Ahead of the class

Looking for a way to differentiate your brand from the competition, position it as a category expert and provide a customer value-add? Marketers south of the border are finding that e-learning courses are a great way to

Looking for a way to differentiate your brand from the competition, position it as a category expert and provide a customer value-add? Marketers south of the border are finding that e-learning courses are a great way to

do just that, particularly when it comes to B2B categories.

New York-based e-learning software company ScribeStudio launched a

user-friendly e-learning platform in early 2005, positioning it primarily as an employee-training tool. The company’s SVP marketing Peter Cervieri was taken aback when many of his clients began using his software as part of their marketing arsenal.

‘I wouldn’t have guessed that this would be used as a marketing tool – you throw someone a piece of clay, it’s amazing to see what they do with it,’ he says, adding that clients report customers like the non-invasive nature of online courses. ‘Marketers are finding low-pressure marketing tactics more effective.’

‘We decided it was hard to cold call for new clients,’ says ScribeStudio client Kevin Greene, CEO of Santa Monica, Calif.-based training and consulting company ibreakthrough. ‘The idea of education-based marketing seemed like a natural step.’

One of ibreakthrough’s first e-learning applications early this year was a

one-hour online course on how to hire top-notch employees, which they promoted with an e-mail blast.

The response was so great – thanks in large part to the word-of-mouth buzz the course generated – ibreakthrough had to stop offering it because it exceeded the capacity they were prepared for. Greene says having a flashy Web site is no longer enough in today’s tech-savvy market, since everybody has one: ‘[E-learning] helps us differentiate from the pack.’

The tool can also effectively market complex products. Kirkland, Wash.-based ultrasound equipment company Blue Phantom has found that offering online courses on how to use its complicated equipment gives it a big advantage over the competition, says CEO Brian Keegan, adding that this distinction helps position Blue Phantom as an expert in its field.

ScribeStudio employs a pay-as-you-go plan, with a monthly subscription rate that fluctuates depending on how many users are taking your online course. ‘Our prices grow with you,’ says Cervieri, adding that monthly rates can start as low as $29 for the first month and go up from there.

The pay-as-you-go plan makes the software accessible for small and medium businesses. Greene says even one-person operations can take advantage of it and outlines a potential marketing application: A financial advisor in Edmonton could offer an online course on how to plan for retirement to attract more clients. ‘It’s a cost-effective way to put them in a class by themselves…and really add to their credibility,’ he says.