.

“Marketing is displaying your targeted expertise so people with specific problems find you and think of you as their long-term solution,” says Jennifer Schenck, CoMo Connection Exchange co-owner and educational marketing enthusiast. “They may not be ready for your solution now, but if you continue to educate them as they grow, they know where to find you when they are ready.”

An educational approach to marketing doesn’t mean you’re giving away the cow for free. Instead you highlight milk’s consumer health benefits, share recipes containing milk, give away educational coloring books about milk and sponsor “infomercials” on how to eat a healthy diet including milk.

Second, make people feel like they’re important. A watered-down campaign targeted at everyone won’t connect with anyone.

Dale Carnegie said, “When dealing with people, you’re not dealing with creatures of logic but creatures of emotion.” People are not good at following directions, but they are good at connecting.

Put yourself in the shoes of your buyers. Give them a reason to remember what you had to say, identify with your message and make a connection with your company. “When prospects or clients overcome challenges with your help, they develop a relationship with your company or brand that is based on trust and expertise,” Brockleman says.

“For me, marketing should never be about hitting a wide audience over the head with a 2-by-4,” Schenck says. “It has to be relationship driven.”

Your buyers are going to find their information somewhere. Do you want them to hear it from you or your competition? We can’t change the behaviors of today’s buyers, but we can adapt our strategies to cope with the shift. And we can learn from the success of others; Influence and Co.’s educational marketing campaign has grown the entire company. “By focusing on being a resource for prospects, we are able to reduce the time prospects are in the sales cycle and find clients who fit best our company because before they engage with a member of our sales team they are already educated about our industry and have some level of trust established,” Brockleman says.

The educational marketing approach is really just a refresher on preschool manners. Share with people, and they’ll like you, be more comfortable and, in this instance, feel empowered to make an educated buying decision.

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