If You Build it, Will They Come?
Only ~3% of online courses deliver sustained growth & impact, aka. Course Market Fit. Here's how they do it.
Course Market Fit: learners are buying & telling others about your course in numbers large enough to drive growth & profitability.
Achieving Course Market Fit (CMF) is hard. Only ~3% of online courses deliver levels of sustained growth & impact that indicate the achievement of CMF.
97% of course creators fail to achieve Course Market Fit because they misunderstand how to achieve it.
The Four Big Misconceptions About Course Market Fit
The four big misconceptions about Course Market Fit are:
I will achieve CMF if I have a great course idea
I will achieve CMF if I produce high quality course content
I will achieve CMF if I invest heavily in marketing
I will achieve CMF if I have deep expertise in my subject
Let’s take a look at each of these misconceptions in a bit more detail, with some examples.
The Idea Myth
You can have a great idea that your inner circle love, but if your broader market is too small and/or not ready, you are doomed.
Jibo was an Alexa-style personal social robot funded by crowdsourcing, built by some of the brightest minds in the industry and hailed as one of the best inventions of 2017. Great idea, great design, cult following but ultimately the market just wasn’t big enough. RIP, Jibo.
The Content Myth
You spend weeks making high-quality content, but the value that you offer to the market lies in the experience you provide, not the quality or quantity of your video.
We live in an experience economy. Great content matters, but it’s also highly commoditised. As thousands of disappointed online learners on Trustpilot say, “Why wouldn’t I just go to YouTube and get this for free?”.
Example: Seth Godin
Seth’s AltMBA: an almost content-free online experience which trades on transformation & networking and achieves a ~96% completion rate.
Seth’s Udemy course: great quality content, great marketing (Seth is a marketing guru, after all) but struggles to hit a 20% completion rate.
The Expertise Myth
You’re the #1 expert in your field, but are you selling the right product? Even if you understand your subject deeply, your value always sits at the intersection of what you know & what people want.
Example: Colgate’s Beef Lasagne (yes, you heard that right)
Colgate are experts in oral hygiene, but that wasn’t enough to make their loyal customers want its misconceived range of “hygienic entrees”…
The Marketing Myth
All the marketing effort in the world won't sell your product if your audience don’t want it.
Example: Ford Edsel
Despite investing huge amounts of resource into a year-long teaser and a large launch campaign, Ford’s Edsel model was badly researched, mis-priced and ultimately discontinued.
The lessons learned for course creators? As products in a market, courses fail when they:
Are nice-to-have, but not compelling
Don’t meet a “hair on fire” need, or a burning desire
Deliver a disappointing product experience
Launch without a large enough market
The Recipe for Course Market Fit
So, what’s the recipe for Course Market Fit?
#1: Do Your Discovery: stop designing for you & start designing for your target users.
Understand who you’re creating a course for, how they’re under-served & what they want and need.
Obsess less about your solution and more about about your audience’s pain - design an aspirin, not a vitamin.
Ask yourself, what’s my user’s most visceral and urgent need? and always design for that first.
Validate your value proposition beyond your inner-community.
#2: Design an Experience: stop focusing on content & start designing experiences.
Shift to a Minimal Viable Content mindset and approach.
When designing your course, think:
What will your learners experience, beyond your content?
How will you deliver value by creating an experience which includes participation, creation &/or interaction [not just content consumption]?
#3: Trade on Outcomes: stop selling courses & start selling transformation.
Instead of the quality & quantity of your content, market the change that you create.
When designing your course, put yourself in your learner’s shoes:
who will I meet on this course?
what will I do & produce?
how will I feel?
what’s my before & after transformation story?
Happy Designing 👋
One more thing…. You can apply for a place on the Course Design Accelerator here. It’s a four week, hands-on, cohort-based design sprint where we work together to achieve Course Market Fit by designing or redesign a course of your choice using the science of product + learning.
If you’re a fan of learning science, you may also want to subscribe to the Learning Science Digest, a monthly summary of peer reviewed research on learning science, translated into course design practices - check it out!
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