6 Paths for Leading Your Education Business to Blue Ocean, Part V

BY Jeff Cobb

Blue Ocean Photo

Do you believe your members and customers buy your educational offerings because of their strong “functional” appeal – i.e., they fulfill a clear need at a reasonable price?

Or do they buy them for more emotional “reasons” – e.g., for the prestige associated with your brand, or the feeling of accomplishment that comes from earning one of your certificates?

Think about that for a moment, and then read on.


We tend to lean pretty clearly in one direction or the other – functional or. emotional – in marketing our offerings, but as Kim and Maubourgne argue in Blue Ocean Strategy,

the appeal of most products or services is rarely intrinsically one or the other. Rather it is usually a result of the way companies have competed in the past, which has unconsciously educated consumers on what to expect.

If we tune into the functional-emotional orientation of our market, then we may be in a position to carve out a new space by going against the established orientation.

In my experience, the market for continuing education and professional development has developed in a highly functional orientation over time. Price – member pricing, early bird pricing, bundled pricing – has become the major factor in many segments of the market. Convenience is usually a close second. In areas where continuing education credit is a important, education often devolves to commodity status as organizations compete to provide the cheapest, most convenient CE (CPE, CLE, CME, etc.)

And, of course, this is what customers come to expect. As Kim and Mauborgne put it:

No wonder market research rarely reveals new insights into what attracts customers. Industries have trained customers in what to expect. When surveyed, they echo back: more of the same for less.

If this is the kind of feedback you are hearing, a shift in orientation may be just what you need to breath new life into your strategy. Consider, for example, what Jason Blumer has managed to do with the coaching he offers through his CPA firm and the Thriveal Network.

Sales of Jason’s online coaching courses are driven much more by the energy and sense of community he has fostered over time than the typical “Check the compliance box” CPE sale. In fact, Jason doesn’t even offer CPE credit. Nonetheless, learners line up to pay $4,795 for the live course and $1,200 for the self study. Sure, it’s top notch, highly functional content, but you can bet that it’s the emotional connection to Jason and his unique perspective that is driving those sales.

So, give it some thought: what might you do to shift your orientation? (The reverse direction works too, of course – i.e., from emotional to functional – I find you don’t tend to see as much of a need for that in continuing education markets.)

If you already have tried or are planning a shift, please comment and share your story. And stay tuned for the final installment of 6 Paths for Leading Your Education Business to Blue Ocean.


P.S. – Here are links to all six parts of this series:

Also, if you are interested in how concepts like Blue Ocean Strategy apply to your lifelong learning business, there is no better source than Leading Learning, the e-newsletter and community for professionals in the business of lifelong learning. Use the form below to sign up today and get the latest issue along with a number of other goodies.

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Ref: Kim, W. Chan; Renee Mauborgne (2004-12-16). Blue Ocean Strategy: How To Create Uncontested Market Space And Make The Competition Irrelevant (p. 70). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

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