Commentary

What Marketers Can Learn From College-Matching Platform Naviance

High school seniors everywhere just marked a climactic day: May 1, College Decision Day. This year’s application process was no less stressful, thanks in no small part to this spring’s college admissions scandal. However, for more than 40% of students, the process was perhaps a touch easier, thanks to a platform called Naviance. Just like there’s Uber for transportation, Airbnb for lodging and Tinder for dating, now there’s a platform for matching students with the right college.

A portmanteau of “navigation” and “guidance,” Naviance is owned by the same company that operates the Daily Mail tabloid in the U.K. It It boasts access to 40% of U.S. high school students at nearly 13,000 schools. It’s a software as a service (SaaS) company that targets school districts, rather than individual students. It offers a broad range of services for students from middle school through college, most of them of the “strength finder” variety, aiming to identify student interests and passions, and then prescribe a lesson plan allowing them to pursue those interests and maximize those skills.

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But arguably the feature of greatest interest to high schoolers is the “scattergram” showing how their GPA and standardized test scores compare to those of previous graduates of their school, and whether they got accepted to or rejected from various colleges. All of the data is self-reported and anonymized, and high schools can set a minimum reportable sample for each college in order to ensure student privacy. These scores give students a sense of whether they can get into a college of interest to them, and whether it’s realistically a “safety” or “reach” school, based on prior applicants from their district.

Some worry that these scattergrams might artificially limit student ambition. Still, Naviance is empowering high school students and their parents with a lot of useful information that was previously only available to college counselors, and helping level the playing field for those who can’t afford expensive private counselors.

What can marketers learn from Naviance and the students who use it?

*Consumers need help matching and sorting. In a long-tail world, consumers are overwhelmed by the number of choices facing them in virtually any product or service category, and value an app or platform that helps them make the best choice. What other tough choices can you help consumers make, from picking a doctor to choosing the right vacation destination to figuring out what TV show to stream?

*There’s still potential in EdTech. The education technology sector isn’t exploding, but it’s not shrinking, either. Last year, EdTech companies raised $1.45 billion, matching 2015’s record high, though with continued declines in deal volume. The sector has its challenges, from figuring out the addressable market (school districts, teachers, students or parents) to safeguarding student privacy to trying to monetize services that are often free. But Naviance is succeeding by selling a SaaS solution to school districts, with a feature that many students and parents consider essential. How can your brand help students harness technology to achieve more, with less stress?

*There’s power in scaling “secrets.” Naviance succeeds by democratizing information previously held only by gatekeepers. Similarly, financial institutions are unleashing “robo-advisors” for their mass-market investors, who can’t afford the advice of a live human. What are the secrets of your industry that are costly and time-consuming to share on an individual basis, and how can you use technology to scale your delivery of those secrets to a mass audience online?

Naviance is the latest to demonstrate that the company that owns the platform owns the industry. Today, if your brand isn’t developing the platform for its industry, it’s probably “getting owned.”
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