How Educational Mobile App Developers Can Sell to Schools

A common question I see asked is, “How do I sell my educational mobile app to schools?” Many people building educational mobile apps are parents and educators who are creating good products. A good product isn’t enough for a viable business though; a business also needs a good marketing strategy.

However, this is still a very new market and there aren’t any “tried and true” methods yet. I’ve heard of a handful of tactics though. If you are an educational mobile app developer, perhaps some of these may work:

  1. Focus your messaging, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and App Store Optimization (ASO) on schools. This means understanding issues that are important to schools, such as student outcomes, Common Core State Standards (CCSS), COPPA compliance, student privacy, data portability, School Information System (SIS) integration, etc.
  2. Get in touch with a school district’s technology integrator (also known as a technology specialist, technology coordinator, etc), whose job is to evaluate, integrate, deploy, and support the technology throughout their schools.
  3. Get information about which schools use mobile devices and may be receptive to or are currently seeking new mobile apps. This info isn’t cheap and can be found from organizations like MDR and EdLights.
  4. Hire an educational sales consultant to contact those people for you. LinkedIn can be a good starting point for finding one. Or try reaching out to some of the consultants who spoke at this previous Ed Market 101 session held by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) in 2013.
  5. Get enough press that technology integrators take notice of you. This means targeting sources that schools pay attention to, such as conferences (e.g. ISTE), publications (e.g. Education Week), blogs (e.g. Edutopia), Twitter hashtags & chats (there are lots and lots), etc.
  6. Get into and integrate with online platforms and directories like Edmodo, Schoology, Clever, eSpark, EdSurge, and edshelf.
  7. Partner with a company that already has a contract with a school district, such as a Pearson or McGraw Hill.

Selling mobile apps to schools isn’t significantly different from selling other kinds of software to schools, in terms of requiring multiple licenses and school-wide deployment. But it does require knowing which schools use mobile devices in their curricula and understanding what schools care about and how to reach them (which is a question of both where and when).

The technology teams at school districts are constantly sold to, so many are wary of a sales pitch. Whatever you have to say, chances are they’ve heard it before. They need to justify their purchases, so sales pitches that include data on demonstrable improvements in student outcomes tend to be the most effective.

How to Market on Quora

I don’t really want to write this post, because I don’t want to see this happen. But I’m kind of surprised no one’s talked about it yet.

Quora, if you aren’t familiar with it already, is a questions & answers site similar to Yahoo! Answers. Except Quora has a much more limited audience of mostly movers & shakers in the high-tech world, while Yahoo! Answers has a wide, general audience. Quora’s long-term goal is to be more general, but they happened to gain a lot of usage & buzz within the Silicon Valley world.

And speaking of buzz, Quora strikes me as a place where a tech & industry-savvy marketer could ignite (or at least fuel) the buzz for a particular startup.

There are already several questions that highlight buzz-worthy companies and people are using them to gently promote their startups. A more concerted effort could possibly work too. Journalists and bloggers (and possibly, angels & VCs) appear to be monitoring Quora to some extent too.

It wouldn’t be easy though. Quora has many quality measures, such as requiring real names and having a reputation system. If you come off too self-promotional or spammy, you can get down-voted to oblivion.

So how could you effectively market on Quora? Some suggestions:

  • Nominate several individuals to be your Quora team. They all should be good writers, very knowledgable about your field, and understand social media well. With several people answering questions, your visibility, and perhaps, credibility, increases.
  • Establish yourselves as experts in your field. Write good, meaningful answers.
  • Ask good questions. These questions should allow you to continue highlighting your expertise in some way. Or, they can be used as market research and/or to answer a genuine question you have.
  • Answer questions in tangential fields and topics as well. This broadens your reach.
  • Avoid being overly promotional, but make sure to mention your company once in a while. When you link to your company, use the full URL. When you do this, Quora turns it into a clickable link. There’s no SEO value though; the link has a nofollows attribute.
  • Select questions that have high visibility. Being one of the first answerers tends to increase your chances of up-votes, and visibility can be measured in how many followers a question has. This means there’s a bit guesswork involved in choosing the right questions, since new questions give you a chance to be first, but tend to have few followers. Occasionally, questions are featured on highly-visible blogs too.
  • Monitor Quora for industry trends and competitive intelligence. Follow industry leaders and competitors. There’s a gold mine of qualitative data here. Seek it out and use it.
  • Monitor other answerers too. They may make great hires or contacts.
  • Above all else, be a good citizen of Quora. They’ve built a great, though niche community here. If you play nice and give back generously, people will respect your answers even more.

The Emotional Adoption Curve

You’ve heard of the Technology Adoption Curve, yea? In Marty Cagan’s book Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love, he references an insightful talk he had with Jeff Bonforte, then a VP at Yahoo! and now the CEO of Xobni.

Bonforte has a slightly different view of Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Curve. Instead of looking at just the psychographics of each user group, he adds an additional layer: the driving emotions of each user group. Here is how Bonforte’s user groups map to Moore’s:

The Lovers = Innovators
They purchase something new because they believe it is cool and feel passionately about it. Determining product or service offerings on them can lead to misleading results because their motivations are very different from the other groups.
The Irrationals = Early Adopters
They purchase something new because they are very frustrated with a problem this product or service aims to solve. Their purchase decisions are driven by the same emotions as the majority, but with more intensity. This means their purchase decisions are not always economically rational.
The Efficients = Early Majority
They purchase something new because it solves their problems in a practical way for a reasonable cost. Essentially, they are driven by the same emotions as Irrationals, but with less intensity. Thus, their purchase decisions are more pragmatic.
The Laughers = Late Majority
They purchase something because it is proven, readily affordable, and easy to use. Like the Efficients, they are driven by the same emotions, but at a low, muted level.
The Comfortable = Laggers
They feel their current solutions are good enough and don’t see a good reason to purchase new solutions. While they may have the same problems as the others, they don’t mind.

New technologies tend to attract Lovers and Irrationals alike. However, for the longevity of your business, you should target Irrationals and not Lovers. If you don’t distinguish between the two, you might accidentally build features for Lovers, leaving Irrationals unserved and disappointed. Why is that bad? As Bonforte puts it:

Lovers are the worst possible people in the world from a product manager’s perspective. …they mislead you one hundred percent of the way. Lovers buy a Prius because they like the battery technology.

On the other hand, Irrationals buy a Prius because they love the environment so much they’ll spend $22,000 over the benefit of the environment. They could just buy carbon credits and carbon neutralizers themselves, or they could get a motorcycle, but they overspend on the solution because they’re passionate about the problem they’re trying to solve.

…You really need the Irrationals to slingshot your business into the Efficients and the Laughers. Without that emotion from those irrational people you don’t get the passion that carries the product over the chasm.

If you have a new product, does it target Lovers or Irrationals? How can you tap into customers who care so passionately about the problem you’re trying to solve that they’ll pay a premium for your offerings?

Game Design and Business Design

Sid Meier You know who Sid Meier is, right?

Sure you do. He’s the creator of the infamous Civilization series, the turn-based strategy games that pit you against the computer and other players for utter world domination. It’s history class on crack cocaine.

As the Director of Creative Development at Firaxis Games, we have Meier to thank for our addictions.

How did he architect such engrossing worlds? By understanding player psychology.

Gameplay is really a psychological experience, and that this fact can make the game design process easier sometimes, but it can also make it more difficult for those in development too. [Meier] outlined several major “disorders” that players deal with: egomania, paranoia, delusion, and self-destructive behavior.

Ultimately, if the designer can make games that address these psychological issues, the player will feel much better, and the game most likely will be a much greater success as a result.

Egomania, paranoia, delusion, and self-destructive behavior, eh? Methinks the way Meier dealt with these disorders can also be borrowed into the business world. Let’s see how they translate, one at a time.


First and foremost, the designer must recognize that the player is an egomaniac. The game is all about the player, not the designer.

The products you create are all about your customers, not you. They don’t care if you’re a nice person, spent all of your savings on these products, and help little old ladies across the street. If your products don’t solve their problems, or make them feel great about themselves, then they won’t purchase your products. Fashion designers know this. Charles Revson, co-founder of Revlon (REV), knew this very well when he said, “In our factory we make cosmetics. In the drugstore we sell hope.” Your business, and your products, need to be all about them, the customers.


Paranoia in the player is also something that the designer must be careful to avoid. Meier said that randomness in a game can trigger paranoia quickly because the player wants/needs to be in control of the experience.

Quality consistency is key. Customers aren’t going to stand for uneven and unpredictable solutions. What good is a product that turns left when the customer steered right? Who wants to buy wine from a vineyard where some bottles are a little too dry and others a little too sweet? Once a product’s credibility is shattered, it is very difficult to restore. If variety is part of your offering, like variety in flavors, colors, or tastes, that’s fine. But don’t vary in quality. Otherwise, your customers will not know what to expect when they purchase additional products, if they even do.


Player psychology had nothing to do with rational thought.

This quote is from another source. You may think it unfair, but customers aren’t necessarily thinking in pure logic when dealing with your products. They’ll bring with them all of their preconceptions, misconceptions, and other mental baggage. These psychological issues will be the filter through which they view your products. You could be doing everything right, but if your customers perceive you as doing something wrong, then you are doing something wrong. So the key is to change those delusions into favorable perceptions.

Self-Destructive Behavior

It’s important to protect the players from themselves.

Can good products have unintended consequences? Sure they can. Look at automobiles a century ago. Before seat belts became standard issue in the 1950s, countless lives were lost in automobile collisions. To a car manufacturer, isn’t just a matter of ethics, it also means the permanent loss of customers. If your product has the potential to be harmful or fatal, it is up to you to protect your customers. The food industry is another example. By succeeding, they’re slowly killing their customers. They’re making some moves to reverse their predicament with healthy alternatives, but it’s doubtful this will be enough. In my opinion, it’s just good business practice not to kill your customers.

Player Psychology Drives Design

Like any good psychologist, listening is a crucial skill; Meier said that designers need to listen to what the player is really saying. The designer can’t take everything literally, but the feedback can be very helpful. … Ultimately, Meier said the designer’s goal is to take the player on an “epic journey” and psychology can be a great tool to do that.

Spot on, Mr. Meier. Ultimately, your products and your solutions should take your customers on an epic journey that is all about your customers, is consistently high-quality, encourages favorable perceptions, and cares enough about your customers to genuinely take care of them.

Via: Carsonified

Toyota Sienna’s Swagger Wagon

Now for some Friday fun.

I gotta give props to Toyota (TM). This is one hilarious commercial. Almost makes me want to buy a Sienna minivan myself. Almost.

Created by the international production agency Caviar Content (in conjunction with Saatchi & Saatchi) and with music by the studio Black Iris, Toyota seems to be going after a new demographic. It hits the mark with some, but not so much with others.

Me, I think director Jody Hill and actors Rachel Drummond & Brian Huskey (as Mom & Dad) did a hilarious job. After a friend shared this with me on Facebook, I spent the better part of my morning watching the other Sienna ads on YouTube. They’re not as clever as the Swagger Wagon, and feel a lot more like typical – tho funny – commercials. But the Swagger Wagon seems to be the first aimed at this new audience.

P.S. If you like this song enough, you can download it as an MP3.

Props to: George Diaz

How to Market Effectively on Facebook and Twitter

Want to know how to really make Facebook and Twitter work for you? According to eMarketer, here is what other marketers have reported as effective marketing techniques on these two popular social tools:

Marketing on Facebook

The most common marketing tactic used on Facebook was attempting to drive traffic to corporate materials through status updates, followed by friending customers.

But the most effective tactic for consumer-oriented companies was creating a Facebook application, which was done by less than one-quarter of total respondents. Both B2B and B2C companies also reported surveys of their fans as effective; fan surveys were the third-most-common tactic attempted.

I had no idea marketers were “friending” recent customers. How do they even find recent customers? Huh. I’m not sure how I’d feel if I purchased a Starbucks (SBUX) mocha, then came home to see a friend request from them. But I guess this is working for some customers.

Marketing on Twitter

Like those on Facebook, marketers using Twitter were also most interested in increasing traffic. Driving traffic by linking to marketing Webpages was the most common activity on the microblogging site, followed by driving sales by linking to promotional pages. But again, the most effective tactics were different.

B2C marketers had the most success with monitoring Twitter for PR problems (done by one-half of all respondents) and contacting users who posted negative comments about their brand (done by only 22.4% of total respondents). B2B companies also succeeded with brand monitoring, as well as with using Twitter invites for in-person events (the least common tactic of all).

Most of the Twitter tactics don’t surprise me. I personally don’t follow Twitter users who only tweet URLs and use their accounts like RSS feeds. What a waste of a marketing channel. Interspersing meaningful tweets with URLs is more likely to get a click from me, personally.

I’m a PC vs I’m a Mac

Now for some Friday fun.

You know those “I’m a PC” Microsoft Windows 7 (MSFT) TV ads with the cute Asian kid? The ones that make you want a cute Asian kid more than Windows 7? (Zing! haha)

Her name is Kylie Kim and she’s been getting some attention, like from Sony VAIO and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

So you know what that means. Time for a parody!


Biz Idea: Social Media Market Research App

Classic OPTE Project Map of the Internet 2005 Want to see a list of links that will boggle your eyes? Last week, I listed a number of online services that could be used to perform market research. After seeing that list, I wondered:

How about a single online app that helps you do all of that? A social media market research app. Here’s what I think such an app could offer.

The Dashboard

It could have a dashboard that provides a snapshot of your market, ideally updated in real-time. There could be search results from the blogosphere, forums, Facebook (Groups and Fan Pages), LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Yahoo! Answers (YHOO), and other social media sites. Perhaps this information could be displayed through different filters:

  • By relevance
  • By publication date as a stream of news
  • By publication date on a timeline
  • By type of source
  • By source
  • By discussion in a threaded format
  • By tag (more on this later)
  • etc.


My previous post listed a number of services that searched social media sites, allowed you to post questions, displayed search trends, and offered a wealth of company information. I’ll discuss those features first.

Keyword-Based Search Results of Social Media Sites

All of this information could be obtained through APIs and RSS feeds, some from the sources directly, some from the search services I listed. There would have to be some research done to see how real-time updates could be handled, however. Push or pull? Do they ping us or do we have to constantly ping them?

Asking Questions and Retrieving Answers

A mechanism to post questions & messages on forums, mailing lists, and answer boards could be really helpful. It should also harvest any subsequent answers & replies. This would be a tricky technical problem to solve though. Automatically posting on forums and mailing lists could be seen as spam.

Displaying Trend Data

The trend data could be presented in a timeline similar to Google Trends (GOOG) and Dipity, with items such as news articles, company events, and social media posts aligned with it. There could also be filtering options to control what is displayed. I don’t believe any of the trend tracking services offers APIs, however, so this may require a custom technical solution.

Displaying Rich Company Information

Every time a company is mentioned, it could link to a detailed company page that fetches financial & stock data from Yahoo! Finance and places it alongside rich information from sites like LinkedIn, Jigsaw, Crunchbase, etc. In the case of the paid service Jigsaw, they won’t have any APIs. But perhaps a partnership could be brokered.

Additional Features

In addition to the four features above, there are other cool things this app could do. A neat feature could be a Google (GOOG) map with real-time updates, a la DailyBooth or HashParty’s reach map. Each time a new piece of content is published, it could appear right away.

Another could be related keywords, similar to those seen on search engine results pages. I wonder if any search engines offer up related keywords in their web services.

This could also be a really useful feature: How about the ability to tag, rank, and annotate any piece of content the app finds? This is how you could maintain order when deluged with content. Filtering options could include tagged items as well, like displaying only the events tagged with “positive news” or “negative news” on the timeline. Ranking a piece of content could be a way to prioritize its visibility and/or subjective relevance to your research. Perhaps items could be flagged so customer service or public relations representatives can respond right away. And it’s always helpful to take notes against important pieces of content.


The technical challenges are tricky. They are not impossible, but it would take a sharp technical team to think through these issues, such as:

  • How do we fetch the appropriate data reliably and quickly?
  • How do we deal with content that requires authentication?
  • How do we post on mailing lists and forums without triggering spam filters?
  • How do we get, display, and/or build trend data?
  • How do we attach metadata to each piece of content we’ve fetched?
  • How do we display the updates in real-time?
  • How do we design an easy-to-use user interface that allows non-technical business owners to use this app?
  • etc.

I’m sure there are a lot of social media consultancies that offer market research services. But as competitors, service firms rarely hold up to self-service packages. In such situations, self service firms tend to focus on the high-end of a market and offer highly specialized & customized services at premium prices. Going for low-end customers puts their profit margins at risk. Meanwhile, self-service packages like this app can afford to focus on the low-end as a cost-effective solution for them, while still maintaining fair profit margins. And who knows, maybe social media consultancies could become customers of this app.

There might even be such an app in existence already, though I haven’t heard of one. If you have, please let me know.

What do you think?

Photo by: curiouslee