Educators expect many types of educational technology to improve learning. This expectation sets the educational technology market apart from other educational materials markets (for example, nobody asks if the blackboard improves learning, nor is the question asked of many types of books). Managers of ed-tech companies sometimes seem to view this expectation as irrelevant to their value proposition or as a cost of doing business, but they have the option of viewing it as an opportunity. This article is about the nature and potential impact of that opportunity.
There are two roles for research on effectiveness in our industry. Most commonly, this kind of research is seen as a cost of doing business. But this kind of research is also useful as a way of adding value to your product. To see why, let’s first look at how efficacy research translates into marketing messages. Then we’ll take a look at each of these two roles for this type of research in your marketing strategy.
Educational marketers make many promises about their products’ effectiveness, but in order to support the marketing statements that will be of greatest value, you must proactively plan your effectiveness research studies so they substantiate the claims your customers care about the most.
School and district administrators and state and national policy-makers often are interested in evidence of effectiveness that is strong across multiple contexts. Furthermore, they want to know if buying your product will improve on what they are currently spending money on. The more studies of these types you can cite, across the full range of contexts that reflect your target market, the stronger your marketing message will be. And it is not just a matter of better marketing. It is now common in the United States for state- and federally-funded programs to require suppliers to provide evidence of effectiveness by their definition.
If you’re lucky, your investment in effectiveness research will allow you to present evidence to your market before your competition can. Or, you will have stronger evidence than your competition, and that fact will be recognized by the various Web sites that review product effectiveness research. Or, your evidence will cover more contexts (market niches) than your competition. Sound, objective research does improve your credibility and competitiveness. You can use these studies to also build a knowledge base of how the product is being used, and the research you do will inform product development priorities.
Effectiveness research is critical to the success of many educational technology companies, yet it is often approached as an afterthought and an expense. But it is increasingly a cornerstone of an effective education marketing strategy. To be real, effectiveness research requires a long-term, strategic investment, one that will pay off with a sustainable, strategic competitive advantage for your company.