Reaching Your K-12 Buying Audience
First, you need to identify who’s part of the purchasing process, then you need to communicate in ways they care about.
Buyers are wary of vendors. No surprise there. Yet vendors continue to produce materials intended to appeal to buyers that aren’t believable or useful. Those were the big findings in a business-to-business “buying disconnect” study that queried hundreds of buyers and vendors. According to TrustRadius, a company that collects and publishes reviews of business technology online, the top five most influential sources of information buyers use when they’re researching products - and the ones they most trust - are:
- Their own prior experience with the product
- A free trial or account
- Product demos
- Referrals from associates
- Recommendations from consultants and agencies
In other words, three of the leading responses incorporate activities that enable buyers to experience the product up close and two involve endorsements from trusted sources.
As buyers go, people in education are no different. When a school district chooses to refresh its back office applications or some aspect of its learning or classroom portfolio, those involved go through the same process of research to ensure they’re making the best possible purchasing decision.
As an education solution provider, your challenge is figuring out whom you need to reach and what they care about.
How to Tell Ed Tech Stakeholders from Stand-Ins
A research project by Digital Promise and the Education Industry Association (since subsumed into SIIA’s Education Technology Industry Network) identified 11 different district roles, from superintendents to parents that have some degree of participation in procurement decisions.
There were key differences in the roles that were identified as having the greatest levels of involvement when you asked districts versus ed tech vendors.
1. While the role of technology director was designated as the most involved person by more than 9 in 10 school systems (93 percent), fewer than 6 in 10 vendors (57 percent) said the same.
2. Number two was the curriculum director, designated by 83 percent of districts and 91 percent of vendors. School systems view chief purchasing officers and chief information officers (cios) as important decision-makers in buying activities but vendors didn’t value them nearly as much. CIOs, for example, barely registered at all - just 18 percent of vendors said that role had involvement in purchasing compared to 61 percent of district respondents.
3. What stands out even more is how vendors underestimate teachers’ influence in procurement. The report shows that 50 percent of districts say teachers are involved in buying but only 37 percent of providers say the same. This puts teachers just behind principals (61 percent) and superintendents (62 percent), in terms of influence, from the district perspective. Clearly, teachers voices matters in purchasing. As the report noted, “The people most directly affected by the tools that are purchased should have a more central role in selecting and testing them.”
Where does that leave the vendor? If you’re selling products that help support computing operations, such as networking gear and security applications, bring the technology director and CIO into your fold. Those are the roles where districts and schools place their faith in these decisions.
However, if you’re focused on the digital learning transformation that is sweeping through schools, your job is more complex. Whether it’s digital curriculum, student management, learning management, instructional models or accountability systems, your messaging needs to reach across stakeholders to include both tech- and education-oriented decision makers. Don’t leave these roles out of your planning just because they’re not the people signing the contract.
Reaching Your K-12 Audience Effectively
Seeing products up close and getting information from reliable sources with track records most heavily influences stakeholders. With that in mind, let’s go over four important marketing strategies and the channels you can use to maximize the impact of your content-marketing initiatives.
Invite Customers to Step Forward as Experts. Encourage customers to share freely about their experiences with your products and services. Don’t go just for the largest districts. Have a mix of sizes and make-ups so that prospects see themselves represented. Then broadcast these peer recommendations through white papers and webinars - both are ideal ways to focus on specific themes. The best ones educate on the issues much more than they sell.
Invest in Original Third-Party Generated Research. Educators want and trust research. They use this to help make purchase decisions. Research reports use statistical methods to query a group of respondents fitting pre-defined criteria. The results may be used to understand experiences or practices, examine market opportunities, generate feedback or evoke discussions. Well-designed surveys can generate results that allow you to understand and communicate variations among the discrete roles or brands making up your entire audience.
Provide Free Tips and Advice. Help your customers stay updated on tips and best practices via opt-in email newsletters. Create newsletters that cater to specific roles - instruction, leadership, librarians, among others - and offer how-to’s, ideas and resources relevant to those roles. These communications help build both awareness and confidence.
Avoid the Stakeholder Disconnect. Communicate with all members involved in procurement - not just the final decision maker. Know who’s involved in the purchase process, from the classroom to the district office, and ensure you are reaching all those stakeholders with targeted content that speaks to their specific roles and responsibilities. Use a mix of vehicles - webinars, white papers, blog posts, among others - to keep your messaging fresh and evaluate marketing materials regularly to ensure they speak to current trends and educator needs.
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