Corporate MOOC: Extreme Content Marketing

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Tim Mauri wants more people to have weight loss surgery. You see, Tim works in marketing for Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson medical device company that manufactures, among other things, instruments used for weight loss surgery. As the market leader in the weight loss surgery arena, it’s all quite simple for Ethicon: the more people who have weight loss surgery, the more instruments Ethicon sells.

Weight loss surgery, known in the medical field as “bariatric surgery,” is the most effective tool available today to help obese patients lose significant weight. But Ethicon faces a problem: only about 1% of surgically eligible patients ever wind up on a surgeon’s operating room table, and that number has been persistently stubborn. There are myriad explanations for the low number of bariatric surgeries being performed relative to the number of patients who could potentially benefit from having it, but chief among them is the prevailing assumption of how surgery works. If the idea of removing part of the stomach in order to restrict the amount of food a person is capable of eating in one sitting sounds a bit barbaric to you, it may also sound that way to primary care physicians, many of whom hesitate to suggest bariatric surgery to their obese patients.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect when we lifted the curtain on our course … but the feedback … has been extraordinary.”

A multi-year, multi-million dollar investigation sponsored by Ethicon suggests that we’ve got it all wrong, though. The findings of the Metabolic Applied Research Strategy (MARS) debunk some long-held myths about why we weigh what we weigh, and even more critical to Ethicon’s business interests, it illuminates how bariatric surgery really works to deliver such effective weight-loss results. The research suggests that surgery doesn’t work by preventing a person from eating as much as he’d like; surgery works because it makes him not want to eat as much in the first place.

Tim and the team at Ethicon believe that sharing the insights from MARS will help to knock down some of the barriers that prevent primary care physicians from referring more of their obese patients to surgeons. They think that if more healthcare providers understand the physiology behind the surgery, they’ll be more apt to consider it as a solution for their obese patients. Assuming that this is true, Ethicon now needs to solve an important question: what’s the best way to spread the word about MARS as broadly and effectively as possible within the healthcare community?

There is no shortage of options for Ethicon to consider, but each of them has its own limitations. Conferences that bring people together to teach, inform, and debate can be useful, but they are costly and inefficient. Instructional YouTube videos tend to be more practical for simple tasks or concepts that are easy to explain. Though content marketing strategies such as blogging and social media outlets are inexpensive, these isolated outreach attempts do little to solidify brand names or increase sales. (Even inexpensive strategies are hardly cost effective if they do not produce desirable results.) And besides, for messages that are as complex as the MARS findings, how could one possibly expect to convey them in a series of 140-character tweets?

A new option for disseminating educational content is the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Though MOOCs were initially restricted to higher education institutions, they are now trickling into the private sector. It makes sense because MOOCs can make corporations and other learning organizations more efficient and uniform in the delivery of their internal employee training. However, MOOCs also present a unique opportunity to engage external audiences for strategic marketing purposes. It’s been said that we live in a marketing era in which “content is king,” but it’s also been said that this is the era of “permission marketing,” meaning that consumers have more power than ever before about how and when they engage with your brand. If there’s a single truth to today’s marketing environment, it’s this: if you want to succeed, you’d better deliver content that’s worthy of their attention. Could MOOCs offer corporations the differentiated, engaging platform needed in today’s challenging environment?

Tim Mauri

Tim Mauri, Marketing Manager, US Bariatric & Metabolic Surgery at Ethicon, Inc.

Ultimately, Tim and the Ethicon team are betting that the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” Powered by the OPEN edX platform, Ethicon launched the MARS MOOCon June 2nd to more than 1000 participants from across the globe. As far as we can tell, their MOOC is one of the first corporate MOOCs aimed squarely at customers rather than employees. We think it’s a bold – yet promising – experiment in content marketing with solid early results. As Tim explained, “I had absolutely no idea what to expect when we lifted the curtain on our course and began enrolling surgeons and other healthcare professionals into it, but the feedback on our first course has been extraordinary thus far.”

Though the Ethicon example is a nice application of a MOOC in the medical device industry, the potential for corporate MOOCs is certainly not limited to that particular industry. Companies that compete in industries in which conferences, seminars, and workshops are regularly held may benefit from designing, building, and executing a MOOC. Ethicon had a mountain of content that had been generated by their MARS initiative. What mountain of content are you sitting on that could be a growth driver for your company? When it comes to content marketing, do you have a strategy? How will you rise above the noise in today’s crowded marketplace? How might a MOOC fit within your overall marketing strategy?

We’ll continue to track the progress of Ethicon’s experiment in online learning, and we’ll give you some insight into the path they took to bring their MOOC from concept to reality in a series of upcoming posts.

Tim Mauri is an employee of Ethicon, part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies, but the opinions he expressed in this article are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer.

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