At the start of 2018 I drafted an article entitled ‘Education is the new business development’.
It sat in my draft posts folder for way too long. I never published it. Looking back, I realized it was worth resurfacing. Here’s a taster of what I put together:
Media publishers can no longer rely on display ads, and a brand are less interested in just the media buy.
As a B2B sales software startup you can spend months trying to explain the benefits of your offering succinctly, let alone closing a deal.
If you’re tasked with heading up innovative ideas in a large company, a significant part of your workload is putting together information for internal teams to understand just what you’re up to and why they should care.
The disciplines of sales, business development and product marketing are going to be become more closely connected, and the glue between them, particularly for companies offering more complex products and services, will be education.
You may be thinking this idea has been around a while, that it’s nothing new. You’re right.
The best sales people have long known that educating and building trust with prospects is key.
What’s different when it comes to this more closely connected triumvirate of B2B sales, business development and marketing is the education component moving further into foreground and more specifically, this education is going to come about more and more through experiences.
In advertising they call it ‘native’, but in this new model there’s a bigger opportunity for a company’s product, data and expertise to be deeply embedded to a degree that doesn’t feel…well, yucky.
These new experiential education programs will seamlessly shift from internal to external facing and back again – whether working with outside sales (and to a lesser degree inside sales), or with influencers and buyers.
So what does this new model look like?
Experiences at the center
We’ve already seen conferences evolve into festivals (in name at least), whether the subject is makeup, bicycles, coffee or careers. The live experience will continue to be at the centre but manifesting in more ways than before.
Companies utilize their undercover experts
Media companies can leverage journalists, tech companies can utilize their engineers. In a time where millennials are seemingly switching jobs ever more rapidly, companies are figuring out how to get the maximum value from their employees.
Training company as conduit
Training and education companies are being hired by their clients as conduits to help sell to that client’s own customers.
The result: a media company will offer their B2B customers a conference, with a more intimate workshop series, a consulting package, some newly licensable assets and IP, and of course a media spend opportunity. They’ll create courses for direct sale B2C, and also take those unpacked expertise from their team to level up new hires and share information across the organization.
I stand by the majority of that unpublished draft. However, I made two big mistakes: the scale is far, far greater; and it'll go way beyond business development. Here's how.
Teacher can be (more than) the new DJs
Back in 2018 I wrote (and published!) a piece called ‘Teachers are the new DJs’.
This article posited that a parallel is emerging between the skills, tribes and culture DJs brought to the table in the music & entertainment world and new forms of learning, particularly those powered by the internet.
Since publishing that post I’ve noticed an additional similarity; the new breed of teachers are to education what DJs were to music.
Here are a few of the commonalities:
- Less likely to have formal training, especially as they get started
- Learn by doing
- Remix and reimagine existing content
- Closely collaborate in tribes
- Take risks
- Experiment with new technologies, spaces and places
Over time they will also:
- Take on formalized training later in their career rather than at the beginning (in line with the concept of lifelong learning of course – very meta)
- Branch out into partnerships with traditional professionals in the field, and create new genres and styles that didn’t previously exist
And like the emergence of DJs in the 80s and 90s, they’ll be questioned by the existing establishment, shunned as being novelty or inauthentic, and forced to take a less traveled and less glamorous path until they’re eventually accepted and celebrated.
Note: hiphop has followed a similar trajectory, with a few waves of highs and lows, before its most recent surge into the mainstream via the power of services like Soundcloud and Spotify.
As Mark Twain (apparently) said:
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme”
To take this idea a step further, David Perell suggested that teachers will be the new celebrities:
“The line between learning and entertainment will blur. Learning demands emotion and energy. The best professors will be inspiring, entertaining, and personality-driven. They’ll establish emotional connections with students, at scale.
Leveraged by technology, individual professors will transcend their universities. They’ll create distinguished, one-of-a-kind personal brands, fueled by intense fandom. They’ll speak with chromatic energy, they’ll prize simplicity, not complexity, and they’ll be prolific, polarizing, and personal.
The best teachers will become celebrities.”
And as you probably know, there are plenty of DJs who have become celebrities.
Perell also talks about ‘Naked Brands’:
“In the words of Marshall McLuhan: “we drive towards the future using only our rear-view mirror.” Today we’re moving towards an immersive and interconnected world, our lives awash with digital technology. History predicts an impending shift. The Internet will spawn new brand archetypes, powered by social media influencers who are mere clicks away at all times. Social media mavens Logan Paul, Casey Neistat and Emily Weiss hint at a changing of the guard — the rise of Naked Brands.
Naked Brands are transparent. They are founded by social media influencers, and prize ongoing communication with fans. Their brands are defined not by symbols, logos, or television advertisements, but by the authenticity of their personalities.”
Add all this together, along with the traditional education system’s much-discussed challenges (particularly at college/university level), and there’s potential for:
- Companies to utilize education to drive value creation
- Existing teachers to start realizing their value in new ways
- Incredible new teachers to emerge and develop
- New delivery and distribution methods to appear
A number of opportunities are opening up from these shifts:
Existing teachers will leverage their expertise through short-form and bitesize material. This is already a noticeable trend in China with university professors seeing hundreds of thousands of subscribers paying for their educational podcasts (although it remains to be seen if it can crossover into other markets).
The role of established, trusted, certified teachers within other alternative education offerings will also be interesting to observe.
Just as there was an increase in Customer Success roles as consumer standards and expectations rose in direct to consumer product, SaaS and other areas, new education players both large and small will need to build in more structured and sophisticated measurement and evaluation methods to ensure curriculums are well-built, learning objectives met, and students get what they came for.
Another area of growth is in the next step in personalized learning. For example, if a teacher is using an analogy, metaphor or image to describe a concept, what if students were automatically provided with specific content relevant to them.
The teacher is using a 90s movie analogy, but you don’t like movies much? Well, we know you like sports, so here’s a Premier League Soccer analogy that makes the same point but using a method of delivery that resonates more deeply with you.
And a third opportunity is for companies to create and distribute their own premium content, delivered by their in-house talent, and/or alongside VIP practitioners. The best of this will blend education and entertainment (‘Edutainment’); bringing in narrative, story arcs, cultural content, well-known faces, high production levels, CGI – the sky’s the limit.These brands will likely deliver most of this content online, but the most trusted, vaunted and maybe even naked brands could create their own physical schools too.
This area is potentially massive, especially as lifelong learning is now becoming not only mission critical but also a lifestyle choice.
A couple of other examples that are a notch or two off this specific path but also hint at the shape of things to come are Seth Godin’s AltMBA and LeBron James’ ‘I Promise’ school in Akron, Ohio.
(note: This post is focused mainly on adult education and commercial opportunities. A lot of the examples and trends I cite here certainly also apply to children’s education. However there are of course lots of kid-specific innovations happening as well – but that’s the subject for another post!)
A new job in the world of edutainment
I believe the emergence of this hybrid ‘edutainment’ model has a long way to run.
To truly capitalize on these new areas of opportunity, particularly in the area of unpacking and reimagining IP, companies will need to partner with a new kind of hybrid talent.
These people will be able to:
- guide, train and coach their people to become compelling and energetic educators
- be able to navigate a company’s internal mechanics, and identify and tease out valuable ideas, insights, expertise and wisdom
- co-create and design curriculum & content with enough substance to deliver on well-defined learning objectives, and enough style to inspire, delight and hold an audience’s attention
- possess the business and product nous to build and commercialize these new offerings; whether delivered internally, to consumers, to corporations, or distributed via partnerships with schools and non profits
- look well past the workshop, and craft live experiences as part of these initiatives that end up looking more like retreats or even immersive theatre
They’ll need the rigor of a product manager; a coach’s ability to notice and nurture; the flair and storytelling skill of a creative director; and of course a teacher’s patience, pacing and ability to align to key learning objectives in a well sculpted curriculum.
Not an easy combination to find, but as the Edutainment business grows, this hybrid is going to be the lynchpin.
Their backgrounds will be varied and eclectic: someone I met recently who’s doing this kind of work has a resume spanning film & TV production, traveling to volunteer on international education projects, project management in a design agency, and doing improv classes on the side.
Another has a Chemistry PhD, worked in academia, got involved in ramping up the commercials of a growth startup, and is a pretty handy full-stack developer to boot.
Meanwhile, I spent the first quarter of my career so far in the advertising industry, the two middle quartiles in entertainment, and the most recent around new forms of education and learning.
A non-linear career trajectory isn’t essential to work here, but it probably helps.
Where we’re at
Here's where we're currently shaking out.
- Education is the new Business Development (and then some)
- Teachers are the new DJs – they may even be the next celebrities
- There are some huge opportunities for companies around this shift, particularly those with valuable IP, expertise and brand equity
- A new hybrid job role is emerging to support companies make the most of this evolution
At Wavetable we're hugely excited about the rise of edutainment
Header image via The New York Times