Five Ways of Reaching Your Learning Audience Where They Are

Joshua Thayer
May 16, 2018 9:42:03 AM

A major component of bringing a new online learning product to market—once you understand your audience and have iterated on your online learning product line—is getting the word out. While there are many tactics that should be part of your plan, such as email, web advertising, sales strategy, and more, it’s important to map a strategy for reaching those that are not yet in your orbit.

These are the folks that could be your audience, but don’t yet know about you or your products—your target market. They’re out there in the universe, but finding them is not always straightforward. And once you do find them, you need some way to gain their trust and engage in conversation.

One way of earning the chance to talk to them where they already spend time, according to Harvard Business Review, is to “put yourself in the shoes of these customers by thinking about their issues and by talking to them not about your product but about their challenges and pain points.”

Potential customers in the wild can be scared off by the slightest crack of a twig, so don’t head into their territory and start cutting down trees. This means avoiding forceful sales-heavy promotion and leading with authentic, earned, and helpful conversation.

Let’s take a look at a few ways to get the marketing message in front of an audience that’s out there in the deep.

Survey your customers

It might seem counterintuitive, but one way to reach an audience you don’t have is to start with the audience you do. Crafting a survey that goes out to a subset of your existing customers can be a great way to gain market intelligence that helps you shape your plans.

Build a small set of questions that focus on what challenges your customers face, what kinds of things help them answer those challenges, and where they already spend time looking for those answers. For instance, you could use a straightforward and open-ended question such as “Where do you normally find helpful information to solve your problems?” Then, focus at least part of your marketing efforts on building a presence in those places you’re not already addressing. This approach will help you open up a channel to folks like your current customers who could benefit from your online learning.

Further reading: HelpScout offers a list of “10 Essential Tactics for Creating Valuable Customer Surveys

Share your brand with Instagram Stories

Brands see better engagement on Instagram than any other social media platform. On top of that, Instagram has seen huge adoption of their Stories feature since it was introduced in 2017. In fact, Stories usage has surpassed that of the app it most closely rips off resembles, Snapchat, with nearly 200 million users per day. Thanks to an active and engaged user base, Stories have become a powerful way for brands to reach their audiences in a place they already spend time. With Stories—and polls, calls-to-action, advertising, and other engagement features within Stories—Instagram could become a go-to avenue for your social media marketing.

Not only is Instagram a place to engage, but it’s also a great platform to conduct research and look for trends. Modern learners expect modern digital experiences that are in line with the ones they are already taking part in every day. The social networks they explore during commutes and idle time make a huge impact on the messaging and experiences they’re willing to spend their time with. Be a sponge—keep tabs on influencer brands, monitor the UX of the platform for ideas, watch your competitors, and pay attention to how users talk and interact. All of this can give you insight and ideas for how to adjust your messaging, or your online learning product itself, to better align with how your customers think and behave.

Further reading: AdWeek explores "How Brands Can Take Advantage of Instagram Stories"

Sponsor events for your audience

Getting out of the building is never more powerful than when you can reach a large group of your potential audience all in one place. And without a doubt, the best spot where they’re likely to congregate is at an event. While many organizations will spend a lot of time, money, and other resources to plan and run a branded event of their own, it can be even more effective and savvy to piggyback on an already existing one.

Watch for industry, cultural, or charity events that may bring your potential market audience together. Then, reach out to learn about sponsorship possibilities. Some events may offer a booth and signage in trade for sponsorship. Perhaps your brand could be a part of all the print and web advertising materials or distribute fliers at a panel discussion. Sponsorship can mean much more than just being an advertiser, and you open up avenues for lead generation, sales, and reputation building as a result of direct access to your audience.

While the ultimate value of each possibility depends on your business needs and the size of the event, the goal should be the same across the board: Meet with your audience for real conversations about their challenges. Strive to create a conversation about more than just your products and then look for ways to keep the conversation going in the future.  

Further reading: Marketing & Growth Hacking digs in: Connect with your target market. Why sponsor an event?

Offer free samples and trials

Sometimes an audience might not have the time or budget to invest in a full course right away. For those learners, offering small introductory content in microlearning formats can be very effective. Free samples and trials have a long history in commerce, and the concept is equally effective in online learning.

For instance, free offerings that are SEO optimized can be an effective way of drawing in organic search traffic. It’s highly unlikely that everyone in your total addressable market has heard of you and your offerings. This means that they may not be looking directly to your site or learning store as their first destination. However, when someone searches for “free” paired with keywords that your learning products cater to, a free offer in the results leverages his or her behavior habits to bring them into your fold.

If you pair these offers with a form for capturing their information, you can also begin to build a database of engaged prospects. From there, you can create marketing activities in the future to target specific segments and nurture them towards your larger—and pricier—offerings.

If they like what they learn and are able to immediately put that knowledge to use, you’re also likely to win an advocate. Generally, like attracts like, and when they have the opportunity to share something that worked for them with their network, your offerings will become part of the conversations. Which, logically, expands your reach even further.

Further reading: Shopify looks at "The Science of Free Samples: How Freebies Can Keep Customers Coming Back For More"

Become a guest blogger

What is your unique perspective on the challenges your audience faces? What insight do you have to offer that your audience would benefit from? While you’re probably already exploring some of those topics in your own blog (and if you’re not, you should be), many organizations overlook the value of guest blogging. When your thought leaders guest on another organization’s blog, you’re essentially gaining immediate access to another existing audience that you don’t usually get to speak to. The benefit for the blog owner is that they gain valuable content from industry notables, while you further establish your expertise in front of their audience.

Obviously, you’ll want to seek opportunities with blogs that have some stature in your field but who are not direct competitors. These could be other thought leaders in your industry, where you trade guest appearances—you write a blog for them and they write a blog for you. Or, it may make sense to seek outlets with brands who complement or augment your products.

An important angle to remember, though, is that you should not use those opportunities to push your products. Instead, focus on topics that are relevant and helpful for the audience you wish to gain. Help them understand and overcome their challenges—in ways that organically align with your product perspective—and you’ll build trust in your approach. Which, over time, will lead to more interest in what you have to offer in your learning product line.

Further reading: HubSpot looks at  How Savvy Inbound Marketers Get Results From Guest Blogging”

Keep learning and adjusting

Building and implementing a communication strategy is not easy. Potential customers are elusive and protective of their information. As modern audiences become more tech savvy—and technology continues to adapt, get smarter, and grow—they are less likely to let brands and organizations into their lives.

To get the message out there effectively, you need to find the balance between when you reach out, where you talk to them, and how you engage in those conversations.

Do it well and you win fans, advocates, and customers. Do it poorly, and you risk pushing away the exact people you set out to help in the first place.

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