What Teaching by Example Means For Your Marketing Efforts

by | May 7, 2020 | Content Marketing, Copywriting, Digital Marketing

Why and how teaching by example is an effective form of storytelling.

Listen, I get that loincloths aren’t socially acceptable to wear in public, but as marketers, we can learn a lesson or two from those that predate us thousands of years.

Those individuals–the cavepeople–were the original marketers. They perfected the art form that is storytelling. These stories ranged in scope from cautionary tales to personal triumph and glory.

And they would share these stories around a fire.

At the most basic level, the fire served as a heating source. It kept early humans warm and it also cooked the prehistoric game they hunted. As these prehistoric beings feasted together, the fire became something else: a social hub.

Fast-forward thousands of years later and nothing much has changed. Sure, you may not necessarily be hunting down wooly mammoths to feed your family, but you do still share stories around a modern day fire–a blog.


And like our ancestors who gathered to reap the benefits of the last hunt, we gather around B2B blogs for the latest content to help our businesses thrive in our own environment.

We talk amongst each other around this fire through blog comments and emails, just as the humans-before-humans whispered the secrets of life over a loaded belly and blazing flames.

The point is: blogs are where you’re allowed to share successes and failures–to teach by example.

Teaching Verbally vs. Teaching in Writing

With that said, it’s important to recognize that teaching by example can be done verbally and through writing. Learning through verbal instruction is very different from learning through writing, as presented by a blog.

That means you have to approach the way you write your blogs differently. The people you’re trying to reach can learn about what you have to share more easily if you incorporate two things in your content:

  • Concrete words
  • Psychological schemas.

Concrete words make a story real for a reader because concrete words activate one or a combination of five senses. For example, consider a commercial Powerade ran in the mid-2010s called “Just a Kid.”

In the commercial, one of the very first images you get is of a child with a basketball between his clasped hands sitting on his mattress in a disheveled bedroom. This is immediately contrasted with a rolling shot of a housing development complex set against an overcast sky.

As the commercial continues, you see more of the neighborhood the boy travels through on his way to a stadium, taking shortcuts among litter and through underpasses.

The commercial ends with the reveal that the child portrayed grew up to be Derrick Rose, professional basketball player. The concrete images are cemented by a narration of Tupac Shakur’s poetry collection, A Rose That Grew From Concrete.

Powerade is trying to illustrate what an urban upbringing looks like. How would you know what that actually looks like? This is where psychological schemas come in.

A schema is a psychological term for your generic understanding of something.

For example, when I was describing the fire prehistoric humans gathered under, you didn’t need a picture to know I was talking about a fire.

You had a generic understanding. That understanding, taken from the images the word, “fire,” conjures up in your mind, is a schema.

In a different example, reconsider the Powerade commercial. The way the commercial is filmed with the rolling shot of the neighborhood, the logistical challenges the child has to overcome to reach the stadium, and even the overcast sky, are suggestive of an urban environment.

Naturally, the sky in and of itself has no bearing on the child’s socioeconomic status; it merely establishes the tone of the ad. But these cues are derived from images that signal to our minds, “This is an urban environment.”

Those images–the moving image of the neighborhood, for instance–are schemas in the commercial. They’re generic images. They’re what you might think an urban neighborhood would look like.

Taken together, Powerade powerfully used concrete images and customers’ schemas of urban living arrangements to teach with a story. Their lesson? No matter where you come from, if you have the grit–the determination–you can be as successful as Derrick Rose.

This is exactly what it means to teach by example.

And you can harness the power of concrete words and psychological schemas when you teach by example.

But there’s more to it than using these two things, you’ve got to show context.

How? Read on…

Showing Context

The lessons the Powerade commercial teaches you are repeatable–that is, you can use the tactics the commercial employs to bolster your own advertising efforts. In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip and Dan Heath explore why telling and sharing stories have been a method of teaching:

Stories are effective teaching tools. They show how context can mislead people to make the wrong decisions. Stories illustrate causal relationships that people haven’t recognized before and highlight unexpected, resourceful ways in which people have solved problems.

The key word of this passage is “context.” Good examples show context just as effective stories show the relationships between two concepts–to teach, in other words. More of the Heath brothers’ insights can be found here.

And for B2B, specifically, there is a way to show this context effectively. You do this by making a claim, offering an example of your claim, and explaining what the claim means.

Let me break down exactly what I mean by revisiting the Powerade example, in which I:

  1. Explained what the example is and where it’s from, providing context;
  2. Showed the example in-action, explaining the teachable moments;
  3. Discussed why it matters to the audience

Stories have to be valuable and at the very least, present old information in a new way. Providing value for your reader is a priority for your work as a marketer.

Valuable Stories Teach by Example

Providing valuable stories that teach by example doesn’t have to be hard. It can be as easy communicating your product or service’s value proposition. The leading expert in the science of persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini, would agree.

For example, in his landmark book on the mind, Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Cialdini outlines six strategies that you can use to get people to do what you want. Of note here is the psychological Principle of Reciprocity. Basically, what that means is when you receive something of value, you feel obligated to repay that value.

You can see this principle at work at the lower end of the advertising spectrum. You don’t tend to see it in well-produced, more creative commercials. I’m thinking of WatchMojo’s “Top 10 Best Super Bowl Commercials of 2020,” specifically.

The reason why is because commercials like these tend to rely on customers’ powers of inference and suggestion to communicate their value proposition.

For example, one of those commercials in the top ten that aired during the 2020 Super Bowl advertised Rocket Mortgage. In that ad in particular, Jason Momoa–the actor portraying the most recent version of Aquaman–spoke about what his home means to him with some creativity thrown in.

And that’s it.

The ad does not explain anything about what Rocket Mortgage does and why people should become customers.

In terms of the Principle of Reciprocity, the more creative 2020 Super Bowl commercials, such as the one by Rocket Mortgage, don’t clearly communicate the value their product or service provides as opposed to, say, a Billy Mays’ commercial for OxiClean.

In that 2000 commercial, Mays shows you in many ways what OxiClean can do for you, and so you feel psychologically obligated to pay him back. You think, “Wow, that sounds like a great deal. What do you want for it?”

In your mind, you are getting value and asking what value Mays wants in exchange. This is a reciprocal value exchange.

What’s important about the Billy Mays example is that whatever Mays claims the product does, Mays demonstrates in real-time and why it’s important to the customer. He is teaching by example. That is the exact style you want to show in real-time and in your copy.

Remember, regardless if you’re writing or talking about your product, there’s a process to teach by example: always make a claim, back the claim up with an example of it, and drive home what it means for your customers.




It’s an effective way to get people to understand your point-of-view in your marketing efforts.

But regardless of whether you teach by example by using concrete words, psychological schemas, or value-driven stories, you can be assured that prospects and customers will want to repay you in a form that drives end results for your brand. And that’s the bottom line.

What techniques do you use to teach by example? Let us know in the chat below.

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Marketing Agency

MESH is a digital marketing agency that has pioneered Account-Based Marketing via our proprietary Outcome Driven Marketing (ODM) methodology. We keep our focus on tightly integrating (or MESHing) lead generation, inbound, and outbound methodologies. We help you understand the hidden levers that impact your customers’ buying decision process, develop the right marketing strategy for your unique business case, and effectively execute and measure all aspects of your Account-Based Marketing program.

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