Director of Marketing at Rootstrap, an outcome-driven development agency that helps companies scale people, processes and products.
Marketing for education: It’s not a concept we paid much attention to as kids. Sure, we went to school, but it was often our parents making those decisions, not us. Even for college, 81% of students say recommendations from family and friends have a strong influence over their decision.
With that in mind, it seems superfluous to even consider marketing as all that important for education. But a looming trend is disrupting the industry: education technology (edtech).
Due to the lifestyle changes prompted by Covid-19, the edtech and online education space has surged, seeing an average increase in revenue of 335% according to data my company recently collected. This has accelerated a preexisting crisis for traditional higher education.
For decades, online education was perceived as only for the fringe cases: people who didn’t finish high school, stay-at-home parents looking to reenter the workforce, workers looking to transition to a new industry. Today, some students are beginning to question the value of a college degree, and others can’t afford one. People are increasingly choosing to enter the workforce sooner or seeking alternative forms of education as viable.
At Rootstrap, we work with many clients in the education space and have watched as the pandemic prompted a bigger push toward these online options. In turn, it has created an opportunity that is ripe for edtech marketers.
Where To Start For Edtech Marketers
As any good marketer will tell you, the key to developing your strategy is understanding your points of differentiation to your competition. Universities have ready access to academic experts and recognizable brand names, some stretching back hundreds of years. For an edtech marketer, it’s important to be aware of these potential objections in your customer’s mind and not fight on the same turf as traditional education because you will surely lose.
Edtech Value Proposition: It’s All In The Framing
Given the core strengths of traditional collegiate education, edtech marketers should focus on where their platforms and online courses perform better. A common complaint of employers is that graduates often lack practical knowledge when entering the workforce. It’s not hard to see why this complaint arises: Universities are often slow to adapt, and professors, while immersed in the world of academia, don’t always prioritize connecting their teachings to real-world applications. Online education, on the other hand, is able to adapt and adjust courses quicker to better meet the needs of industries, businesses and employers.
The application here for edtech marketers is self-evident: Focus your message on employability figures and institution ties to industry. Indeed, if your edtech platform is that successful, you may have industry leaders teaching courses themselves, so be sure to leverage that factor when appealing to new students. With an increasingly uncertain workforce — and the promise that a college degree will automatically lead to a job now dispelled — prospective students may have increased scrutiny of what form of education will lead them directly into their desired careers.
Another point of differentiation to capitalize on is cost. With this nation saddled with $1.6 trillion in student debt and rising, tuition costs are no longer being ignored by tomorrow’s student. Using the language of investment, online education has a distinct advantage when it comes to marketing messaging that focuses on higher-quality outcomes at a more affordable price point.
If your edtech or online education course has alternative options, such as deferred payment until the graduate starts earning a salary, capitalize on that in your marketing. As an edtech marketer, you are showing that your incentives are aligned directly with your students, which only further positions you as a viable and better alternative to a traditional college education.
Where To Market To Prospective Students
Open days and campus tours have been a standard marketing play by universities to entice prospective students. Edtech doesn’t have that option, considering there’s no physical presence. But what it lacks in location edtech can make up for with innovation.
When universities share content on social media, I find it’s often cringe-worthy. Online education lives in the online world by design, however, and it is positioned well to capitalize on the creative use of social media platforms to attract the next generation of students. Presenting information about your edtech offering in formats your prospective students understand (memes and 15-second videos, not brochures or academic studies) will serve your organization well.
No one is arguing that education is going away. There will always be a need for new knowledge and skills. But the illusion of a knowledge monopoly that traditional colleges hold has been broken. The next generation of learning, in the form of edtech and online education, has an opportunity to stand up and deliver better quality and more affordable education to all. It’s a compelling message — we just need marketers to deliver it!
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