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Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed last month to take my three daughters to “The LEGO® Movie.” I had seen the trailer, and I was deeply skeptical about a film that appeared to be little more than a thinly veiled commercial. I have good kids, but I had visions of them relentlessly pestering me until I bought them each a new LEGO set.

What I failed to anticipate, however, is that the movie is far more than a commercial for LEGO products. Within minutes of the opening credits, I was absorbed by the fantastic world in which the story is set, charmed by the characters and their one-liners. What’s more, none of my daughters walked out of the theater talking about how she wanted a new LEGO set. In fact, the only thing we talked about buying was the movie itself once it’s available for download through iTunes.

 Source Mac Filko on Flickr.

Companies can learn a lot about engaging customers from LEGO. Mac Filko

What good content marketing looks like

“The LEGO Movie” represents content marketing at its finest. LEGO does a brilliant job in this arena, and it could almost be argued that they’re less a toy company than a multimedia content provider. This has been written about extensivelyelsewhere, so I won’t go into detail. But the point is that brands today need to engage with their target audiences differently if they’re going to be successful.

Marketing strategies have changed because we as consumers have changed; we live in the path of an ever-growing tidal wave of information, so as consumers we’ve adapted and become more selective about what and whom we’re willing to pay attention to. If you want to market to us, you’d better do it on our terms.

LEGO and other successful brands engage with their audiences not solely through traditional marketing and advertising channels, but through strategic multimedia content marketing.

How is this relevant to MOOCs?

MOOCs are just beginning to creep from the world of higher education into the private sector, but most people, even those who correctly predicted this migration, see the corporate MOOC primarily as a means of conducting employee training or recruitment.

There is a strong case to be made for this, but what these people have thus far failed to realize is that a properly designed corporate MOOC can also serve the needs of an organization in the same way that “The LEGO Movie” supports the engagement strategy of the parent LEGO brand. In other words, the corporate MOOC can be purposed not only for internal training and recruitment, but also as a powerful mechanism for content marketers to engage with their customer base.

From training to customer engagement

It is with this mindset that I began building our company’s first MOOC in the fall of 2013. I work for Ethicon, a medical device company that’s been part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies for over 80 years. Our products are used in hospital operating rooms around the globe and across a wide variety of surgeries, including for minimally invasive weight-loss surgery, also known as bariatric surgery.

Starting in 2007, a research project we sponsor called the Metabolic Applied Research Strategy (MARS) began to yield some rather jaw-dropping findings about the science of obesity and the physiology behind how weight-loss surgery works. (Spoiler alert: the research suggests that surgery is much more about altering the signaling that occurs between your brain and your gut than it is about mechanically restricting you from being able to eat as much as you’d like.)

We realized we were sitting on a treasure trove of information that would be valuable to the bariatric surgeons who use our products each day.

For example, if, using MARS findings, surgeons could better explain to patients and referring healthcare providers exactly how the surgery works and why it has such profound metabolic effects, perhaps more patients would seek surgery as a treatment for their obesity or Type 2 diabetes.

We began conducting live, in-person “MARS Outreach” courses a few years ago, and they were wildly popular. We would fly the two lead MARS researchers to a city, and then we’d invite 40-50 bariatric surgeons and allied health professionals to hear those researchers debunk long-held myths related to obesity and bariatric surgery. After only a few of these MARS Outreach events, we found that we were reshaping the conversation about obesity and the role of bariatric surgery in combating it.

But let’s be honest, it’s hard to change the world when you’re only reaching 40-50 people at a time. We knew we had an important message to share, and we understood that these in-person events were neither efficient nor sustainable. Moreover, although they were effective for the purpose of disseminating information, they were decidedly ineffective in terms of allowing participants to engage with one another; attendees had very little opportunity to debate and discuss MARS findings.

How we built our MOOC on Open EdX

I had been following the MOOC movement from afar and then began dabbling as a student in a few courses offered by Coursera, Udacity, and edX, eventually immersing myself in the world of MOOCs.

I was increasingly convinced that a MOOC-like online course would be an effective and efficient way for us to scale our MARS Outreach course globally.

After a few attempts to create our own MOOC-like platform from scratch, I decided to contact a few different MOOC providers to investigate licensing opportunities. Ultimately, we entered into an agreement with edX to use their Open edX platform to build our course. When we launch our MARS MOOC in a few weeks, we’ll be the first healthcare company, and one of the first companies in any industry for that matter, to conduct a MOOC on one of the major MOOC platforms.

Two renowned obesity researchers serve as faculty for the course. Their content is both compelling and provocative and provides ample opportunities for learners to think about how to incorporate MARS findings into their practice. While some of the material is technical and the target audience is surgeons and other healthcare professionals who treat patients suffering from obesity, the class, like other MOOCs, is open to all. We even expect hospital administrators and insurers to be interested and participate. Our hope is that the course becomes more than just a course.

We want to build a digital community of learners who have a shared interest in understanding the science of obesity and a shared desire to use that understanding to more effectively combat it.

Medical device content marketing mooc

Ethicon’s customer outreach efforts are changing the conversation among bariatric surgeons. WikiMedia

Learning from LEGO

I have absolutely no idea what to expect when we lift the curtain on our course and begin enrolling surgeons and other healthcare professionals into it. I don’t know whether surgeons will “show up” for an industry-sponsored online course. (For that matter, I’m not quite sure whether they’ll show up for any type of online education.) I hope MARS MOOC participants will be pleasantly surprised by just how much they enjoy their experience. I imagine that some will enter our MOOC with the same skepticism I had as I entered the theater to see “The LEGO Movie,” thinking of our course as little more than a thinly veiled advertisement for Ethicon.

What they’ll find, though, is that not one of our products is ever mentioned or even alluded to, and the word “Ethicon” is uttered a grand total of two times in the entire course. While they might not be singing “Everything is Awesome” to themselves after completing our course, they’ll have fun engaging with fellow participants from around the globe as we debunk a few myths and collectively arrive at a new paradigm for understanding obesity and the role of bariatric surgery.

In other words, we hope, the MOOC will help us do content marketing at its finest, providing something of value to our customers and inviting them to stay engaged.

This post was originally created for the SkilledUp blog

Tim MauriTim Mauri is a Bariatric & Metabolic Surgery Marketing Manager for Ethicon, part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies, but the opinions expressed in this article are entirely his own. The MARS MOOC can be found atEthicon.edX.org, and it is scheduled to launch in early June.

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