How Adding a Product-Focused Strategy to its Marketing Mix Has Unlocked Growth at Nerdy

Growth Hacks – Moving the Metric

When Adam Weber joined Nerdy, one of the leading education technology platforms, as its Chief Marketing Officer, he had just left Dollar Shave Club, whose go-to-market strategy was vastly different from Nerdy’s. Nerdy had seen high growth by utilizing a marketing strategy based on capturing customers via search intent, and Adam and his team built out Nerdy’s two-way communication with its customers with a product-forward strategy that offered users free trials of the company’s enrichment programming, such as its expert-led Star Courses. While demand marketing was still very much a part of Nerdy’s marketing playbook, the product-led strategy that Nerdy adopted helped showcase its breadth of enrichment programming and also helped build trust and credibility with users beyond what they may have typed into a search bar. 

Understanding Nerdy’s customer intent was also a key part of the marketing leading up to Nerdy’s IPO. Rather than simply focusing on financial data to present to potential investors, the Nerdy team sought to tell the narrative of Nerdy’s evolution and future growth to help illustrate the compelling data that Nerdy had in its financial statements. 

In this episode of Growth Hacks, Kunal and Katja speak with Adam about how he modified his playbook when moving from a consumer goods company to a technology platform, and evolved Nerdy’s marketing strategy in the process. They also hear from Adam about how Nerdy built enrichment-focused partnerships with parents and schools alike, while alleviating some of the concerns that came with distance learning during the pandemic. We also learn from Adam about how he’s navigating the impact that COVID-19 has had on marketing measurability. 

Key Takeaways:

  • The importance of marketing narrative to build investor trust when taking a company public.

Given the breadth of financial information that must be rolled out when taking a company public, it’s easy to get lost in focusing on data when putting together prospectuses and other documents for potential investors. While financials and growth data are important for investors, Adam quickly saw that telling a compelling narrative of Nerdy’s past and future growth was just as important to late-stage investors as it had been to those who had invested in Nerdy’s previous private rounds of funding. Because Nerdy had such a strong product and a compelling vision for the future, Adam emphasized  making sure that potential investors understood that narrative just as well as they did the company’s financial data. As Adam explains, “Even at this late-stage institutional phase, what makes the company unique, why we’re different, and how we can grow into the future is a fundamental aspect of [our jobs] as marketers.” 

  • Why Adam prioritized understanding customer decision-making when moving from Dollar Shave Club to Nerdy.

Prior to joining Nerdy, Adam was the chief marketing officer at Dollar Shave Club, where the go-to-market was largely focused on reducing friction around decision-making, and bringing customers to the point of purchase decision as quickly as possible. But at Nerdy, customer decision making was largely based on understanding a customer’s specific needs and optimizing the customized solution out of Nerdy’s suite of products. Rather than focusing on top-of-funnel conversion, Adam’s team spent more time on developing two-way communications with potential and existing customers. Doing so helped build trust between Nerdy and its client base, and ensured that the company was delivering maximum value when customers signed up. While it would have been less complicated to focus on quick commitments, Adam says that the time spent understanding customer decision-making was time well-spent. “You have to know the nuance and decision-making for the category you’re in, and make sure that your go-to-market reflects it.”

  • How Nerdy shifted from a demand-driven, search focused marketing strategy to a product-driven go-to-market strategy.

One of Nerdy’s primary drivers of customer acquisition had been around users searching for online learning services. It had prioritized its marketing experiences around understanding that intent and demand, and customizing web experiences around that. But in recent years, the company has focused on a product-driven go-to market, where potential customers can test out free Nerdy programming, such as its Star Courses, where students are able to take enrichment programming from celebrities and top experts across fields such as astronomy, animation, and history. By having prospective clients engage for free in live classes taught by well-known experts, Nerdy’s customers were able to experience the unique experience Nerdy’s platform can deliver, rather than simply learning about a small slice of Nerdy’s product library. Adam didn’t dispense with the search-driven, demand-led marketing efforts; he and his team just expanded the strategy to lead with Nerdy’s product experience. Doing so allowed Nerdy to build trust and expand the two-way communications with its prospective clients, and nurture relationships over time. 

  • Why Nerdy leaned into enrichment over education alone, and the payoff it had in building ongoing engagement with students and educational institutions.

As Adam built out the product-led go-to-market strategy, he and his team quickly learned that demand was growing for Nerdy’s enrichment courses, in addition to its suite of 1-on-1 tutoring, and small and large group classes. As school leaders focused their resources and energy on keeping schools open, extracurricular programs were frequently put on hold or canceled altogether.. This created a gap for Nerdy to fill by expanding its existing enrichment programming such as its Star Courses to blend fun and learning together while enriching students outside of their traditional classroom lessons. Nerdy also partnered directly with schools to help expand their breadth of enrichment courses outside of a standard curriculum by offering a wider selection of programming. 

“One of the advantages of online is the availability of selection. It’s really hard for your local YMCA or school to deliver a broad option base of summer camps or afterschool programs. When you’re online, and have a purposeful platform like we do, that becomes possible,” says Adam. 

  • Permanent changes that marketers will have to adapt to as a result of the pandemic. 

As one of the leading online learning platforms, Nerdy saw increased demand during the pandemic. Even so, Adam cautions that marketers will have to adapt their measurement capabilities to better understand their audiences even after the pandemic. Because there’s far less visibility into a user’s journey with the recent privacy law reforms, Adam and his team utilize triangulation to understand customer decision-making from a variety of angles to understand how every dollar spent impacts a company’s bottom line. While tracking a user online will still be critical, other metrics will provide crucial insight into understanding and calculating marketing spend. As Adam explains, “[It’s] also understanding brand health metrics, it’s understanding survey data, and in multiple ways, understanding what’s happening underneath the hood so that you can get better and optimize.” 

To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: How Nerdy Built Trust with Investors, Parents, and Students While Navigating an Ever-Changing Education Landscape

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