How to Position Your Expertise in Online Education: The “Us vs. Them” Technique)


I was talking to Brian Balfour about retention and engagement, and asked him this question:

“Should you try to retain people at the onboarding phase, or try to resurrect people who have churned and are now dormant?”

You see, I’ve heard arguments for both sides, but when I told Brian this, here’s his response:

practitioners vs. non-practitioners

Later he explained:

“A non-practitioner will make all sorts of arguments as to why it’s better to resurrect churned users (they’re already exposed, it’s cheaper, it’s a large audience, etc.). But a practitioner knows from experience it’s always more valuable to focus on new or current users.”

As soon as he said that, I knew this was going to be GOLD for the course we’re creating on retention and engagement. For a product developer or any course creator, this is a powerful one-two punch.

One-Two Punch in Course Creation

The first punch — the jab — is getting the content right. Knowing the difference between right and wrong, and explaining it to your customers.

The second punch — where the real power comes from — is using this knowledge to position yourself as the expert. Your expertise is your trump card, and you have to know when to play it. Because it’s one thing to know you’re a practitioner, and that you see the world differently from non-practitioners… it’s an entirely different thing to communicate this expertise to your customers.

It’s your job to constantly and consistently show your customers you’re the expert. If it’s not in the back of their minds, all of them, then you didn’t do your job. Hammer this point home, over and over again, throughout the content.

For example, if I’ve created an eight module course, I’ll work in a way to show off our expertise in every single module. There are lot of different ways to do this (show off your results, show off the results of previous customers, testimonials from other influencers, etc.), but the classic method is what we call, “Us vs. Them.”

Positioning Technique: Us vs. Them

Positioning ourselves as the practitioners and everyone else as non-practitioners is classic “Us vs. Them” Let me give you an example of what it might look like: let’s say I was creating an online course on screenwriting. “Us vs. Them” might look like this:

“Other writers might say something like, ‘you have to let your characters speak to you, and when they do, the structure of your story will come to life naturally.’

That sounds like good advice, but after reading hundreds of screenplays, helping to produce 12 films, and winning the Nicol’s Fellowship in 2013, I can tell you now, that has nothing to do with reality of actually get a script read, loved, and produced.

Instead, the screenplays I saw do well had these three things in common: they all had three acts, they all were between 95 – 105 pages, and the inciting incident happened between pages 14 and 16 …”

And from there, as the product developer of this screenwriting course, you could talk about how important (or unimportant those three things are), and you could start diving into your content.

Let’s take a closer look at what I did there. It’s a very simple framework that has an infinite number of possibilities, depending on how creative you want to get with your storytelling.

Part 1. How “they” think (which is inherently incorrect).

Part 2. Show your credentials and expertise. In this case, I said I was a Nicol’s winner, had read 100 screenplays, etc.

Part 3. The counter intuitive truth. Finally, truth of the situation that most people don’t know.

Of course, the most important thing is that this has to be true. You can’t makeup that you’re a Nicol’s fellowship winner or that you read 100 screenplays. Your expertise has to be based on reality. In short: Don’t make shit up.

Here are a few more examples.

Dating advice: “Some people will say, ‘oh, just be yourself.’ But after working with a hundred different clients and teaching them how to be more attractive to women, I can tell you that you have to do a lot more than be yourself. For example, the number one thing that’s helped my clients be more successful with women? Teaching them how to start working out and getting in better shape — because it turns out when you improve your ‘outer self’ you also improve your ‘inner self.’”

Fitness advice: “People will tell you to ‘watch what you eat and walk more,’ but based on the 30 clients who have lost 20 pounds or more on my program, I can tell you the best way to start losing weight is to do this one thing: consume 30g of protein in the first 30 minutes of waking up.”

That’s how “Us. vs. Them” works. To see how the masters do this, study Ramit Sethi at I Will Teach You to be Rich, the mentor who first introduced me this positioning technique. Gary Vaynerchuk is another master.

Gary specifically loves pointing out how other people who “look like him” will give advice, but like Brian, none of them are practitioners. They’re “headline readers” and what makes his advice on using social platforms is that he actually uses Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook ads, etc.

Like I said, there are an infinite number of ways to use this technique in your online program. Find your own style, don’t just borrow Ramit’s or Gary’s or mine. Once you combine this positioning technique with your creativity, you’ll have a powerful persuasion tool in your toolbox.

Let me know when you put it to use, I would love to hear your thoughts.


Photo Credit: Peter Barwick

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