Producting is a made-up word, but it fits what so many marketers are doing these days. In the education industry, a bajillion Edtech products answer a lot of needs but blur into a confusion because there are just so many, and they are rarely contextualized against the backdrop of all the others. Schools and teachers find it really difficult to consider ranked importance and any cross-comparison. Yet thousands of companies are making them do that every day.
Let’s define producting. First, it is focused on the product, its features and benefits. If you are the producter company, it is focused on you, your company, your public relations stories, and your ideal customer. It’s a small house of You. The customer to the producter is an archetype, usually a single title or a consumer profile. Producting will present a discrete or distinct use or the product in an idealized setting. It’s very shiny and novel. Eyes grow wide encountering your product, but then they hit this wall of illogic's which turn their attention off to other things:
In a list of important things for me against all things I need or could want, how does this rank? Do I even know what my list is?
How do I know if this is going to solve a full problem or only part of one or a very small one, and so is not really worth it?
There’s no context in producting. It’s almost a disservice.
The work of producting is images, features and benefits and then counting views, clicks and leads. Producting is the lowest baseline of any go-to-market strategy. Sometimes it should not be done at all.
This is because producting is probably not really marketing. Here is why:
Marketing is not a small house. It is a metropolis of awareness of everything going on around your customer affecting their interests, their budgets, how decisions are made.
Your customer is a complexity. They may not even be an individual title or profile which is more typical in consumer sales, but many someones in an enterprise sale. A marketer will profile the whole organization’s lines of influence and budget authority. They may include some of the facts of procurement intricacies and typical contractual payment terms. They will understand the timeline and awakening interest, down to what thoughts must be had by who in the organization, when, and then what subsequent thoughts and actions.
Beyond this, the marketer will be aware of all competitors and all the products and services neighboring your product. This is because in limited budgets, decisions will be made to not purchase your product because other disrelated products are being purchased. They may not even be in the same field of say, technology, but food or gas. In enterprise sales, they may be major infrastructure like new buildings or staffing. Or re-turfing the football field and new windows in the gym. The competition is, therefore, the whole universe of any products or services that an individual or institution allocates money to.
In addition to listing these first two aspects of true marketing, the true marketer is also aware of five more important factors in the metropolis:
- Prospect profiling complexity,
- Economic and cultural winds of change,
- Outside pressures on that individual or institution,
- Inside pressures,
- The leadership vision,
- What your customer’s consumers want.
Why are these important? Because every one of them is a lever to push or pull in myriad ways to drive awareness and sales. Every. One.
First, prospect complexity, how is that a lever? Well, if you’re producting only to one title or profile, you’ll miss the influencers on them. Who are they? Are they bosses, co-workers, sports celebrities? A marketer has the option of not going directly at the prospect but around them. Oh, the fun to be had influencing a whole chain of command, perhaps by doing something sarcastic about “the boss” or two people gossiping saying “You know, that one teacher who uses chalk, well I heard her classroom is getting a tech makeover, I’m putting my name in because she’ll quit for sure,” and of course before and after pics of that dowdy teacher with frazzled hair vs. dowdy-no-more teacher who’s lost weight and looks ten years younger against fresh new tech classroom.
Next, any-spend-as-competitor is a hard pill to swallow, but it is true for everything. A marketer knows that their appeal must have something about it that is rising above all else to claim some budget. It is best to think about how hard it might be to sell someone like a school principal a new math program when he can’t even get the teacher he needs because of an epic labor shortage and the price of food for school lunches keeps going up. What about that software program possibly reduces the need for some headcount of teachers while sponsoring lunch? Well, that’s just the sort of thinking that might be relevant when you understand that everything is a competitor. Could you get attention and rise above by offering “Once a month Pizza Fridays” for a school’s term of contract? Perhaps doing the math on reduced teacher time spent because of the software now saves one headcount?
Economic and Cultural Winds of Change
What’s the mood of the day? Big economic woes. Bigger cultural shifts. Ideological fights in schools over curriculum are number one on the Learning Counsel’s Digital Transition Surveys with 55% of respondents indicating “questioning or complaining” by parents. Interestingly, 45% indicate parents are volunteering to help in other areas because of staffing shortages. 36% say they are having to call for police intervention, call for medical help or an ambulance for non-staff emergencies, or having to lock down because of some threat.
Lots of big things are happening.
The marketer asks what most people agree with in your target audience that could be used in marketing but isn’t controversial, or could be treated with sarcasm such as raging mobs holding blurred picket signs about to come through a door, busting through and rolling comically into a pile while the hapless Superintendent manages to narrowly escape through an action-sequence video running down hallways, leaping small hedges, dodging flying tennis balls as he runs across a court, tripping and falling on football equipment on a field, then escaping into a school bus to then use the product, an App perhaps, which spreads calm and he smiles as he finally welcomes aboard the buss a group of students and the rag-tag bunch of picketers who smile in return and pat him on the back, past discontent now forgotten? Superintendents would all chuckle and think about that product.
In schools, there are many worries in addition to the ones above, but the one most agreed to is that “things can’t go back to the way they were before the pandemic.” A smart marketer will ask, well how were they? What does it really mean to not “go back?” Are they saying that adding tech to the traditional grade-and-class structure as it has always been for the last hundred years the thing that is “forward?” Is there perhaps something more forward, a grander vision that could be had for schools that would coincidentally benefit the marketer with a major change in structure? The smart marketer will research and know an integrated vision of many neighboring technologies besides their own product. They will question if school leaders and teachers really know what a full evolution to using technology should really look like to evolve them into a new form of efficiency -- or are they still just shopping for individual items and mish-mashing them together every which way. The marketer will take advantage of confusion found to bring order, to bring vision, and in so doing dominate the thought leadership and therefore take a sales lead.
In other words, a marketer who sees the whole metropolis will often pick to market the future rather than just their product, but with at least some definition to what that future really should be so that the prospects hop on board with the marketer’s product as one of the ingredients on the list as they rush forward to build the utopia.
A marketer will have knowledge of outside pressures on prospects such as new laws or rumors of new laws, new competition for the prospect, a new atmosphere forcing the prospect to comply. In education, there are many pressures and more competitors at every turn to traditional schools. In addition, there is an expectation by the present generation of parents and students of a markedly different experience post-pandemic. Lockdowns were not kind to the old way of doing things, and particularly unkind to trying to do them all day on video conference with seven-year-olds. A lot was exposed about how schools actually cause learning and there is no going back.
A marketer will recognize the impulse schools have to ignore all that, to hope things don’t have to change a whole lot. Good marketing will be reassuring and tactful but also remind and apply the pressure even more. Enough pressure on a lump of coal can make a diamond, and the same is true in marketing. The approach a marketer might take is well beyond product into setting the scene of pressure to drive interest in the concepts addressed by the product, such as better student engagement or personalization, not necessarily even showing the product. It’s politely indicating a way out of the pressure.
A marketer will recognize there will be inside pressures. For individuals that might be an intrinsic drive, something personal, like ambition. For enterprises there may be unseen cross-current between divisions, infighting if you will. Anything brought to the table by one division that would be co-utilized by another will be shut down and so forth. This happens all the time in the Edtech field. The tech side will recommend some product is universally put into classrooms and when it reaches the curriculum side all hell breaks loose. There is another product preferred, or why can’t all classrooms decide on their own, etc. Someone in administration will buy something like instructional robots for every school and then order all teachers in for training. Only a few of them will engage to use the robots. Hundreds will stay in boxes.
Marketers recognize the metropolis of interests, and devise tactics to create a coalition of interest with how key messages are advanced and an array of sub-messages, some of which are executed at the sales and pre- and post-training levels.
The Leadership Vision
Leaders of enterprises may have certain strategies that nullify any producting. That’s where marketing comes in. A marketer will compliment and advance leadership visioning. It will either present a vision to be had or how the company’s products align to aspects of a typical vision. This is well above producting.
In the education sector, the smart marketer may even help flesh out the vision for its implementation aspects, codifying them into an appealing program involving categories of stakeholders, timelines, outcome examples, etc. This makes the whole vision and the products adoptable with less work. Hinting at certain aspects of how to implement certain elements while giving ample room for customization so that the prospects can make the whole thing their own effort. Another trick is to provide the vision strategy beyond the marketer’s immediate product purview and into a wider sphere of, say, the whole of other products in play or integrations architecture.
Any area of getting leaders' help to get over the inherent obstacle of “how its always been done” they will face when new products are introduced, is going to be appealing. Think of this arena of marketing as strategic thought leadership, contextualizing, and how-to.
What the Customer’s Consumers Want
Marketers need to understand that any product needs to be something that helps the customer’s customer. For individuals this may be their image or personal efficiency. For enterprises, it has to be something that will ultimately provide added value to their customers, or in the case of schools, the students and parents.
A marketer who truly understands this is punching up the impact for the customer’s consumers.
One caveat to this is the possibly recalcitrant naysayer who would rather not adopt something new, preferring to stick with the way things are getting along right now. They consider that their customers should be happy with that, it has worked before after all. Just a little more effort, such as by training teachers better and getting them to work harder, or getting more funds for field trips, adding one more unit into computer sciences, etc., will be just the thing to add a wee bit of excitement to the school. In this case, marketers know that data sharing is a big part of true marketing. Having data and expertise on what the customer’s consumers want or would want if it was made available, can have proofs presented. When consumers have never seen an innovation, they don’t know what they are missing. Yet if the school leader fails to partake of that innovation and consumers do find out, and a rising tide all around that school in alternatives brings those changes, a sudden viral avalanche of interest could be the impetus to lose those consumers. This is the cost of not innovating – loss of customers. It is exactly what is happening with alternative schools, charters, vouchers and online schools.
Sometimes an invitation to the recalcitrant to consider the data and the rising tide, and to be the inventor of a different future, is the seed a marketer needs to plant. It’s not about the product, it’s about the motivation to change. Someone mister complacent doesn’t want change, they want a smooth operation. They will not change unless it is their change which is then, because it is theirs, no big deal and probably not change at all. Incrementalism, then, is key. A marketers will have a “try” it, small step idea, a just-to-see appeal so simple it cannot be ignored. A marketer will know this succeeds only on trust and already developed affinity. A marketer will know before inferring the rising tide may wash out the mister complacent like-it-or-not person, and even before data arguments, is the step of developing some liking of the company for some reason, then building trust, then data, then a small step that could be purchased or even free to start with.
It is for this reason that public relations to a pro-marketer will not just be about product, but about good works. Even simple good works like a surprise donation to a neighboring interest, such as car companies do when they help local animal shelters. Many people who buy vehicles have pets. They are heart-warmed by this act and enough of them will then prefer that company that the donation will pay for itself many times over. If an edtech company has staff that are former educators, offering them as occasional substitutes when a school is in dire need could be a major favor even if never used. There are many such acts of kindness that a marketer can think up that a producter will not because they are in their own house, not the metropolis.