The Rants – Marketing Buzz and ..

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I was enjoying my day. The sea of Cortez appeared to sparkle as boats moved across her calmness. Then, it happened.  A hurricane? No.  A cruise ship allowing their customers to hurl bottles into the sea? No.  A press release from an LMS vendor that stated something not so accurate, but accurate enough.

I admit I am hedging here trying the best way to say “yes, while parts of it is true, other parts are misleading,” because, it gives an impression of something – that anyone would think it.

Course Marketplace as “System includes and or offers content”

This is in relation towards learning system vendors, especially in the LMS, learning platform space and not so much LEPs (although some could do a better job at stating it in clarity). 

What irked my brain on a recent press release was that the vendor announced they would have over 12,000 courses from Linkedin Learning (it is the courses/content) in their (the vendor’s) system. 

It is meant to grab attention. What it doesn’t say, is that you still have to buy whatever course or courses you want (through the offering of over 12,000 courses) within the vendor’s course/content marketplace – as part of their LMS. 

Access only means access, it doesn’t mean free access.

Here’s the rub.  It would be easy to say in the press release that thru this partnership customers have access to over 12,000 courses which they can BUY in the system, thus saving them time to locate the right content, blah blah.     I think anyone who read the above statement, would then recognize that the content/courses from this partnership  is not 100% free to them.   

But by refraining from the BUY or you need to purchase separately aspect (albeit within the system), it implies something else.  And that is what the vendor is going for.  Vendors are acutely aware of the difference between free and paid content. 

If it is free – by the way – then say it – “you have access to over 12,000 courses for free, when you buy WidgetLMS.” – A consumer will know the difference  – i.e. free = no cost. 

Now back to the rant.

I should add, that there are other vendors who pull the same storyline, just stated differently when they mention their course marketplace/content in the system.

One vendor refers to it as a learning engagement platform within their LMS.  No. It is a course marketplace with various course partners, whereas some of it is free via free content providers such as TED, etc., and others require you buying the seats for the courses/content. 

Instead of pitching the benefits and value, the angle with the thousands of this and that without clarification, is that you get the entire buffet for free, wink, wink.

When I state this to vendors who play this marketing spin, I usually get the line, “consumers know the difference or know it isn’t free.”  I say bullturd. 

I have no problem with marketing, target marketing, messaging, etc. via vendors, in fact, I offer that as a service to my vendor clients, but what I always stress is about showing the benefits and value and avoid any misleading or appearance of misleading statements.  You can do the former and people will still buy the product, because the content is an added benefit. 

For example, eLogic includes content/courses with their LMS, as part of purchasing the system. Different packages are based on the number of courses/content.  SumTotal Learn includes 80 Skillsoft courses when you buy their system.   These are just two examples, and their are plenty of others out there, but it provides you with variance.

We are not hiding, like other vendors

This is another line of hogwash that vendors who say it, either really believe it or for right now it works for them.  I see this with vendors who do the ala carte items with per item cost, say the system doesn’t come with an LRS, but you can add it for X dollars (the vendor has the LRS, they just do not include it as a feature).  Or if the vendor offers say a base price and then an enterprise or whatever spin they use price for everyhing.  The base package gets you this, but if you want This – it is an extra cost, whereas if you buy the premium for example, everything is included.

When you ask why not just sell one version with everything in it, and enable folks to turn on/off what they don’t want,  the phrase listed earlier is often deployed, as though by doing this, the vendor is going to save you extra money, whereas otherwise it would be just too much for some folks.

Here’s the rub.   Seat pricing is arbitrary.  There is no magic formula here.  I once heard that phrase from a vendor, who used it when noting they had to charge extra for support, to offset their support costs.  When I asked if they calculate the office space fee for their support staff within their seat fee.

Silence.  When I asked if he could find out, he said he would.  I’m still waiting for a response.  It’s been nearly two years.  (Ok, I’m not waiting anymore)

If a vendor can get away with charging you $80 a seat, there are plenty of vendors who will, just as many who go $50 a seat and by the next day, have dropped it to $8 a seat, and they are still making money off you.  So drop offset the cost so we have to charge you angle, because there are two things that anyone in any type of business knows:

a. In R&D, you will at times have to eat the cost.  The goal is to develop or add functionality, etc. to entice someone to buy your product.  To differentiate yourself from the competition.  Your end game is to increase your customer base which in turns increases your sales.  R&D is baked into your business operations. 

This is why some vendors outsource to lower the cost of building their system.  I’m totally fine with that. There is a lot of amazing talent out there in the world, and if you can save some costs by going that route, I’ll say, go for it.

b. Your job – i.e. vendor – is to land new clients not just today, this week, his month, but this year, next year and so forth.  You constantly have to enhance, tweak, expand and etc. – Again it is the cost of doing business.  Want to save costs, do nothing.  Trust me, you will still find folks who select your system (I’ve seen systems that appear from 1999 and they have some big name consumer clients).     But you will not win in the long run, which is what this is all about.  New CLIENTS.   New business. New revenue and more revenue. 

Micro-learning Platform

Ugh. This statement is irriating in one way.  First off, let us clear this up once and for all, you, me, my dog if he knew how to type, could have created a micro-learning course back in 1998 for online learning.  And every system as early as 1999-2000, could accept and the courses would work in their system.  Because it had and still has ZERO do with the learning system, rather it is you or whomever is building the course to either put in the system or build within the system’s authoring tool or whatever. 

But there are so many vendors out there who want to tell you that they are not an LMS or a learning system, rather they are a “Micro learning platform”  (many folks forget to use the hyphen).  

Again, if you say as part of your messaging that your LMS/LEP/Learning platform allows or accepts micro-learning, totally fine with it.   But to pitch as though their something so unique because of “micro-learning” is a farce.   I would love to know from those vendors who say that their system is (i.e. they call it as such) a micro-learning platform, whether or not their system can accept and will work with courses that are longer than say five or 10 minutes?  Because if they can, then you are like any other learning system.  On top of that, what do you define as micro?  Is it three minutes?  Five? 10?  Oh, one more thing.

The power and value of online learning is that you can spend as much or as little as you want on any piece of content, and that learning is based on my learning speed and learning style (i.e. it may take me longer to learn this or that).  So, you can say, five minute courses, but it may take me 40 minutes.  So, it is still a micro-learning platform?

The time factor is directly tied to way we learned growing up in a classroom. Class was 50 minutes long for example. 

You ILT seminar is two hours.  But WBT was never designed to work that way.  It wasn’t created for linear learning online, nor for compliance training only, let alone compliance to begin with.   You as the learner is the driver, not the instructor a huge difference.   

So while people like to know how long a course will take, because it has been pushed into our brains for such a time, we as the experts – i.e. all of us in this grand e-learning world, need to change the message.  Vendors can start it, but each and every one of you folks who runs training, HR or L&D are the ones who need to take that mantle and run with it.   Until then, the time factor will play a huge role and one that is a big minus.

Not just for vendors who tout their systems as Micro-Learning platforms, but also for those who want to show the value of e-learning.

Skill gap analysis

Without saying it, every system offers it.  I mean one of the early benefits of an LMS, was being able to see what your employees/customers knew and did not know and how to counter it, by adding new courses, etc.   That is in its simplest forms, skill gap analysis. 

Equally, having a course with a TOC (table of contents), whereas the learner can bounce around (non-linear learning) and focus on certain chapters, pages, etc.  If Steve is constantly going to “cleaning of widgets” chapter, and nothing else, then I know Steve needs/wants to learn more and thus as someone running training, I need to ask myself, is it just Steve or is this across the board (for the latter, I would see what others either in his department/job role – if an employee)?  

If it is just Steve – can we build a course, to expand that knowledge?  What else can we do?  If Steve is a customer, then – and since B2B/B2C is often a revenue generator, I’d look to see if others are doing the same thing – if yes, a new course is on its way.  

Oh before I forget, I am continued to be surprised by the number of folks in L&D and HR who oversees training or L&D, who fail to do a skill gap analysis as part of their duties as someone leading those areas. 

Every company I ever went to, the first thing I did was conduct a skil gap analysis (employees) and even a gap analysis for B2B/B2C.   This is a very smart thing to do, regardless of you are only ILT, a blended fan or going full e-learning.  It is easier to know what to build, if you know your audience a bit more than just departments, job roles and names.    

As anyone who builds courses is aware, knowing who the course it targeted for, beyond just the job role or customer for example, goes a long way.  I am going to create a different course for folks with a HS education, than one for folks who have a Ph.D. in biochemistry.  

The point of it all, is that you can’t achieve success with any type of system and with any type of content, unless you have some initial data that a skill gap or a gap analysis can provide.   Plus one vendor told me, that none of his customers  (training, L&D, HR) has ever conducted a skill gap or gap analysis and thus this is one of the reasons they love their – vendor’s system.

Bottom Line

This editon of marketing rants is brought to you by the Sea of Cortez.  Due to a recent partnership with the Fish-in-the-sea company, each of you have access to thousands of different types of fish in sea of Cortez*.

*You have to buy your own equipment, rent/buy a boat with a captain – ask for Mark – who knows the sea or try it alone and good luck, have the right fishing items, and then try to catch the fish. We think it will cost you a fortune, but hey it’s available and did we mention you have access to thousands of different fish?

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  1. Hey Craig really interesting piece thank you so much !

    Debate about the pricing seat and how much you should charge/pay for it is in my opinion more about the value your bring than your actual cost be it people, R&D, office spaces and what not. Ultimate question is : do you bring more value than your buying cost. Of course there’s some perception bias here but that’s the ultimate question.

    As for content “included” I’m so glad to read that. From the very beginning at Coorpacademy we’ve been fighting to establish a “Spotify like” mode in which all of the content in included in the subscription with no extra cost whatever people consumes. That’s a bit harder to create at first with your content editor partners than a classic marketplace approach but once that works you get so much more value for everybody : learners, content partners, L&D clients etc. And you can actually focus on driving usage and engagement and not having to face a client asking “and if people consumes tons of courses how much is it going to cost me”. You get that out of the equation and everybody is working on maximizing impact !

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