The story of moving BrainPOP UK from a UK-focused business to a global edtech provider
Chris Bradford is Head of BrainPOP UK and describes BrainPOP's twelve month strategic journey to become an international education technology provider:
BrainPOP provides curriculum content; animated movies, online learning games and tech-based learning materials to support such subjects as history, geography and literacy, all delivered by tablets, apps, mobiles and laptops. BrainPOP works with many national schools in the United States and this success in the US gave us the confidence to branch out, firstly to the UK, and then globally, selling directly to schools.
Working with English-medium International K-12 Schools
As an organisation, we had noticed that in recent years something was happening internationally. We were organically growing 30% year-on-year, from schools outside UK. These were British Schools Overseas and international schools following the National Curriculum of England. These schools were finding us through word of mouth, British teachers moving overseas who knew our products, and teachers searching for resources supporting the curriculum.
We researched these schools and found that international schools had great budget autonomy and decision freedom. They were very positive about good quality, learning-focused resources. They were actively investing in edtech and also investing in the training and support to use them well.
We knew very little about this international market and wanted to take a strategic approach to understanding and developing into it. So we contacted ISC Research and UKTI ambassadors who were all super helpful. We very quickly learnt that the international schools market is a rapidly expanding market that could give us an excellent chance to diversify.
We had many new challenges at this early stage of market development:
- This was a new type of customer located within multiple markets.
- We had questions such as: how should we approach a 'cold' audience across cultures. How do we deal with different time zones and working with different term times?
- Our biggest question was: would the return on investment be worth the logistical challenges?
At the very early stage we looked at what we knew and what we could achieve:
- Most importantly, international schools are schools – they are all about learning. We know schools.
- We have a fun and unique brand that seemed to be appealing to international school - we knew that several international schools already used and liked us.
- We had good email campaign experience and knew we'd have to communicate via email.
- We had to become data nerds – we’d need to be able to slice and dice the international schools market data in many ways to identify the right schools for our business. ISC data was very important for this.
Taking marketing action
- We started simply. We surveyed existing international school customers. We asked them 'what do you like, what don't you like about BrainPOP?’
- We evaluated the quality of the data we had about the market – we thought about territories (all the schools in Germany for example). Attacking a territory didn't make sense to us so we focused on orientation: British schools to begin with.
- We identified UK Curriculum schools as we had a product that could respond to their needs.
- We had to decide how were we going to measure our success: Open rates? Click throughs? Trials? Revenue?
- We knew that, as we could only rely on email communication for the initial part of our marketing campaign, we would need 12+ quality, informative, helpful emails before we could expect bites.
The challenges of marketing internationally
We faced several challenges marketing internationally. This included emailing across time-zone and time dates – we had to carefully plan when to schedule our email distributions. We sent out an eshot in the middle of an Asian holiday because we were unaware of the major national holidays in different locations! It's important to have a list of the major public holidays in all your regions.
We had to learn about different country expectations for marketing. For example, there are different levels of email opt-in around the world. We use Mail Chimp and love it, but as a result of using this system we had to explain why we were contacting a school – to meet the standards for opting in.
We needed to ensure that all our data on the schools was correct – this is relatively easy if you’re in the same country but more challenging internationally. ISC data is very good, the most extensive and accurate for the international schools sector, but we still had to be prepared to do our own data tidying up. Schools will delete you immediately if a name or department isn't right. Spend time checking the data to make sure it's absolutely correct and clear.
Personalising emails is absolutely essential for successful email marketing. This takes time to get right too – but definitely worth the effort.
Introducing BrainPOP to the international schools
- The icebreaker. This was a very simple email: ‘Hi, please can I take one min of your time to introduce BrainPOP to you’.
- An offer to access a week’s worth of free daily BrainPOP movies. This helped to get across the message: ‘here's some great free stuff that you might appreciate.’ Teachers love a freebie that supports them with the learning. The freebie gets you over the initial barrier of people not knowing your brand. This email worked really well for us.
- An offer to download free worksheets, directing responders to a special landing page.
- A focused message on digital safety with the message: ‘have you dealt with a case of cyber bullying in your school?’ This generated a big response and showed responders that BrainPOP was diligent to digital safety.
- An incentive to place a first order – motivating first time users.
Some tools that were important to our success:
- Dedicated landing pages were very important rather than sending responders to the main website. Each landing page not only had very clear, targeted messages to support our campaign but also had its own analytics. This meant that we could tweak the content to give us maximum click-throughs.
- Videos worked really well to tell a succinct story in a visual way in less than two minutes.
- Webinars increased engagement.
- Messages were tailored to different audiences: teachers and also to deputy heads and curriculum coordinators.
- Testimonials from other international schools got the message across that other people like you, like us.
Marketing to targeted international school associations and groups
We identified international school associations and groups that gave us additional marketing opportunities to reach the schools. Some of our best success was with COBIS.
We paid to be a supporting member and as a result got extensive access to support and to effective ways to reach the schools. As a supporting member we were also able to share our brand on COBIS mailings and use the COBIS Supporting Member logo on our marketing materials – an important sign for COBIS member schools.
We hosted an e-safety webinar with COBIS for international schools. The webinar was promoted by COBIS to all their schools. The webinar had to be informative and not sales-oriented which is why we focused on e-safety: something that we know a lot about, gives potential customers reassurance of our standards, and is a topic that many schools want to know about. The value of the webinar content was very good and, as a result, we had 150 schools attend the live webinar. We also had access to a recording of the webinar so could share it further through blogs, tweets, etc.
Did all this effort make a difference?
Yes it did! We did 8-12 weeks of campaigning and made very good sales for our first experimental year which we expect to increase within the next few years.
We've learnt a lot and made mistakes along the way. We’ve found out that the Middle East is a great region and so is Eastern Europe. We’ve learnt that engaging the right people is very important (for us it was curriculum coordinators and heads of primary) and to target opportunities like webinars to those most engaged. We’ve learnt that telephone calls don’t work but that emails do – but only if you say the right things, at the right time, with the right message and also if your emails can be tracked. We’ve learnt that social interaction is important but it can follow the emails.
We plan to make more partnerships, participate in more events, plan more campaigns to key sectors such as librarians and heads of Science (STEM/STEAM), IB schools (partnerships in IB curriculum), and target US curriculum schools.
Working with the English-medium K-12 international schools market: our conclusionInternational schools have great budget autonomy and decision freedom, they are actively interested in quality education supplies, it’s a rapidly expanding market that has given us a chance to diversify, and ISC has been really helpful in helping us to understand the market.