EdTech marketing strategy – Target audiences, messages and channels

EdTech marketing strategy – Target audiences, messages and channels

In this session from the latest LaunchPad Essentials Insights Seminar, EdTech and Marketing experts from around Australia sit down to discuss marketing strategy, target audiences, and advice for new and established EdTechs alike.

Marilyn Lopez, Marketing Manager at EduGrowth sits down with two of Australia’s lifelong EdTech thought leaders to discuss strategy in the EdTech marketing realm. Her guests today are:

  • Craig Simon – Founder of ZOMO Consulting
  • Margo Griffith – Head of Business Development of Edalex

Highlights of their discussion and the full transcript follow below:

Defining your target audience

Craig emphasizes that any EdTech needs to be clear on their product and their target audience. Without that clarity, your business will be stumbling around in the dark. He recommends startups to:

  • Target an audience that you know and affiliate with.
  • Focus on a market that has a specific need and will return your efforts and investments quickly.

Margo’s recommendations are equally practical:

  • Define your ideal audience and then seek the closest possible thing.
  • You cannot be everything to everyone. Specialize.
  • Research as much as possible. Work with assumptions until those assumptions can be fine-tuned into certainties.

It is vague and unhelpful to target the audience of “education” or “all teachers”. Narrow down your audience to something smaller: K-2, K-6, K-12, and higher ed are some examples.

“Pick the thing that you think you can solve best, the thing that you think is close to your heart, or something that you’ve got a passion for. It’s something you believe in. Pick one problem for one audience and solve that first.”
Craig Simon, ZOMO Consulting

Considering secondary audiences

A key consideration in targeting one’s audience is in understanding the people and entities that influence that audience. Parents are influenced by teachers, teachers by administrators, and administrators by parents. No one works in isolation. Margo and Craig offer this advice:

  • You cannot ignore secondary audiences, and they may not be obvious at first.
  • Crucially, one audience may use the product but the other may be the one purchasing it.
  • A school’s teaching philosophy or ethos is a secondary audience that is always at play.
  • At the end of the day, an EdTech product is a technology product. It is crucial to also involve IT from the start.
“There are multi layers of who you’re going to have to target your product to. Those who are going to buy it, but then there’s also the end users which in most instances in education are going to be the students or the learners.”
Margo Griffith, Edalex

Building and maintaining customer personas

Personas are the profiles to which an EdTech tailors its product. They consist of demographic information, behavior profiles, motives, barriers, and connections. The interplay of these features directly influence what product an EdTech will build, how it tailors its features, and how it markets that product. Craig says that:

  • Personas are a way of connecting your product to the customer through identifying their pain points and offering a solution.
  • A finely-tuned persona allows for a personally-tailored product that directly addresses and solves the customer’s problem.
  • Determine who is a user, who is a buyer, who is an influencer. Build profiles on these people and understand their needs.
  • Building and maintaining personas is an iterative and never ending process. Both startups and established companies should be working on their personas regularly.
“[To build a persona] you test, and then you re-test, and then you fail. It’s an iterative process. You’re never going to get it right the first get-go, but you know it’s just start. Start. Test, measure.”
Margo Griffith, Edalex
EduGrowth LaunchPad Essentials Marketing Strategy - Margo Griffith speaking

Brand positioning and product messaging

Margo poses branding as the first step that a company makes in its identification. It is the “stake in the ground” and an essential feature of the company profile to get right and keep right. She explains that:

  • The brand comes first. It defines what you stand for as a company.
  • Consistency in branding is key. There is a reason why Coke is always red.
“The brand is what you stand for as a company. It’s what you want your customers to see you as. Are you fun? Are you serious? Are you thought leaders? The branding comes before you can even push your product messaging to market.”
Margo Griffith, Edalex

And Craig dives into product messaging, saying that:

  • Clearly articulating what the product is, who it is for, and what problem it solves is the bedrock on which marketing is built.
  • Product messaging is all about connecting value or showing value.
“If you as a sales person need to interpret a message for the educator then the message is probably wrong. The salesperson shouldn’t have to do any interpretation. […] It should be really clear.”
Craig Simon, ZOMO Consulting
EduGrowth LaunchPad Marketing - Craig Simon speaking

Communication channels

Communicating with primary and secondary audiences is key for marketing and selling one’s product, and also for building personas, understanding pain points, and building a network. Craig gives some practical advice:

  • Communicate to prospective users and buyers in plain English. No airy-fairy language.
  • Talk to everyone you can. Teachers, students, administrators, friends, and family.

Social media is becoming more and more valuable as not only a networking and communication tool, but as a means to understand customers’ pain points. Craig explains that:

  • LinkedIn is best for reaching administrators, supervisors, and anyone in higher ed.
  • Facebook is ideal for reaching educators in the K-12 realm.
  • Twitter attracts people from every education level and position.
  • ListServ groups and Reddit make valuable compliments for hearing and understanding teachers’ pain points, but not necessarily for connecting.

Digital and social platforms are useful in reaching customers and understanding their needs. Margo, Craig, and Marilyn all caution against making a sales pitch over social media, though.

“As soon as you try and sell something through LinkedIn, you are dead in the water, and rightly so.”
Margo Griffith, Edalex

Making the shift from communication to sales

If EdTechs should avoid making sales and marketing pitches over social media then when is it appropriate to attempt a sale? Margo and Craig explain that the best method may be a bit counter-intuitive:

  • Build a relationship first. Let the customer explain their pain point without fear of a sales pitch.
  • If your company can address a customer’s need, engage with them. If not, don’t be afraid to walk away.
  • The best customers are the ones that approach you because they know you can solve their problem and will not harass them with products they do not need or want.
“I never sell anything. I’m not selling your product. I am finding a solution for your problem, and by positioning it that way, you’re in it together.”
Margo Griffith, Edalex

Remote networking

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, conferences and industry events have moved online. Margo shares her opinion on this new medium that:

  • The same information is shared online as in person. Online conferences are worthwhile from a knowledge perspective.
  • Niche workshops are often more useful because the noise is gone, and all parties can focus on specific topics.

Craig adds that:

  • Online conferences may not be as useful from a business, sales, or networking perspective. The personal connection is lost online
  • A lot of subtleties are lost in the online context. The EdTech industry should benefit from events starting back in person.

Key takeaways

Margo and Craig wrap up the summit with three key takeaways.

Margo:

  • Know your why. Understand what you are doing and be able to clearly articulate it.
  • Listen to your customers and live where they live. Make connections.
  • Content is king. Involve yourself in the education sector. Don’t sit outside of where the key conversations are happening.

Craig:

  • Start small. Don’t take on more than you can handle in the early period.
  • Talk to educators – lots. Learn everything you can about the education industry and the people in it.
  • Don’t try selling to them – let them buy from you.

Full Transcript

Marilyn:

Now I’d like to invite Craig and Margo. Craig has over 30 years experience in the EdTech sector. He started life as a teacher and he’s worked with a number of companies over the years including Apple, Sun Microsystems, PeopleSoft, and 3p Learning. Craig has had experience in sales, marketing, and product development – all relevant to today’s session. He has built three different EdTech businesses and currently provides consulting services to startups and scale ups.

Margo, our other guest, is currently Head of Business Development of Edalex. Her in-depth market knowledge and experience result from working in and for higher education providers and EdTech leaders. She has led the sales teams for multinational publishers and held national business development roles for LexisNexis and Cengage Australia. In addition to leading the go-to market strategy for a number of products within these companies and independent startups.

You’d both agree there’s a lot of myths about marketing out there. Wouldn’t you agree? Some people think it’s one thing, some people think it’s the other? So to make sure we’re all on the same page, we’d like to share with you what we call the “Marketing Tree”. Essentially with marketing guests there’s three aspects. You’ve got your base level, which is research. Your mid level, which is strategy. And your top level, which is tactics. Many organizations, and it’s not only startups, but many will get stuck in the tactics which is the fruits. But this should be informed by solid research and a good strategy. Today we’re going to be talking more about the two sections at the bottom: the research and the strategy components. These will help you inform your tactics, whatever they end up being and whatever channels you end up choosing.

How does one start defining their target audience?

Craig:

I think that the core thing, Marilyn, is hopefully you’ve got a product in mind. If you’ve got a product in mind then that product really needs to fit into the audience that you’re targeting. Hopefully you’ve already got a bit of an idea. You might not really know whether it’s a school-based product, a K-12 product. You may not know whether it’s primary school or high school. If it’s university, you may not know whether it’s student-led or a tool used by academics. You’ve really got to start to hone down. My rule of thumb is to target an audience that you associate with and affiliate with quite well. Either that or you focus on a market that you know is going to return the quickest investment because they’ve got a great need that you can fulfill.

Marilyn:

Any comments on that Margo?

Margo:

I think you have to remember that what you’re doing is defining your ideal target audience. So you’re never going to be all things to all people, and in fact you won’t want to be. So what you need to do is, the more specific you can get around the image of your ideal target audience, the better your messaging is going to be. It’s really worth starting with the problem that you’re solving and then working from there. I think as a startup you might not have any existing customers. But what you can do, if we go back to your tree, Marilyn, is start with your research. Try and get your industry metrics right. There’s lots of data out there that’s free. You don’t necessarily have to pay for that kind of data, but really try and get those metrics as best as you can in the early days. You’re going to work with a lot of assumptions. Obviously, as you go through and you start to gain your own product data then of course that will become more informed. But at the start you’re going to be making a fair few assumptions. Those assumptions really should always be tied back to, “What problem are you solving with your product?”

Marilyn:

Something that often happens is that you ask somebody, “Okay. Who’s your target audience?” And they will say teachers, or they keep it, or the whole of the world. What do you think about truly defining your target audience? What does it actually mean in a practical sense if you’re sitting there and you’re writing your strategy?

Craig:

I think you really need to work out what problem you’re trying to solve. And it’s rare. I’ve yet to see, except for someone like Google or Microsoft, someone solve a problem for a massive wide audience. Hopefully the problem you’re trying to solve is a problem that a specific sector is having and your audience is having. Hopefully when they say you’re targeting education, you might be solving a problem for K-2 or K-to-6. If you’re big enough, you might be solving a problem with K-12. But I think the reality is that most startups should be trying to focus on just one core problem first. Solve that, build a product to that market, to that audience that you’re solving that problem for. That comes out of doing a lot of research and building out a market requirement document. What does the market need? What are the things? Then pick the thing that you think you can solve best, the thing that you think is close to your heart, or something that you’ve got a passion for. It’s something you believe in. Look at all the problems, for example in literacy, and pick one problem for one audience and solve that first.

Marilyn:

I’ve learned throughout the years of marketing, myself, that sometimes your audience is not always the people you automatically think it is. I’ll give you an example. There was a brand I worked for, and we’re targeting the executives to move to a regional location. We thought, “Yeah, we’ve got to mention this to the executives and that to the executives.” And then we found out through just talking to executives that they actually didn’t want to move because their kids didn’t think that they’d have anything to do in that regional location. So then the kids became our secondary audience.

What are your thoughts in this area of secondary audiences or people who influence the key decision makers at schools? Who have you noticed these to be and should they be part of EdTech’s secondary audiences?

Craig:

Without a doubt, I think that probably is something that really should be focused on. A lot of people forget, and your secondary audience, depending on your product, if it’s a curriculum-based product that you’re wanting teachers to use, then you obviously have to get the students on board. As much as it meets the curriculum criteria, if you don’t have a UX that’s engaging and fun, and wants students, and helps students to drive back to it all the time, then teachers aren’t going to buy it for more than a year. They won’t or may not even use it beyond a trial if it’s an administrative product that you want the teacher to use but it doesn’t provide reporting outputs that your principal needs or the department needs. Then again, you’re not going to get a lot of longevity out of that customer because you may have solved one problem for that teacher, but you’ve forgotten the fact that there’s other problems that teacher has, i.e. reporting or engaging students, one or the other. So you need to really look at that market. If you’re looking at a b2b education market, so selling education products to parents, you have to be really careful to make sure those products aren’t going against the grain of what the school ethos is, or what the pedagogical approach is to education in the classroom. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be challenging it, but you shouldn’t go so far from it that you won’t have any support from those education departments.

Margo:

You mentioned b2b. You’re going to have two things. You’re going to have the end users of your product, or the recipients of the benefits of your product. But you may also have the people who are actually going to buy it. And you know in an enterprise SAS solution you’re going to be selling to the enterprise. You’re going to be selling to the institution, the organization, whereby they’re the ones that have got the money. There are multi layers of who you’re going to have to target your product to. Those are going to buy it, but then there’s also the end users which in most instances in education are going to be the students or the learners. So really keep those two in mind.

As you said, we’re never in education, and particularly in EdTech, in isolation. You’re part of an ecosystem, and in that ecosystem you have to be very cognizant of the drivers of the entire ecosystem, not just your little bit of it. The other thing you absolutely have to remember is we’re building tech products. If you’re not involving IT or tech from the buying side you’re in a lot of trouble. You need to know how it plays out and how it’s going to be distributed. You need to know whether or not you’re allowed to have a student ID in the app, whether you’re going to use SSO with Google or Microsoft. Although teachers, themselves, may not really want to understand all the technical bits behind it, someone within the organization will want to know. They’ll want to know that there’s secure data links, that there’s no chance of leak of personal information, all the privacy issues. So it’s really important not just to sell to one person, as Margo said. There’s a much bigger audience to be going after, and I think I’ve sold into enterprise organizations. I think in education sometimes it’s even more difficult because each of them feel they have an equal level of ownership in that decision, and rarely is there a really clear picture of who is the true buyer and who will have the final say.

Marilyn:

This is a really good lead in to the next question I wanted to ask because we’ve discussed departments, we’ve mentioned students, we’ve mentioned teachers. Personas and segmentation: that’s what I think up next. So what is this whole personas, or what is segmentation, and how do you use them in a practical way?

Margo:

My mind was going there immediately too. This is a crucial step. This step is everything. Don’t skimp on your personas because this is how you tailor your message. Once you have your research done on your industry-wide statistics then you can come to the organization. Once you get to the organization or the institution, if it’s an educational institution, start drilling down into all of those people that we’ve spoken about before. Who could be the possible buyers or influencers of your product? Define them. Are they a buyer? Are they an influencer? Who reports to who? Really dig deep to give them personalities. Give them an age. Give them a gender if you want to, but really get as specific as you can because when you’re starting to develop your product, you test your product assumptions against your personas. What would Sally say? What would Marilyn say? You’ve built them up in such a detailed way, so I can’t stress enough, please spend the time doing your personas. It’s worth everything.

Craig:

The thing that you think you get out of those personas is what value you and your product or your service is taking to that persona. If you can’t define the value that your product is bringing then you’re going to have a tough time all the way along through the marketing journey if you can’t clearly articulate (a) the problem and (b) the value that you bring to that problem. You’re not going to connect with those buyers. So if you don’t understand those buyers and understand by setting up the personas or segmenting, however you want to describe it, if you don’t know who the core ones are — and, by the way, you’ll never get every single one of them. You’ll never, ever, ever get every persona because we’re all unique. We’re all different and people buy from people. People buy. So if they don’t fit a persona then you may lose them. But if they’re only three to five percent of your potential market then that’s okay. At least get the other 90 percent covered. Get as many personas as you need to to drive the initial sales and then you start drilling down and segmenting those personas and then fine-tuning those to get really crisp, clear messages around the value. If they don’t don’t understand that value, then you haven’t really got anything to sell.

Marilyn:

It initially started off by just demographics: male, female, this percentage… But the best ones I’ve seen since have always included things you’ve mentioned: the motives, the barriers, almost their behaviors. Why do you think the behaviors are so important to nail in your personas versus your stock, standard, status quo information? Almost stereotypes. Why look into behaviors?

Margo:

From my perspective, behavior drives everything. You buy from a person, so understanding what drives those individuals. It could be what drives them on a business level. Are they interested in promotion? What about them is going to resonate? Is your product going to resonate? Are they looking to get your product to get them a promotion? It could be like all of these things are important. What drives them on a personal level? Are they very relationship driven, or are they bottom line driven? Really getting into those kinds of behaviors is really going to help with your messaging. That messaging is all-important. I can’t stress enough that the more tailored your messaging, the better it’s going to hit and the quicker you’re going to get your product to market.

Craig:

I agree. I think that really creating that niche and that fine surgical slice of the market and the buyer that you can create almost a unique message for is critical because, although the one persona seems unique and like it’s one person, it’ll be a thousand people, or ten thousand people, or fifteen thousand people. But each of them will have their own little nuances.

And back to behavior, the way somebody acts and responds to things is critical to know when you’re trying to sell to them. Do they like taking risks, or do they not? Are they very trustworthy or untrustworthy? Do they feel obligated to do the right thing by a certain client or a part of their market? Their principals, their parents, their students — are they buying out of guilt? Are they buying because you’ve convinced them that it’s the best product, and they know that they’re not going to succeed without it? Understanding the way that they act and think not only will help you sell better and sell more quickly, it’ll help you get more traction with your product in the market they’re in, whether it’s curriculum or admin, whatever it is. If you understand their behavior you can increase engagement. You can work towards getting that renewal, and that long-term sale, and extending that lifetime value of the client because you’ve understood what’s making them tick.

I think Margo’s right. Don’t underestimate the personal things, as well. Do they want to get promoted? Is it something that is going to help them achieve another goal? I do think that it’s the be-all and end-all almost. Understanding the persona and the behavior of those people.

Marilyn:

There’s a question linked to what we’re going to talk to next, which is positioning and product messaging. Because it is related to personas, let’s have a chat about it now. Margo, you are a frontline sales person in business development, so in that position, and thinking about personas, your marketing will tell you that you’ll have your brand messaging, and your positioning statement, and so forth. But how do you interpret that into actually talking to an educator, for example? How do you go about it?

Margo:

First of all, the marketing and sales functions are never separate. They’re not in isolation. There’s complete synchronicity in those two functions. So if I talk about my own company, we go through all of these together. Marketing don’t do the persona work independent of me feeding back customer information. I’m the one out there talking day-to-day. So in some ways I can’t do my job at all until marketing have gone and we’ve done this work together. I think if I were starting a new company and I had one resource in sales and marketing, I would absolutely put the marketing position first because you can’t point sales like you can’t point the arrow and just randomly shoot it. What are you pointing at? There has to be all of this work done before the sales. You can’t even engage the sales process. What’s your overall vision? What problem are you solving for? What are your tailored messages? Who are your personas? Who are you targeting? All of that has to come before you actually have a product going to market via a sales channel. I personally don’t see a separation of those two functions in any way, shape, or form. You can’t do it.

Craig:

If you as a sales person need to interpret a message for the educator then the message is probably wrong. The salesperson shouldn’t have to do any interpretation. The salesperson should have a message that’s in sync with the buyer, and if they need clarity then we as a sales organization… You’ve got to go back to marketing and say it’s not hitting the mark, using Margo’s analogy. The big red target has shifted and we’re not going to hit it if we keep using that same message. It shouldn’t be open to interpretation. It should be really clear.

Marilyn:

That’s a good lead-in to brand positioning and product messaging. So you’ve had experience in creating this, so you’re an EdTech startup. How do you go about it? Where do you start? What should you think about with positioning and product messaging? I’m just charging ahead.

Margo:

The brand and the product messaging are separate. The brand is what you stand for as a company. It’s what you want your customers to see you as. Are you fun? Are you serious? Are you thought leaders? The branding comes before you can even push your product messaging to market. I think you need to build that brand trust before you can even come in with your product messaging at all. Once you’ve started your brand, once you’ve got your tagline, once you’ve got your colors, once you’ve got your logo, then please remain consistent. It’s that consistency, and reinforcement, and details that matter. Colors matter. There’s a reason that Coke is always red. You’ve really got to be reinforcing that brand at every stage. It’s not open to interpretation. That’s your brand. That’s your stake in the ground, and once you’ve got that stake in the ground, the rest of the strategy kind of falls from that.

Craig:

I think that that’s pretty critical. You don’t want to be flip-flopping as a company. You want a clear path and a clear direction. You want buyers to understand where you’re heading. You want buyers to understand your value as an organization. Then that feeds into the value of the product. I think product messaging for me is all about connecting value or showing value: here’s the problem, here’s our solution, this is the value we’re bringing to the table. If you can’t do that then you’ve got to reevaluate your message, your market, or your product. If you can’t see that clear connection, and understand that, and articulate that easily, then you’ve really got to go back and hone that a bit. It might be in the wrong market or your solution isn’t the best solution.

This is why I really like getting the product messaging right really early, because that value position statement, if you can’t articulate it then with what you think you’re going to build, then you need to rethink what you’re going to build. If you can’t clearly articulate what problem you’re trying to solve, and get that message, and talk to teachers, talk to buyers, talk to principals, academics, universities, whoever it is you’re pitching to… Talk to them before you even start building out that values statement, that positioning statement. Make sure it’s right. Make sure that you’ve got that connection with the problem, and that they’ve got money, and are willing to pay to solve that problem, which is one problem some people forget sometimes.

Marilyn:

Educators are unique. Do they even believe in the marketing hype, or do they just want plain English that is grounded in honesty? So let’s talk about messaging to educators or to teachers.

Craig:

To me they’re identical. Marketing should be plain English and honestly it shouldn’t be airy-fairy. It shouldn’t leave the buyer unaware of what it is that you’re trying to promote. The education market is so time poor that you can’t waste time with hyperbole. If the message isn’t clear and in plain English then you haven’t got that connection and you’re not going to get the time as a salesperson to make that connection with the buyer. If that marketing message isn’t clear in the first place then you’re in trouble straight away. I was about to use the word “hate”. I don’t like the traditional marketing hype, and I don’t think it really has any part to play actually in marketing at all. Specifically in education I think it needs to be a very clear-cut message: “What is it we’re going to do, and how we’re going to do it?” I don’t think it’s either-or. It’s just one of them. It has to be plain English, simple as that.

Margo:

In your messaging, what you’re going to be doing is using the language of the educators. You’re not going to be making up words or putting fancy terms around what the product does. If you’re not matching your language to what they’re using, and yes, you’re going to miss. And it’s kind of pointless. I never sell anything. I’m not selling your product. I am finding a solution for your problem, and by positioning it that way, you’re in it together. You’re never seen as a vendor. You’re seen more as a partner, and it’s really important to establish yourself in that position from the get-go. Everything we’ve spoken about today is setting you up to position yourself for that thought leadership role. You are part of the conversation. You’re not outside it. You’re using the language of the education sector. You’re not coming in, trying to sell them a widget. What you’re doing is you’re trying to improve the lives of learners and students. That’s a really important mission, and whether you’re sitting at an EdTech company and enabling that mission or whether you’re an educator sitting in the center of that, you’re both in it together. That way you have a shared language and a shared mission, and there’s not this seller-buyer relationship. It just shouldn’t exist in an education market.

Craig:

I was just going to just go back to what Margo said about research and white papers. I have a rule of thumb that for every 10 messages that I can market, every 10 marketing messages, only one is about products. Nine are about other things. Connect with the teacher, the buyer. Talk about thought leadership. Position yourself as someone that is a partner, as Margo said, and understands what you’re going through. Position yourself as someone that not only understands, but if you’ve had the opportunity to be through it with them before, explain that and share those stories with them. Then talk about the product. With any organization I always say, look, just one one in ten. Keep it really simple.

Marilyn:

We’ve discussed ideally how to go about everything. But how do you know if you’re doing the right thing? I mean, if you’ve been in marketing a long time then you know the tricks of the trade. But if you’ve never done any marketing, this is the question. How do you do the research to test whether that’s the correct persona? And same with messaging. How do you do the research to figure out if this is even right?

Margo:

Well, you fail. And you test, and then you re-test, and then you fail. It’s an iterative process. You’re never going to get it right the first get-go, but you know it’s just start. Start. Test, measure. Make sure when you’ve got some clear aims that you can test against.

I think starting out the research can seem enormous. The old adage is just eating the elephant one bite at a time. Just start. Because as soon as you start immersing yourself into where your buyers live and what they’re talking about. That can be as really simple as getting on Twitter and following a few people, seeing what they’re talking about in your product area. I know this is leading into something we’re going to discuss a little bit further on, but I think just start. There’s no magic wand.

Craig:

I think I’d agree, and I think trying to connect, if you haven’t come from the education sector yourself, talk with as many educators as possible. Talk to your friends, your family, if you’ve got children go and talk to their teachers. If they’re happy to have that conversation, just talk to them. Get to understand how they think, what they think, what pressure they’re under. Try and understand what core things keep them awake at night. Try to understand the things that they wish for. Their hopes are there. Is there a magic wand that we could create for them? You’ll never ever get any of that information without talking to people. On top of following Twitter accounts and connecting with people on LinkedIn, looking at Facebook groups that have got lots of educators in them, just go and talk to people. Ask. If you’ve got a b2b product, there are parents all over the place. And if it’s a b2c, talk to the market. Talk to the people. The more talking and conversing you do with them, the better you’ll get.

This isn’t just a message for startups. People that are already established need to keep doing that and keep reconnecting because those personas change, people that you think that you’re selling to. Back to Margo’s point, this isn’t just something that you do once and that’s it, I’ve got it. I’ve got my personas in a box, let’s go and build. You need to keep going back, and evaluating those personas, and make sure they’re still the right people in a year, and two years, in five years because, if they’re not, then your message needs to change or your product needs to change. That process, again, is not just iterative for the startup cycle. It’s iterative for the entire life cycle of your company.

Margo:

That was absolutely spot on, Craig. We did a whole bunch of persona work last year in August. Reevaluating this year, we’re talking about the product and how our messaging is going. We’re having to go back and actually re-do most of the persona work, primarily because in COVID, all of those job titles changed. There are job titles out there in universities that weren’t there in August of last year. There’s a whole layer of middle management that’s not there at all. So we’re really having to go back and reevaluate who we’re selling to. It’s such an iterative process. It’s always ongoing.

Marilyn:

Something that I’ve started to use as a bit of a research tool is Reddit. If you’re not on there, check it out. There’s groups where there are hundreds of thousands of educators connected to them, talking about things that matter to them. I really want to point out, if you want any success in Reddit, you don’t go there to sell. View it as a social listening tool. You just observe what their pain points are, observe what they talk about, because at a global scale that’s a good way to research globally. Margo and Craig have nailed all the local how to find out what they think and so forth.

How do you choose the right channels to engage with customers because there’s so many out there? How do you go about it?

Craig:

It depends on your customer. I find traditionally if you’re selling into administrative, principals or people in departments, then LinkedIn is a good spot to connect with people. Supervisors, directors have more connection on LinkedIn. A lot of them are on Twitter, whereas I find with teachers, a lot of them are on Facebook and Twitter. So there’s a bit of an overlap there if you’re thinking of the three core markets or three core channels. I’ve been informed, and I haven’t experienced this myself, apparently Instagram is really good for teachers as well. Now I’ve been told that by a couple of other marketers that market into education. Primarily school teachers. It depends on who it is that you’re trying to target. If you’re trying to get administration and senior members on board then you should be writing white papers and promoting messaging that is at that level in LinkedIn and on Twitter. If it’s classroom-type activities, if it’s helping teachers solve the problem of time or curriculum, then Facebook and Twitter. It depends on the message you’re trying to get across.

Marilyn:

It reminds me, going back to that tree, that it’s nailing that research bit and the strategy. If you can figure out what your primary audience is, that will then help you know which channel to go to. It’s all quite linked, but you’re a startup and you know you’re trying to market the product. Imagine you’re a one or two person organization. Which one do you pick? Do you pick them all? Do you pick one and nail it? What are your suggestions?

Margo:

Well, my suggestion is you will know as much as you can which sector you’re going to sell into. So, for instance, my primary education sector is higher education. And in post-secondary, it’s actually universities. So I hang out or I fish where they fish. On LinkedIn. That’s where they hang out. I have joined a lot of the groups where I know that they also hang out, and I never sell. I have boys creating thought leadership pieces where I’m either putting forward my views in a blog, I’m interviewing others in the ecosystem, and those videos form part of my content that’s going out to the market.

I make sure that the people that I either follow or that I know are thought leaders in that space; I make sure I comment when they’ve posted something and engage that way. So I build up my personal brand. I’m building up my Edalex brand as well. That’s never ever on LinkedIn, selling anything. As soon as you try and sell something through LinkedIn, you are dead in the water, and rightly so.

I think you need to find out what your target market is. Once you’ve got that right, and it’s not going to be education, it’s going to be one sector of education. If it is higher education, you know they’re going to be on LinkedIn. They’re not going to be on Instagram. They are also on Twitter, and a lot of the stuff gets posted through Twitter. You have to have a watching brief on Twitter, absolutely. But then think about all the other channels where they get information. It’s webinars, it’s conferences, it’s podcasts. Get in on all of that. Also know through your research that there are organizations, such as EduCause in the US. Educause is a very big organization for the sector. What EduCause has is a number of Listserv groups, and you can join those Listserv groups. Again, you’re there as an observer, and you’re there to find out what the hell they’re talking about. But you are not there to sell. Joining those Listserv groups is vitally important.

Marilyn:

Craig, any comments?

Craig:

I agree, and I think the critical word in that question that we’ve got is, “How do you engage with the customer?” Not, “How do you sell?” You shouldn’t be using those channels to sell, I think. I agree wholeheartedly with Margo that you shouldn’t be using them to sell per se. You need to be building your presence, your product’s value, your own personal value. I said it earlier, people buy from people. They don’t buy from businesses or companies. So if your persona out in your social world is filled with rubbish, then you know people are not going to trust you as much as if it’s filled with more interesting and challenging things. This really is a bit of an issue for a lot of people with personal profiles on Facebook, where people can see those quite often and aren’t always hidden. You do need to make sure that when you are connecting and truly engaging that you’re engaging at the right level, that you are using that platform or all the platforms to understand more about them, to connect with them, to have them understand more about you in particular and why they should be talking to you when you do finally give them the call or drop them the email to say, “Hey, can we have a coffee? Can we catch up?”

The biggest problem is, and I see this a lot, people flogging their products on the social channels just expecting someone to pick up the phone and buy it from them or put an order online straight away. You need to build up that right to have any messaging about your product up there first. You need to really do the hard yards.

Marilyn:

That’s awesome, and so we’ve spoken about doing a lot of research and listening, not selling. So a really good question came into the chat: “At what point do you actually start talking about a solution? When does this come into the conversation with your target audience?”

Margo:

Well once you’ve established what their needs are. The greatest mistake that people can come in is straight-up shove your product in first. If you’re having a meaningful conversation with a customer, whether that’s online like by Zoom, or whether it’s through an email exchange, or whatever it is, be patient. It’s gonna take several conversations for you to fully understand what their needs are and to build the bridge between their needs and your solution. That takes a bit of finesse and it takes a little bit of time. But in all of my years of managing sales teams, the biggest rookie mistake that came in was going in with your product hard and going in with that first. Because there is nowhere else to go. So build it up, understand the needs, build that bridge to your solution. Then if you’ve done your job right, they will sell it to themselves. You’ve helped them understand what the consequences of not taking your product is, if that makes sense.

Craig:

I think it’s important to know that sometimes your solution won’t come up in the conversation if it doesn’t fit their problem and doesn’t meet their need then just don’t talk about it. Sometimes that question: “When is it the right time?” Sometimes it’s never. And don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, I’m really sorry. Thanks very much for the catch up. What I’ve got doesn’t really seem to fit what you need.” Don’t be scared to do that because ultimately they’ll say, “Well, tell me what you’ve got.” and they’ll let you talk a bit. Then they’ve got that part in the back of their mind. But what’s more important is they’ve got the fact that you didn’t try and push your solution. It didn’t solve their problem, down their throat. You built that level of trust enough to say, “Sorry, I don’t have something to help you with right now. I’m going to walk away.” Don’t be afraid to do that because the times that I’ve seen that happen, the times that I’ve done that, have been the most successful sales later. It may have taken a bit of time, but because I’ve built trust by saying, “Actually, sorry. That’s a really hard problem. We can’t solve that.” then you’ve built that awareness in them about you.

Back to the point earlier about behavior: you know they’ve learned that I’m not just trying to flog them something. That’s really an important step, especially in education. Teachers will talk a lot and teachers will share stories a lot. And, no surprises, they’ll share all the bad ones first. So you can get burnt from a lot of schools in an area in what I would call the mushroom around that focal point if you’ve annoyed somebody enough. You tried to flog them something didn’t solve their problem. Everyone will hear about it very quickly.

Marilyn:

Next we’re going to cover paid social media campaigns for b2b. But before we do, another little top tip from a marketer is: I’ve just been in the market for looking at CRMs at the moment, and eventually all startups end up being bigger, and you’ll need some way to keep all your contacts in one place. So I’ve been doing different demos with different organizations, and I encourage you to put your name down and do a demo and learn from them. These are very experienced people. They were not selling to me, but from the way they were pitching their product I could see what the solution was without feeling that I had to buy then and make a decision. It’s fantastic. So that’s a good way you can do a little bit of training, and you’ll get the training from actual marketers. They’re all marketers in those CRM organizations.

Next question: “Have any of you had success with paid social media campaigns for b2b education sales? Do you have any examples?”

Craig:

Yes. I can’t share the example, though. I’m not allowed unfortunately. But it was a Facebook campaign. Actually it was not just a Facebook campaign. It was a series of campaigns that were targeting parents of young children, kindergarten to probably year three. It was quite successful. They had a really good product, their message was on point. Going back to the analogy of the arrow, it hit the red dot right in the middle every single time and their product backed up what they said it would do. What I always like to talk about is: does it do what it says on the can? It did. So once you get that one, two, three early sales, then people talk b2b again, and parents share things. They’re playing, they’re on the sideline at the football game, the netball game, tennis, at the drama room, watching their kids play music. They talk, and so that word of mouth is pretty strong in education, as long as you do the right thing by them.

So, yes I have seen that work. To be honest, I don’t know how much it costs. But I definitely know that it was well worth their investment and they made money out of it.

Marilyn:

Margo, any comments on paid social media campaigns regarding b2b education sales?

Margo:

No, we haven’t really used it in all of the organizations that I have been at. We do, however, often do a boost through LinkedIn. We will pay to boost a post through LinkedIn and that does work extremely well. But we haven’t really gone outside of the LinkedIn channel, to be perfectly honest. I think it’s just the nature of the kind of products that we have, which are very much enterprise level. That hasn’t really been something that we thought we would get our ROI.

Marilyn:

I probably should try and answer this one too. I’ve done b2b in paid social media. It was still targeting executives, but not necessarily in education. Interestingly, at the start, I was hesitant. I was like, “Well, they’re not going to be on Facebook.” But this organization, a previous employer, has made it to the finalists because of that digital campaign, and there were leads that were generated. Ask me this question post-Melbourne EdTech Summit because we will be using Facebook. We want to trial that and see if we can attract more educators to our Melbourne EdTech Summit this year. I’ll be able to tell you how successful it was. We definitely will be trialing it out.

The K-12 EdTech report stated that the 240 EdTech companies target K-12 schools in Australia. How do you craft your marketing message to be unique? I imagine they’re saying, “How do you be unique to these K-12 schools?”

Craig:

There are 240 companies. How do you cut through the noise? How do you get the message? It comes back to your product and your value statement. If you haven’t got a unique solution to a problem then your message isn’t going to cut through. But it doesn’t have to be unique. If you’ve got a product that solves a problem, but it might be one of ten, out of that 240 there will be a ton of math products, literacy products, student information systems, etc. So you need to create your own brand, and your persona of the product, and then build that message. That depends on what you’re offering. That depends on what problem you’re solving. It depends on what value you’re bringing to the table, and then you need to make that your own message. If it sounds like someone else’s then you’ve got to change it and that’s about it.

Back to a point that Margo made earlier, you’ve just got to try it. Iterate, test, iterate, keep going back to the drawing board, try the message again, and get it right. But I would be hesitant to take a product to market that didn’t have some sort of unique value, and that’s what I would focus on. The unique value, whether it’s… well I wouldn’t say cheaper. But if it’s better value and if it’s solving more problems, and if it’s saving more time, and if it’s far more scalable. Lots of things that might be different. Or it might be a specific function or feature in the software. But, yeah, you need to tailor your unique message around your unique product, or the unique element.

Marilyn:

It’s interesting you say that it’s that whole unique selling proposition, a really good explanation of that. For a long time I thought, “Oh! But very little is unique in life. We’re all kind of similar in some ways.” But the way it was then explained to me is that it’s about relative differentiation. Sure, there’ll be competitors out there, and therefore you’re not completely unique. That’s not what uniqueness is about in marketing. It’s about relative differentiation.

Margo:

I certainly defer to Craig’s greater knowledge in the K-12 space, but it’s a market of abundance. There is room for all of us out there so long as we’re solving a problem.

Marilyn:

That’s a very positive spirit. I like that one. We’ve got another question: “Do you find education conferences useful pre-COVID-19? I went to the large conferences but are the online events now worthwhile?”

Margo:

I would have to say they’re worthwhile from an attendance perspective because the knowledge being shared is the same. If the larger conferences are doing the online networking right then you do have the opportunity to meet other attendees. If I turn it around from a business perspective and I’m looking at it from an exhibitor or from a sponsorship perspective, then I have to say no. We shied away very much from the larger conferences, and putting our marketing dollars into sponsoring or exhibiting in the online forum the ROI is simply not there.

What we are doing if we’re going to go down that path is to look at the more niche conferences that are out there that really are speaking to who our target audience is. And we have found ROI from that, But in general, I do think that there are lots of subtleties that are missed out in the online environment, particularly if the organizers have not done their homework and done it well from a networking perspective. To be honest, the exchange of information is still there but that layer of networking which is so important I think is still somewhat of a challenge.

Marilyn:

What are your thoughts, Craig?

Craig

I’ve come through the era where one of the big tech companies, Apple, would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a massive big stand in the middle of an education conference or education conferences all over the world. It depends on why you’re there. So I find them useful to get to understand the buyer, to get to understand my competitors. I find them useful to develop my personas and you get to talk really quickly to a bunch of different people from different walks of life. Do I think I can make money out of it? Probably not. I don’t think I’m going to sell a lot. But then, if I look at what I can do with that knowledge of my buyers and those personas I can build up, then maybe I do sell more. But not directly through the conference. I sell more because I understand my buyers better. I sell more because I can see what the competitors are doing. I hear messages from other companies that I like and I tweak. They may not be competitors but they’re selling into the same space. So I do think there’s value in them, but you can get a lot of that from just attending.

I do think there’s that cost analysis. I know EduGrowth have done this a few times, where a whole pile of startups were together. I really loved that, and I thought that that was a really great idea because what they did was, a whole pile of buyers came together and everyone got to chat to those buyers. I don’t know that many companies that were there sold a lot of stuff, but to me that’s irrelevant. It’s understanding the people better.

And back to Margo’s point, that’s really tough online unless the conveners have done that well. I’ve sat in on a number of online conferences where I’m just missing the only thing I really want, which is to understand the buyers more. You miss out on that all together, so it is tough.

Marilyn:

It’s great you mentioned that we’ll be doing the innovation precinct. That’s the objective. That’s what we’re looking at now, the innovation precinct in person we hope this year. So, same thing.

Something you didn’t mention was networking. I’ll plug the fact that we do have breakout rooms after this and it’s exactly what we’ve discussed. This is where you’ll get to talk to your different people. Not just listening to us three talk.

Sometimes people shy away from marketing strategy because in their mind they imagine there’s like a 100-page document. I’ve got no time to do that. Does it need to be that big?

Margo:

No, no, no. God, no. In fact we have a single spreadsheet that cuts across all of our activities. Embrace that marketing plan because it’s your Bible. It really keeps you on track for everything that you’re doing. So don’t shy away from creating the plan. It can be as simple as a one-pager. I have taken products to market with a one-pager marketing plan. But no, at the moment we’ve got a single spreadsheet and it covers and cuts through everything that we do. It doesn’t have to be a massive tome that no one ever goes back to. We go back to it every single day.

Craig:

I would not build a product without a product plan, and I would not market a product without a marketing plan. To me they’re both as critical. A lot of people love having their massive big gantt chart of all the product development because it’s easy to do. If you don’t have at least a plan for your marketing side then you’re really failing yourself.

Marilyn:

I’m a firm believer, having been in marketing you know two decades now it doesn’t have to be overly complex. It could be a 16-page, it could be one page.

So I asked Craig and Margo, if people walk away with three things, what three things do you want them to remember?

Margo:

Know your why. Understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and be able to clearly articulate this, because everything that you will do aligns to that. Listen to your customers and live where they live. Find the channels, receive the information, talk their language. It’s really crucial. Absolutely crucial. And my third one is, content is king. Take a thought leadership approach with any go-to market activities. You need to be in it together with your educators. You don’t want to sit outside where the conversations are happening. So insert yourself in there and create the content that they will want to consume as well, because that’s where your engagement lies. 

Craig:

Number one, start small. Don’t bite off something too big. Keep it really easy. It’s interesting, two and three are very similar to Margo’s two and three. We didn’t even compare notes beforehand, So it’s the first time I’ve seen Margo’s. Talk to educators lots. Just talk and talk. Find out. Talk to them and don’t sell to them. Let them buy from you and build up that thought leadership. Build up that trust and let them come to you and buy when they’re ready.

Marilyn:

That’s wonderful. Thank you both so much.