Brilliant.org’s Brilliant CRM

by James Lanyon

If you go onto Facebook and look up Eddie Eason at the Episcopal School of Dallas, you will find a man so committed to educating young minds and mathematics that he was able to look my parents straight in the face and tell them that despite my abysmal academic performance in 10th grade and my total lack of ambition, he felt I had real potential. He not only did it with a straight face—he actually had a little glint in his eye. This was all my parents needed. More importantly it was all I needed. It didn’t really get me over the hump as a kid but it did allow me to keep from closing the door on math and now, as an adult, I am a mathophile. That doesn’t mean I’m particularly good at math. I still have some instinctual algebra in me and remember basics of geometry (1/2bxh). But I’m actively involved and I think it sets a good example for my kids. I read about math, I have taken classes online and the like.

One thing I don’t love is promotional email. Like everyone, I get a ton of it. I get it in my personal inbox and I get it in my work inbox. I get promotional offers from companies that are trying to offload inventory with a promo code and I get messages from software vendors making their way through a semi-personalized touchpoint cadence. In the midst of all those emails the one I instinctively engage without fail is brilliant.org.

I don’t do it on purpose. I really don’t. It’s a near unconscious action—reflexive really. I see a simplified math problem and I go after it, which is the exact opposite of every other CRM email I get. Having recognized this behavioral pattern, I stopped and thought about why my conclusions were worth passing along.

It understands the job it needs to do

Briliant.org’s emails are so very effective because the company understands the job it needs to do in its prospects and customer’s lives. The mission statement is simple and emblazoned right on its home page: Math and Science Done Right – Master Concepts by Solving Fun, Challenging Problems.

While this may sound trivial, it’s not. In fact, this clarity of focus and purpose is generally absent among most brands because they are intent on being all things to all people.

If you’re not familiar with the classic Clayton Christensen “Jobs to be Done” framework, you can learn more here. I highly recommend this framework as a means to clarify your company’s intention towards its customers. Just having stuff to sell isn’t enough. If you don’t believe me just look at the retail sector.

The interaction and ask are the same thing

In a world where each additional click feels like carrying a sack of rocks up a hill, Brilliant cuts to the chase. Their product is their CTA in a world where most CTAs change and are test optimized from a batch of options.

There’s a lot of brilliance in shortening the chasm between motivation and involvement. In this instance, there is no chasm.

This reality also underscores the challenge so many brands have balancing between brand recognition, product value recognition and purposeful CRM marketing.

It’s brutally simple and focused

What’s truly brilliant about brilliant.org in my mind is how it’s been able to design a bridge between a clearly daunting topic like math and market intenders—those who would otherwise participate but don’t because they don’t believe they can do it.

Adopting gamification to teach principles over time creates another level of engagement, which resets the terms of the discussion.

This may sound overly simplistic but let’s engage in a quick thought experiment. Imagine my email inbox doesn’t get the gamified CRM mailer. Imagine the email I received were a salutation and a bulleted list of what video tutorials were offered up that week in the curriculum. This isn’t so far fetched. Brilliant does offer structured learning, but not nearly as structured as its peer Khan Academy. I get emails from them too. I just don’t find myself clicking on them without thinking about it.

It should be noted I’ve caught myself doing this same thing on Facebook and Twitter as well, so the approach in this experiment of one is a cross platform success.

In all fairness brilliant.org has the luxury of operating in a world where success is sort of written off, not unlike trying to get kids to eat vegetables, so it’s not directly apples to apples with fashion, food, electronics and other categories but I honestly do believe the lessons above can go a long way towards creating testable campaigns that could serve to improve CRM performance.

James Lanyon

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