Can you remember when “online learning” was a dirty word? I can. It wasn’t long ago that the mere mention of learning online conjured images of clunky usability, ugly websites, dull content, and about as much personality as Ben Stein playing the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Of course, nowadays that’s an outdated image. When we need to learn something new, we can’t reach for our phones fast enough. From the pedestrian (poach an egg, change a tire) to the professional (design thinking, business strategy), high-quality, dynamic, engaging online learning content is everywhere, and growing exponentially.
So the market has spoken: We love learning online. And as a result, edtech is a crowded space. American edtech companies raised $1.45 billion in 2018 alone. If you’re one of the many similar companies vying for a place in the market, there’s just one question:
How do you stand out?
Your strategy is set. Your differentiators are clear. You’re armed with stellar content, a gorgeous platform, and a mission to bring inspiring learning experiences to your target users. Now the challenge is—how do you connect with them?
These three companies are doing a great job of meeting users where they are, each in their own distinct way. Let’s take a look at what they’re doing, and what your education technology company can learn from it.
Blackboard: What matters to you, matters to them.
Blackboard is one of the oldest names in learning management technology. Launched in 1997, the company has earned the status of a legacy brand in this relatively young product category.
But landing on their homepage, there’s nothing to suggest the company is focused on anything but the present moment. Take a look at the hero image and copy:
“Let’s advance learning,” commands the headline. After pursuing the site a bit, it seems this isn’t just a headline, but part of a larger theme, likely existing well before the current health crisis. But it’s remarkably prescient: As anyone with young children in school can tell you, the remote learning paradigm is in need of a rapid upgrade.
The body copy that follows does what so many companies struggle to do effectively: address the audience’s current reality. It doesn’t have to be complicated (“This year’s back to school season looks different”). It just has to ring true. This copy says, in effect, “We’re thinking about what you’re thinking about.”
That might sound obvious. But after reviewing dozens of other edtech websites, I can safely say Blackboard is in the minority—few, if any, of the other edtech homepages I encountered had adapted to speak to the pandemic directly. Messaging of this nature tells users that Blackboard is the kind of brand they can count on to be on the ball, producing fresh, relevant content for the times.
Across the rest of Blackboard’s website and socials, they back up this positioning, offering remote learning toolkits, platform usability tips for teachers and learners, faculty-based webinars, and more. The efforts pay off: Blackboard even accomplishes the rare feat of getting (presumably unsolicited) users to engage on social media:
All in all, Blackboard does a great job of obeying a basic marketing tenet that many companies struggle to follow: Demonstrate shared interest. In other words, show your users that you sincerely care about what they care about.
Duolingo: Achieve a dream, and have fun doing it.
For years now, Duolingo has consistently topped “best of” edtech lists. Let’s set aside the actual functionality of the product for a moment and consider only this: How do they engage their audience?
Like Blackboard, we begin with the company’s storefront, i.e., its website. The hero copy at the top of the homepage reads: “Learn a language for free. Forever.” Big, big promise that says right out of the gate: We are completely and totally at your service. For increasingly skeptical and marketing-savvy consumers, there is perhaps no message more powerful. But it must be genuine.
Fortunately for Duolingo, it seems they really do mean it. When it comes to conveying their customer commitment, they show rather than tell, engaging their audience in a playful manner that reflects their colorful visuals. Take this fun promotional piece they posted on social media promoting their first-ever virtual conference, DuoCon:
All in all, they engage their audience by saying 1) we’re here for you and 2) don’t be intimidated by the challenge of learning a new language. Not only can you do it, but you can have fun along the way.
Class Dojo: Make your educational vision a reality.
Finally, we come to Class Dojo: an app for teachers, parents, and students to connect and build community. And yet, there’s no mention of the word “app” on the website. No explicit talk of technology. And if there is, it’s buried deep, well past the first handful of pages a user encounters.
Rather than bore its readers with tech talk, Class Dojo aims straight for the heart, beginning with the opening headline on their website (below): “Bring every family into your classroom.”
It’s a wonderful headline that knows exactly who it’s talking to, and communicates a concept that gets the mind turning and the imagination firing. Even someone who isn’t a teacher would have a hard time not being inspired. And since humans make decisions based on emotions, rationalizing them later, it’s a wise move that Class Dojo follows up that big, aspirational headline with a hard-hitting proof point in the subhead that follows.
The verbal picture-painting continues throughout the brand’s website and socials: “Turn your classroom into a community,” “Share the story of your classroom with families.”
Does Class Dojo need to get into the nitty-gritty of how all their technology works to intrigue prospects? Not at all. As Mary Wear puts it in the marketing writer’s bible, The Copy Book, “The best copywriting isn’t always in the lines. It’s also between them.”
Building your edtech audience
So if you’re in education, you’re in good—and plentiful—company. Better still, you’re in a marketplace where consumers are excited to learn online and equipped with the devices to do it.
Once you’ve got that winning educational product, you’ll need to go one step further—and connect with your audience. You can take a page from the examples above, and you’ll doubtless find your own unique way of capturing their hearts and minds.