A marketer’s lesson plan

Business-to-business marketing is often viewed as office-to-office marketing — that is, a sales rep calls or heads to a prospect’s office, where they pitch their product or service. But for marketers of educational products, who must reach teachers that spend a majority of their time away from their office or desk, it’s not easy to get that one-to-one conversation started. So, these marketers depend on other channels to pique teachers’ interest.

“You can send a sales rep, but the teacher is in the classroom all day,” says Kathleen Brantley, leader, channel management for MDR, the educa­tion division of database company D&B. “If you want to talk to him or her, you need to wait until their break.”

That’s why direct mail has traditionally been the most effective channel for education marketing. It allows busy educators to learn about a product or service on their own time, and then contact the selling company for more information.

Proper targeting is essential, however, especially for marketers such as Scholastic, which offers a wide variety of products for many teaching subjects and grade levels.

“We have monthly catalogs that are all really created by talking to teachers,” says Judy Newman, president of Scholastic Book Clubs. “We target catalogs by grade level, ethnicity and subject mat­ter, listening to what teachers need and creating the catalog based on that.”

Teachers appreciate the channel as well. Direct mail ranked highest in teacher preference when educators were asked which marketing channels they use in MDR surveys in 2002 and 2007. How­ever, between those two surveys, another channel gained significant popularity: the Internet.

“That wasn’t even on the list five years ago,” Brantley notes. “But teachers are very used to technology in the school environment, especially compared to some other professions. Many of them have grown up with it at this point.”

The Web’s ability to keep consumers and com­panies up to date with the latest developments is key to its popularity. When the American Recov­ery and Reinvestment Act — commonly known as the economic stimulus plan — was enacted earlier this year, Scholastic immediately introduced a microsite that explained which of its products were covered by the about $90 billion made available for education in the bill.

“We know that our customers need programs aligned to the different types of funding, so we have to make sure all our promotional info is clear as to what this product lines up to,” says Allison Feld­man, VP of marketing for Scholastic’s classroom and library group. “We do a lot of face-to-face events, and we found [that teachers] are having as much trouble as we have sifting through all that information. The Web lets us reach so many teachers, pushing out changing information.”

Scholastic’s heavily integrated approach to Internet marketing leverages its robust catalog initiatives, making sure its print materials contain drivers to the Web. It also sends e-mails that click through to its network of sites. Brantley says that e-mail is growing more popular among many edu­cational marketers due to its ease of targeting.

“E-mail lets you be very relevant. Talk to them as a teacher and tell them how you can make their job easier, better or quicker,” she says. “But, just because they’re a teacher doesn’t mean they want to read four pages of copy if you can do it in one page. You can use a concise message and drive teachers to your Web site.”

Among e-mail’s other benefits, Brantley points out, is that teachers can check it from home if school is closed for summer vacation or another break.

“We find that teachers check their e-mail daily, and in the summer, [at least] weekly,” she says. “Teachers are always looking for new products and services that help them do their job more efficiently.”

Another key channel for teachers is peer recom­mendations. Marketers have tried to tap into the teaching community’s desire to share information using the emerging social media channel — but report mixed results.

Agency LaBreche, when working on a campaign for 3M’s projection systems department, created a Facebook page for a contest that classrooms could enter to win one of 3M’s interactive projectors. But, finding the right people to invite was difficult, says Molly Ryan, account executive for LaBreche.

“Facebook isn’t really a professional site,” she notes. Because of this, LaBreche sent the site to some teachers it knew in hopes that those people would pass it on to their peers.

In contrast, Scholastic has a much more targeted, professionally oriented community of about 300 teachers that it bounces ideas off of to learn what teachers are looking for from the company.

“We have a representative group of teachers from across the country, moderated [externally],” Newman says. “It’s replaced some old-school focus groups — they talk to each other and compare notes.”

Because targeting is so important, Ryan says, new media such as blogs are a much more sig­nificant opportunity for education marketers. Companies should find where teachers already go on the Web and start a conversation about their product there.

“Monitoring blogs that are specific to our clients is important — they might write about our client, or the technology its offering falls under,” she says. “Definitely reach out to those bloggers — I count blogger relations under media relations.”

No matter what channel marketers use, though, being specific and relevant to teachers is prior­ity No. 1. “The old shotgun approach doesn’t work for people, and it’s wasteful,” says Brantley. “It’s about understanding products and goals and matching them up with their audience.”

3M’s projection systems department tasked Minneapolis-based agency LaBreche todevelop a campaign that would sell its interactive projection system to schools. At the end of 2008, 3M launched the My Class Project(or) contest. Classes were able to make a video showing how they would use the system in their classrooms to change it from “tired to inspired.” The prize for the best videos was the projection system itself.

To promote the contest, 3M used two direct mail pieces. One was directed towards teachers — the agency used a list of 5,000 K-12 teachers nation­wide — and the other was specific was IT and school administrators, in the hope that they would pass the mail piece on to interested classes.

The company also promoted the contest using banner ads on eSchool News, a Web site covering educational technology, as well as with a Facebook presence. It also created a media kit that went outto teacher-specific media in an effort to raise aware­ness of the product and contest.

The contest ended January 15. Of about 85 entrants, 13 winners were chosen to receive the projector.

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