Leveling the Education playing field

Leveling the Education playing field

How can Education Tech brands succeed during Back-to-School and beyond?

2020 saw the acceleration and adoption of Education Tech at rates never seen before. As schools across the USA closed due to COVID, students, teachers, and parents all had to find ways to adapt and online learning became essential.

The adoption of online education tech products was significant and is likely to have made a lasting impression on students, parents and teachers alike. Between January 2020 to May 2021 education app downloads in the USA reached 552 million, a +30% increase from 2019 (AppAnnie). Likewise, revenue generated from education apps in the same period rose to $692.3 million, +53% from 2019 (AppAnnie).

The growth of e-learning in the USA is projected to grow by $21.64 billion dollars between 2020 and 2024. Funding is pouring into the sector as investors look to capitalize on growth. In 2020, U.S. Education Technology startups raised over $2.2 billion in venture and private equity capital across 130 deals, representing a +30% increase from 2019, 43% of EdTech companies based in the USA, (1385 vs India in 2nd place at 375 companies).

Fast-forward to 2021 and Education Tech providers are continuing to vie for online eyeballs as students, teachers, and parents plan to return to the classroom. Ongoing uncertainty naturally makes planning for a return difficult, and a hybrid model of in-person and online learning is likely to emerge as the new academic year begins. For EdTech providers, the Back-to-School period in 2021 requires significant planning and to ensures the historic opportunity to reach new customers is not missed.

Education Tech Growth drivers

Kindergarten to 12th grade

Over the next three years, the K-12 segment will be a growth driver in EdTech. According to the 2020 digital transition survey, US K12 schools spent nearly $35 bn in 2020 transforming online learning through; investing in software systems, digital curriculum resources, and online networks. The report highlights that 87% of schools and districts now issue individual students a personal computing device making it easier for students to adopt e-learning.

Adult learners

Upskilling adults in the post-pandemic economy is also a key opportunity. A recent survey found that 50%+ of Americans aged under 40 believe they will need to acquire skills to advance their careers. Of those who are looking to upskill, 84% are looking to do so within three years’ time.

Online Degrees

Even prior to COVID, the US was the largest online degree market, with 3 million students working towards higher education fully online, representing a $20 billion market in 2019. Pure online-only students made up 15% of the total of higher education enrollment in the USA.

Behavioral Change

Technology is likely to be routinely combined with traditional resources and teaching methods in the future. According to the Promethean U.S. State of Technology 2020-2021 Report, 82% of all respondents selected “technology use will be routinely combined with traditional resources and teaching methods” as the most likely trend we will see over the next ten years. Additionally, 63% of respondents stated remote learning, 54% stated virtual learning and 50% highlighted online content and resources as the biggest growth they see in U.S education over the next three years.

Importantly, students seem to like online learning. The Best Colleges’ seventh annual Online Education Trends Report, 2021, a survey conducted in fall 2020 across 366 school administrators and 1800 students found that:

  • 74% of students overall thought that online learning was better than or equal to on-campus learning; 64% of remote learners felt this way, too.
  • 93% of students overall said they have had or expect a positive return on their online education investment.
  • 48% of online and remote students were motivated by career and employment goals to enroll in online programs.
  • 95% of students overall, and 83% of remote learners, said they would recommend online or remote learning to others.

Planning Performance Marketing

M&C Saatchi Performance are currently working with Education Tech clients such as Quizlet, a leading e-learning provider in the USA on their performance marketing campaigns. New user acquisition and other objectives are top of mind during this key period and below are some suggested tactics for Education Tech providers to consider.

Target audiences:

The education sector has three well-defined audiences in the US; pupils, parents, and teachers. Adoption of online education products across all three groups is high, for example;

  • 7.5 million students (aged 16+) in U.S used an education app/website in the last month.
  • 2.6 million teachers in U.S used an education app/website in the last month.
  • 13.4 million parents in U.S with kids aged 6-16 who used an education app/website in the last month.

(Source: GWI, Q1 2021, U.S)

Each audience requires detailed media planning to account for unique needs, behavior, channel preference etc. However, all with similar aims in mind, educational success. Our hypothesis is that building trust in the education provider is essential to ensuring audiences keep coming back for more.

Channel mix

Reaching such varied audiences requires a diverse channel mix. Potential channels to consider are; OTT, social, audio, influencers and search to reach audiences. The diverse mix of channels enables full funnel activation across the audience base at different stages of their journey.

Influencers and streaming

Reaching students in channels such as Twitch and Facebook Gaming with Influencers is key to leveraging voices students trust to deliver engagement. For example, testing live experiences to create conversations with the brand will enable participation between brands and students.

High impact via OTT

OTT offers significant benefits and is increasingly being used across client campaigns. With Back-to-School this channel enables high impact placements and a brand uplift study to measure effect.


The growth in podcast popularity and ad formats offers new tactics to reach and engage audiences in an intimate setting. New measurement capabilities to track web and app conversions are now available and offer additional test & learn opportunities. Further audio opportunities worth considering are radio. Often dismissed as old-fashioned, radio is interesting for inclusion in Back-to-School campaigns because it provides the opportunity to reach audiences at scale during key time periods.

Search & Social

Google AdWords data for the U.S market shows substantial increases in education relevant keywords. For example, ‘communication courses for professionals’ shows a +31% increase in searches in Q1 2021 (versus Q4 2020) and a +12% increase in searches for ‘best executive MBA program’s’ in Q1 2021 (versus Q4 2020). Search data highlights the increased interest among working professionals to upskill and current education search trends are continuing to rise heading into the latter half of 2021.

Social channels, such as TikTok, Snap, YouTube, Instagram offer high visibility where audiences are spending time, while Reddit provides an opportunity for engaging in relevant conversations with all target audiences.

Digital Out of Home

To complement the acquisition strategy, branding investment across DOOH to saturate key college campuses will reinforce brand awareness during the return to college timeframe.

43% of Education Tech companies are based in the USA


  • Diversifying the media mix is an essential way to future-proof performance marketing strategy as privacy regulations and tracking changes continue to roll out. With iOS 14, significant drops in attributable installs and paid CPI rising is a new reality. Many brands are looking at blended CAC to understand if organic installs pick up volume and also invest more across web and OTT where unified identifiers are more readily available.
  • Subscriptions offering free trial drove 70% of the total revenue in 2020 (According to Qonversion mobile subscription benchmark study) this means it is key to test and measure the success of different promotions as well as length of trial. Using retention data from mobile measurement platforms can help improve your media mix as a point of optimization.
  • Essential to success is effective analytics software to enable attribution, segmentation, and providing a real-time view of Customer Acquisition Costs.
  • Always on, or evergreen campaigns are likely to play a significant role in this new world of hybrid learning. Can Education Tech brands really afford to ever be offline if they need to continually battle for the eyeballs of students, parents, and teachers? Being visible at the moment of intent eg in App Stores is likely to pay off.
  • Finally, building trust will be vital to success for Education Tech brands. Students will be relying on products and services they trust to help them through the stress of study and exam periods, especially when uncertainty remains high.
  • As well as performance planning and buying M&C Saatchi Performance offers strategic insight and planning services. Please contact us to find out more.