Motherboards To Mortarboards: What I’m Learning About Marketing in Tech & Education

My journey in marketing has (unintentionally) gravitated toward two fields: tech and education. From an independent school in Hawaii to a K-12 HR software company in Philadelphia; to a higher education marketing agency in South Carolina and a planning software company in San Francisco, I keep landing in those two fields.

Coincidence? Perhaps.

Serendipity? I think so.

One might think these two fields are as polar opposites. I’m not so sure. I’m not going to go all Dickensian here, but this is a tale of two “cities” that’s worth thinking through. Let’s dig into the differences, similarities, and what we can learn from them.

The Similarities

I’ve come across a few common themes in my time in tech and education. Here’s one: empathy for your audience is always king. This reminds me of this “post-on-your-desk-it’s-that-good” statement about writing from Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes:

“Relentlessly, unremittingly, obstinately focus on the reader.”

You’d think we’d have learned this by now, but why do I still get fake greeting cards from telecom companies that end up being marketing pieces, or even worse, fake checks? Why do marketers still mistreat their target audiences? It’s easy to lose our focus. Let’s put ourselves in our audience’s place, and keep recalibrating to that north star. Bring it in, friends. Huddle up. “Have some empathy” on three! One, two, three!

The next thing I’ve found is stakeholder wrangling (not a rejected rodeo event) is a skill worth strengthening. In tech, it might be getting product and marketing and executives on the same page. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the world “align” since coming back into tech, I could buy a payload of four-dollar mochas. In education, it might be deans, department heads, administrators, and (lowers voice) the board. In both cases, reaching outside your silo is essential. It can be painful. It’s often slow. But it’s the wise way to move forward.

And here’s one more common factor from my experience: you have a department brand to build. What do I mean by this? Have you ever had a conversation with a colleague outside marketing that made you realize they think you just play around on Facebook all day or draw pretty pictures?

Then you have a department brand to build, and do some “marketing of your marketing.” Have you found yourself branded as nothing more than a support function in your tech company or university? Build that brand. Tell stories of real impact, and not only will you feel better about your work, but your colleagues may be more inspired to share as well.

The Differences

The most stark contrast I’ve found is the pace of change. While I shouldn’t make a blanket statement across all tech and education, I’ve seen that pace-wise, education is more towards the molasses end of the scale, and tech is more like wax paper on a metal playground slide. Pros and cons abound on either end of the scale, so whether you find yourself moseying or scurrying, enjoy the ride, and learn from it.

The other big difference I’m seeing is the contrast in communities. Again, a large caveat on this broad statement, but I found the spirit of community in education marketers to be cooperative and full of camaraderie (at least outside of March Madness or football bowl season). This might be the biggest contrast of them all, and I can’t quite put my finger on the “why.” While I’ve only been back in tech for a few months, I’m hoping to make more connections with cohorts and learn from each other. No judgement!

The Common Goal

While tech and education seem very different at first glance, I think their goal is essentially the same: making people’s lives better. Educators educate to train the next generation to make the world a better place, and tech marketers spread the word about products that help people be more efficient and successful. So in the end, maybe we’re more alike than we think.

By Jeremiah Barba, Content Marketing Manager at Anaplan. Follow Jeremiah at @jeremiahdbarba.