Why edtech companies are rewriting their brand story

The brand is a powerful tool that companies need to embrace, writes Roj Whitelock from Jacob Bailey Group

By Roj Whitelock, Executive Creative Director, Jacob Bailey Group

We know the education industry is booming, with technology driving the pace of change. But what does it really mean for the children and adults who frequent our institutions?

Not long ago, schools didn’t do digital. Even millennials, the first digital natives, would likely have clustered around a handful of boxy monitors when the bell rang for IT lessons. Tech was new for everyone. Remember the first mobile phones?

How times have changed. If you google our favourite brands today, the biggest names in tech are always sitting in the top results. This is even more common for children. A is for Apple, F is Facebook and S is for Snapchat. Technology dominates their conversation; just as smart devices line their pockets.

That schools are embracing this new world order is exciting. The rate of innovation – and lucrativeness – in technology is unparalleled by most other industries. Education, in complete contrast, is traditionally slow to move with the times. This is down to a number of factors. Staff are time-poor, OFSTED looms, while budgets continue to feel the pinch. This April, teachers in Northern Ireland warned of job losses after cuts to education were proposed; while the National Union of Teachers in England are rallying to fight funding shortages affecting schools. 

Many of these issues exist on a macro level, but education technology brands have an opportunity to abate some of the turmoil. Teachers can benefit from smart, time-saving services; children can learn in a more dynamic, collaborative way that safeguards their futures in a digital world, while parents can have better sight on what their kids are up to inside the school gates.

Edtech brands are often victims of their own hype

The problem is that edtech brands are often victims of their own hype.

There are now more than a thousand edtech companies in the UK. Seeing the opportunity, tech companies are flooding the market. Many of the products and services on offer are certainly valuable, but brands struggle to differentiate, often banging their own drum rather than simplifying the choice for the institutions and decision-makers they are targeting. It was in this environment that we were approached by TeacherCentric.

The power of brand

TeacherCentric is the brains behind Show My Homework, a well-known product that centralises and streamlines the homework process for teachers, students and their parents. The product was tight and performing well; but being famous for one core brand limited the ambitions of its holding company.

As opportunities in schools and universities proliferate, edtech companies should seek to grow their offerings. But TeacherCentric needed to protect its original offering, which is popular nationwide. How to safeguard this one product, while moving onto bigger things? How to then enforce this in a saturated marketplace?

Enter the power of brand.

We worked with TeacherCentric to design a new umbrella brand into which Show My Homework would neatly fit, and support the transition at scale. 

First up in the branding process is investigation: where does TeacherCentric sit amongst its category peers? Where would the company like to be in years to come? While born from one success story, the new brand needed to allow for that narrative to continually evolve.

Within its category, it’s obvious what Show My Homework does. It makes homework more accessible and manageable. How? Via easy-to-use technology. But to create truly brilliant experiences that generate long-term connections with people, there has to be a deeper meaning. There needs to be a why.

Diving deeper into the everyday environment helped answer this question. Show My Homework is used by teachers, students and parents, all of whom will remain the core audience as the offering grows. It was crucial to work out what makes these people tick on an individual level, what keeps them up at night, while forming links across the board.

People lack time. We know teachers are time-poor; but mum and dad also struggle to balance their jobs with parenting, while children’s time could be better spent on learning and creative play than populating homework sheets or chasing for marking

Via focus groups and workshops, one insight became crystal clear: people lack time. We know teachers are time-poor; but mum and dad also struggle to balance their jobs with parenting, while children’s time could be better spent on learning and creative play than populating homework sheets or chasing for marking. By being totally focused on its users and seeking to make life easier, TeacherCentric frees up time for people to develop and become the best they can be.

With the purpose defined, the brand needed a name that would embody structure, orderliness and reliability, while symbolising growth and potential. Focus groups and naming exercises with the TeacherCentric team created a platform for ideas to flourish, which were honed against prior research and audience insights. Evocative, nostalgic, yet familiar to all ages, Satchel ticked the box.

For those outside the marketing industry, branding often fails to make its way onto the agenda. Too many businesses just think it’s jargon or simply a logo. Edtech companies need to seek out marketers that not only understand but seek to educate. It’s an important lesson that will pay dividends.