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Business Strategy, Cutting-Edge Web, How to Start a Business

How “In the Know” Course Creators Are Quietly Making a HUGE Impact (& Fortune)

If you follow any online coach or course creator, you’ve probably heard: “I had my best year ever… during a pandemic!”

Hey, I’ve been guilty of this too 🙂

It’s true: Online courses boomed during the pandemic. 

But this boom wasn’t just for the obvious reason that we were all stuck at home. 

It also helped that everyone suddenly understood that you didn’t have to be in a classroom to learn and were ready to join in on the fun.  

Pretty much everybody (including that weird uncle you only see at Thanksgiving) was here for it…

And they still are! 

While a lot of other products are struggling to survive — Target’s profits have dropped 90% — digital courses continue to fly off the shelves.

And I know with all the uncertainty… with rising inflation, the ongoing supply chain crisis, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic (not to mention politics…ugh)… it’s easy to get deterred… to want to “play it safe”… 

But instead, I want you to go all-in on this unprecedented opportunity! 

Because I predict that online courses will not only survive the uncertainty… the ebbs and the flows… they’ll come out on top yet again. 

So, whether you’re simply entertaining the idea of creating your first course or have one that isn’t performing as well as it could be, I’m glad you’re reading this because there’s so much opportunity when you know what to look for. 

Because in times of great change, there are always winners and losers.

And as entrepreneurs, as experts, as educators, as course creators, as change agents — however you self-identify — we’ve got a tremendous opportunity to benefit from helping our students achieve their goals! 

And you can do this by standing out among the millions of people trying to create online courses today by doing something that so few course creators do.

It’s a little-known secret that took my business from $100K a year to over $300K a month. 

But before you can use this secret to your advantage, you have to fully understand it, which involves a little history lesson (I promise it’ll be painless). 

The Big Secret & How We Got Here

Just like the internet quickly replaced the Industrial Age when it first burst onto the scene and gave the whole world free 24/7 access to ALL of human knowledge — from Socrates to Seth Godin – bringing us once and for all into the Digital Age…

Most people haven’t realized that about six years ago, in 2016, something new quietly replaced the Digital Age – fundamentally changing the way business is done. 

In this new Age, your knowledge and expertise — in and of itself — no longer hold the key to your success.

And everyone out there telling you to just teach your expertise is missing a HUGE piece of the puzzle.

Now you’re probably wondering, “But, Marisa, if we’re not in the Digital Age anymore, where the heck are we?”

Well, the NEW era, where the money and opportunity are now flowing for those in the know, IS the Experience Age. 

And it’s completely changing how the game is played… and WON! 

In the Experience Age, people care more about real-world results and transformation than they do about having ALL the information.

They want to enjoy the process of learning and growing. 

They want to have unique – or at least engaging experiences – as they tackle their biggest challenges and create lasting change in their lives. 

But before you can understand how YOU –- as a course creator –- can grow your business in this NEW Experience Age… you need some context around how it all started.

So When Did Modern Education Actually Begin?

Modern Education began in the late 19th century with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution when the world suddenly needed factory workers.

The money was flowing into these giant factories, but there just weren’t enough workers to keep up with the demand.

So someone thought: What if we put the peasants into a classroom 50-100 students deep and teach them how to read, write, do arithmetic, and most importantly, how to do what they’re told? 

Basically, how to become good factory workers.

And it worked like a charm.

The factories were BOOMING and billions of dollars were being made. 

Because the Industrial Age traded on repetition.  

It traded on churning out people with cookie cutter skills who could perform in cookie cutter jobs and create cookie-cutter products.

The money flowed towards those who could create the systems to rinse and repeat success.

Now that lasted a little over 100 years… when… 

The Digital Age Arrived

Around 1993, the money started flowing in a NEW direction when the modern-day internet first burst onto the scene…

And, thus, the Digital Age was born!

Now the Digital Age took ALL the systems and efficiencies that were created in the Industrial Age and put those online.

Which gave birth to most of today’s top companies… like Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, Nvidia, Apple, Salesforce, PayPal… and now, with the move to online learning and remote work, we can add Zoom.

As soon as the Digital Age began, the money started flowing in a new direction… out of the big industrial companies and into the new tech companies who could put all that power that had once been reserved for the big factories of the Industrial Age, into the hands of the people… 

Because while the Industrial Age traded on repetition, the Digital Age traded on information, and the money flowed towards those who could get the most information to the most people in the easiest way possible.

And for the first time ever, education went online.

The focus? 

Sharing as much information as possible to as many people as possible in the easiest way possible. 

Thus, the information product was born. 

People started selling PDFs, audio and video trainings by the dozens and slapping the biggest price tag they could on all that information.

Those were the Golden Days of Possibility when it felt like anybody with a computer hooked up to the internet could start a business and be successful — until everyone had a computer and a business.

Then information turned into NOISE, as similar messages screamed for attention across the internet and even the top experts struggled for attention.

So big online education companies like Udemy, Clickbank and Coursera dropped into the space to try and consolidate all that information in one place, driving prices down — to the point where information had almost no value.

And we were left faced with the cold hard truth — that more information was NEVER the answer. 

Because information alone? 

It doesn’t work. It doesn’t solve the problems of the world. 

And if it did? 

We’d all be living in Googletopia. 

Just think about it… 

We’d be rich, happy, healthy — every single one of us — because we’d have ALL the information we could ever possibly want and need at our fingertips 24/7 on Google… 

But instead, all that access and information feels more like the Googlepocalypse to the vast majority of folks who are overwhelmed and even paralyzed by it all… 

So if more information isn’t the answer…

What is the Answer?

What’s the antidote to the information overload of the Digital Age? 

And how can you create online courses in TODAY’s hyper-crowded marketplace that fly off the shelves — rather than sit there collecting dust — and give you the business and life you’ve been dreaming of? 

By creating an experience for your customers where you allow them to actively participate with your course… and have that course react and respond to their participation… and even shape their future participation… 

So no two people have the exact same experience!

For example, when you strap on a piece of wearable tech — like a FitBit — it starts reacting and responding to your behavior right away… and it sends you signals as to how you’re doing and what to do next. 

So your day on a FitBit is unlike anyone else’s day – it’s like you have your very own personal trainer right there with you. 

And — in the case of online education — learning also becomes customized to your needs… and you have a course that almost feels like it’s pacing with you as if you have a coach in your corner rooting you on every step of the way.

And you — the course creator — don’t have to be there holding each person’s hand.

Now I know that sounds complicated — even impossible — but it’s actually quite simple.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve helped 11,159 students fulfill their dream of launching their own courses — and businesses — online… successfully creating “experience products” that are uniquely designed FOR the Experience Age.

Because if you keep creating courses in the traditional way when the world HAS already moved on, you’re going to stay stuck in the Digital Age.

And, as you’ve seen, the money and the customers are now flowing in a new direction!

The truth is that the world doesn’t need another online course or info product, but the world DOES NEED the experience that ONLY YOU can create.

The Experience Age is here… and it’s here to stay.

We’re no longer trading in information, and we’re definitely not trading in repetition.

Now we’re trading in a brand new commodity… 

Human Attention. 

What The Social Media Giants Know (That Many Don’t)

No one understands the currency of attention better than the world’s top social media platforms.

They dominate the world’s top sites… and take the lion’s share of ad dollars.

Because — in the Experience Age — the more attention you can get, the more valuable you become. 

And the amount of attention these big social media platforms get daily is just staggering…

YouTube reports a billion hours of content viewed each day. 

TikTok users spend an average of 45.8 minutes per day on the app.

And Facebook gets 4 million likes a minute with 1.97 billion people checking in daily. 

That’s why total ad spend in the U.S. alone will reach $345.99 billion this year, a 13.2% increase from 2021.

And the interesting thing is that none of these companies produce their own content or information; they’re all trading on the experience they create inside their platform, which inspires billions of people to give their content away for free… hoping to get just a tiny piece of the attention these platforms provide. 

Because remember, attention is the gateway to money, impact and success!

And the money? It’s flowing in a new direction yet again and the reason WHY we crave experiences OVER information has to do with our brains. The unique way that we as humans are hard-wired will make or break your business in the Experience Age.

And WHEN you understand this and learn how to design courses that work WITH — rather than against — how we naturally learn best, it’s a game-changer!

And remember, you create an experience for your customers when you allow them to actively participate with your product or course… and have it actually respond and react to their participation in a way that shapes their future participation… like a FitBit.

Because here’s the thing you need to understand: Before people will give you their money — first they have to give you their time…

Creating Shared Experiences

Which is why the secret to success in the Experience Age is getting and keeping attention. 

Upstart brands like Spotify understand this. 

In the Industrial Age, people listened to records and then CDs. Then the Digital Age saw the rise of iTunes and the iPod — which gave you the ability to have a 1,000 songs in your pocket.

But the challenge with a 1,000 songs in your pocket is the typical challenge of the Digital Age — with ALL those options and ALL that information, how do you pick ONE? How do you know what to do? 

Enter overwhelm and paralysis, or what I like to call the Downward Death Spiral. 

But where other people see a problem, citizens of the Experience Age see an opportunity. And Spotify solved this problem — not just by providing official and user-generated playlists — but by creating a real-time shared experience

They’ve added a button that allows users to share the session they’re currently listening to with their friends, so you get the real-time experience of listening to the same music simultaneously with the people you care about most. 

So engaging with their app is no longer just an individual experience — which was so common in the Digital Age and led to so much isolation — it’s now a shared, community experience.

And the market has rewarded them handsomely for making this shift. Spotify owns 32% of the market share for streaming music subscriptions and Apple — the star of the Digital Age — has fallen to just 16%… not even a close second.

Then you have physical, brick-and-mortar retail — a throwback to the Industrial Age — which struggled to survive in the Digital Age as giant online wholesalers such as Amazon, Netflix, eBay, Etsy and Alibaba blew them out of the water with more options at lower prices.

During the Digital Age, we saw 84% of bookstores and 86% of video stores disappear from the face of the planet as Amazon took the reins from Barnes & Noble and Blockbuster gave way to Netflix. 

And the guards are changing yet again.

Creating Win Experiences

During the Experience Age, smart brands like Nike are making a comeback in the physical retail space because they understand that it’s no longer just about the product. 

It’s about participating and engaging with the product or the brand.

That’s why Nike opened pop-up neighborhood stores using local data analysis to decide exactly what happens inside each store so that they can tailor each store to the people and the neighborhood.

This is the Nike pop-up store in Los Angeles…

Inside they have a Sneaker Bar to give customers fast, on-the-spot access to whatever they want… rather than having to browse the store and wait for the infamous shoe salesman to come out and help you.

And of course, the experience of trying on shoes is completely different because Citizens of the Experience Age don’t just want to try on a pair of shoes; they want to beat them up and see how they perform in real-world situations.

The experience and results of a product are now more important than the product itself!

And, of course, no Experience Age company would be complete without some win experiences. Inside the store, they have a fun digital vending machine — which they call an Unlock Box — where you can scan your reward card and get instant perks… 

So Nike gets that the shoes alone are no longer the main attraction… 

Instead, it’s about interacting and engaging with the brand through the space it creates. 

That’s what’s keeping physical retail stores alive in the Experience Age and why Nike’s annual revenue shot up 19% in 2021, even in the hyper-crowded shoe market.

You’ll find similar stories with other retail giants like Adidas, Sephora, Timberland, Starbucks and the Apple Store — which are all thriving in the Experience Age.

Creating Emotional Experiences

So we’ve got examples from Music and Retail; now, let’s take a quick look at Hospitality before we come back to where we started — Online Education and how I first discovered the Experience Age.

So hotels and hospitality have been around since long before the Industrial Age.

Early hotels and inns mainly were functional experiences — a place to put your feet up and get a good night’s rest. While the expensive hotels just had fancier beds and bathrooms. 

And the really fancy hotels added a concierge and customized service… and you’d find a few distinguishing features here and there like fresh baked cookies. 

But, for the most part, all the established travel guides – Forbes, Fodor’s, Frommer’s, even Lonely Planet and Rough Guide – sent people on the same trips. 

So in the Industrial Age, everyone took the same trips and stayed in the same hotels. 

Eiffel Tower (check)

Louvre (check)

Pompidou (check)

Then the Digital Age came along, and with it, a lot more options. Suddenly, middleman companies like Kayak, Expedia, Airbnb and HotelTonight sprung up, giving you access to hundreds – if not thousands – of flights, rooms and cars from a single app.

And then, you’d combine that with Tripadvisor and Yelp so you could use user reviews to weed through all the options and perhaps discover something off the beaten path.

And, as always with the Digital Age, it was just a race to the bottom where people tried to get as much as they could for as little as possible.  

But there is one travel company that’s really made the shift to the Experience Age… they’re called AFAR, and they saw a hole in the market for people who wanted deeper, richer, more participatory experiences.

So they jumped into the burgeoning field of experiential travel and invited users to share their adventures by creating Highlights that allow them to share their emotional experiences with others. 

Then they have Wanderlists, which are lists of Highlights grouped together in various ways, like “My Trip to Tokyo” or “Swimming Holes Worldwide”… kinda like Spotify’s shared playlists.

They’re creating a community of users sharing their unique travel experiences with each other rather than just rating restaurants, hotels and attractions like they did in the Digital Age.

And AFAR has been rewarded handsomely for it… they grew their audience across all platforms by 130.2% from September 2019 to September 2020.

It’s not just the big companies and brands who are making the shift to the Experience Age. It’s individual experts, entrepreneurs, coaches and course creators like you and me! 

People like my Experience Product Masterclass student Vladimir Chen whose first sale closed was his best sale ever and who, by using several approaches taught during our 12-week program, was able to sell $12,377 and then an additional $16,768 in just one day. (Read his story here). 

So by now, you’re probably asking, “Marisa, how did you get turned on to all of this? And how have you applied this to your business to see such huge success?” 

So let me take you back to where this all started… when I was a college student over 20 years ago.  

How I’ve Used the Experience Age to Resounding Success

I arrived in college with the dream of becoming a National Geographic photographer.

And it wasn’t just a dream… I had been preparing for this since I first picked up a camera and a roll of black and white film when I was 14.

Between 14 and 18, I traveled on five continents, taking pictures.

I built a darkroom in my backyard.

I won a National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts Award in photography.

I even studied photography at the Rhode Island School of Design. 

So when I realized that this childhood dream of mine was a dream that couldn’t survive in the world we were evolving into, I was heartbroken. 

It was 1996 — right at the dawn of the Digital Age — and my friends were just starting to get cellphones… and mainstream photography was just starting to go digital.

And I realized that soon — EVERYONE would have a camera in their pocket — and photography wouldn’t have the same kind of power that it used to… 

I had poured over books of the great photographers who had shaped our collective memory…

Like this one from 1945, the day World War 2 ended…

And I found myself asking — Would one image would still have the power to change the world once everyone had a camera in their pocket? 

And I felt the answer in my gut… this wasn’t a dream that could survive the Digital Age.

And Now everyone’s a photographer, just like everyone’s a course creator… and most photography has lost its value and its impact.

Because, like information, photos are everywhere.

So I put down the camera I had carried with me since I was 14 and switched my approach. 

I saw the future was multimedia — the convergence of all the media and art forms online to tell more powerful stories. And so I took courses in bookmaking, public art, installation design, video, hypertext, emerging technologies and more.

And my teachers?

They thought I was crazy — “Marisa, why don’t you focus on just one thing… and be really great at that ONE thing?”

At the time, it didn’t entirely make sense… but it does today. Hindsight is 20/20, after all. 

I was learning the tools that I would one day use to create engaging experiences. It’s like I had stumbled onto the Experience Age 20 years early, as I saw the Digital Age losing traction pretty much as soon as it started.

But it took a decade for the world to catch up with me and really for me to catch up with myself and figure out what it all meant… figure out what I was feeling when I decided to put down my camera and give up on my childhood dream before I even had a new dream to replace it.

It all came together for me almost exactly 20 years later… as my husband Murray and I were walking home from dinner down the back streets of Rome…

We saw a couple in a dark alley hunched over their phones… 

And right when I thought we were about to get mugged, Murray says, “Pokemon.” 

Busted!

They sprang up like schoolchildren, flushed and giggling. 

Just two months earlier, when we had left for Europe, Pokemon Go wasn’t even a thing. It didn’t even exist yet. And within the blink of an eye, it had taken over the world… and here was this couple searching for Pokemon in a Roman back alley.

It’s like the whole world had gone crazy with their first taste of what the Experience Age could bring.

This was the convergence I had imagined 20 years before… where online and offline meet… 

And information goes beyond the screen and starts to reshape the world we live in. 

Where your courses have the potential to drive HUGE engagement and change people’s lives when you can get them off their chairs and into action. 

Where it’s no longer about learning, it’s about doing. 

As humans, we’re not designed to be armchair consumers sifting through billions of pages of information. 

Because deep inside the brain of every human being on the planet is an ancient neurological system that, among other things – LOVES to win!

Whether it’s getting better at a skill, winning a game, hitting the jackpot or even ticking a to-do off your list – it doesn’t really matter if the win is big or small — the brain just LOVES… TO… WIN. And even the anticipation of winning is enough to start flooding your system with all those happy chemicals responsible for positive emotions such as joy, happiness and triumph.

We feel rewarded when we win, and we’ll do almost anything to experience that feeling over and over again. 

App and game creators understand this. 

They know that every time you see a notification pop up… every time you get a like or comment on your post… every little task you complete that comes with a badge or an animation… it’s a little mini-win that delivers a cocktail of happy chemicals that forms the basis of our natural reward system. 

It’s a rush. And it’s addictive.

And this addiction to winning, drives these apps and games to get and keep even more attention… which is the real currency of the Experience Age.

How We Can Use This To Transform Lives

So if they can use this “unfair advantage” to get us hooked, why can’t we use it to transform our customers’ lives?

We can!

But the problem is that most courses and info products out there are still stuck in the Digital Age — of just dumping more and more and more information in their students’ laps — which is why so many online course creators are struggling to sell their programs. 

And if you design a Digital Age course today, it’s a recipe for disappointment and failure, because the money is flowing out of the Digital Age faster than rats leaving a sinking ship. I know because my first course was an information dump and it sold absolutely nothing.

Remember, information and traditional online courses unwittingly work against our natural reward system and, from Moment One of Day One, your students begin to experience what I call the Downward Death Spiral of overwhelm, resistance, frustration, guilt and procrastination. 

This explains why 97% of students who buy traditional online courses and info products just give up either right away or somewhere along the way… 97%!

That’s the flip side of our natural reward system — we’re hard-wired NOT to keep going if we DON’T believe we can win. And not making it super easy for your customers and students to feel like they’re winning the game, makes it almost impossible for them to finish your course and get the results they expect, which reduces your chances of repeat business to practically zero (not to mention they won’t refer). 

Now I know that’s not your intention — nobody goes into course creation to design a course that sets people up to fail — we’re just doing what we learned to do in school. 

Because if you went to school in the late Industrial Age or early Digital Age, that’s just the way things were done (remember, repetition and information were the currencies of the day).

But the Experience Age requires a new approach.

And when I fully made this shift to creating what I call experience products in 2016, it changed my business forever… that was the year my business crossed the $2M a year mark.

I went from making $100K a year in the Information Age to over $300K a month in the Experience Age. And I went from having less than 5% of people completing my programs to over 50%… 

And now I’m receiving notes like this one from Carol Walsh (full review here):

Believe it or not, I’ve got 2034 honest and unedited notes just like this one from a single experience product designed using some of what I shared in this post.

And you can get notes like this too… transforming people’s lives and your life too! 

You just have to embrace this new age. But you don’t need to do it all alone… I’m here to help you every step of the way. 

And the first step is nailing your life-changing online course idea… the kind of idea that’ll have your customers stepping over each other to get access to you and your course!

That’s why I want to invite you to our FREE 5-day Crack Your Course Idea Challenge… where together, we’ll nail your home run course idea! Because the wrong idea can set you back years, while the right idea could change everything.

We get started on September 28th so go ahead and save your spot…

But before you go…

What are some of the experiences you want to use in your online course or business?

Let me know in the comments! 

I hope this little history lesson was enlightening and not painful at all 🙂

 

Love it? Hate it? Let me know...

  1. Fiona

    Thanks Marisa fir this article. Keen on learning on how do design the course to drive engagement and transformation and like you you, avoid information dump.

    Reply ·
    1. Shannon Goodell

      Thanks for reading, Fiona, Marisa appreciates it!

      Reply ·
  2. Roz Weitzman

    Marisa! I began my teaching career in 1967. For 3 years I taught in the late Industrial Age. Once I realized that students couldn’t win by my antique methods, I quickly transferred to a team teaching situation where my team of 3 and I taught a Language Experience (in the Experience Age) approach where the students could win at every turn.

    This article renewed my faith in what I learned many decades ago and reinforced my philosophy used to create my course, which is to help ESL to light the fire in their students!

    Reply ·
    1. Shannon Goodell

      Thank you so much, Roz, for your wonderful feedback! Marisa greatly appreciates it!

      Reply ·
  3. Roser

    I’ ve just loved this article, so clarifying! THANK YOU VERY MUCH, Marisa. And looking forward to read more about your creations.

    Reply ·
    1. Shannon Goodell

      Thank you so much, Roser! Marisa appreciates it 🙂

      Reply ·
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About the Author Marisa Murgatroyd

Marisa is the founder of Live Your Message, where she turns entrepreneurs into Online Superheroes, and the creator of Start With You where she helps people just like you to discover the business they're meant to build, not just the business they can build. At 4’11 and a quarter, she’s called the shortest woman in marketing — and that doesn’t stop her from having huge ideas. She’s the “go to” brand builder for industry luminaries and heavyweights such as Justin Livingston, Callan Rush, Danny Iny, Alexis Neely and Susan Peirce Thompson. Marisa helps entrepreneurs create a business that is authentic and aligned with who they are, to empower them to turn up the dial on their “inner superhero”, so they can be the superhero to their tribe, as well as in their own lives.

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