Learning Technology: the Brand Report, 2014


Brand matters. Strong brand awareness drives demand and builds market share. There are four undisputed brand leaders in the learning space: Saba, SAP/SuccessFactors, Blackboard, and SumTotal. Skillsoft’s recent acquisition of SumTotal puts the combined company in a position to be the dominant brand in enterprise learning. However, there are significant hurdles.

Skillsoft’s acquisition of SumTotal puts the leader position for the enterprise learning category completely at play. They are in a position to break away from the other leaders in the category if they make the right moves.

Typically after an acquisition, the acquiring brand digests the acquired brand. However, SumTotal’s strong brand equity makes that proposition far more problematic for Skillsoft. And given its position in the market, Skillsoft should be top of mind for more buyers in our recall measures. If Skillsoft and SumTotal truly want to dominate this category, we believe they need to consolidate and invest in a single brand, whether that is one of the two existing names or a new name altogether.

What about the rest of the market?

The Saba brand has maintained its brand power in spite of its market travails. Under new leadership, the company is moving out of its dark period and is well positioned to maintain and build on its brand power.

Since its acquisition of Plateau in 2011, SAP/SuccessFactors has done a good job of building a strong brand in corporate learning in a short period of time, especially in the minds of executive-level buyers. We attribute most of that to the power of the SuccessFactors brand. Will SAP continue to maintain SuccessFactors much longer as a separate brand, or will it be absorbed? We believe that walking away from that brand equity would be a mistake.

Cornerstone OnDemand is a brand clearly on the rise, and they’ve put some serious money into sales and marketing. We hope their numbers — which right now fall between the leaders and the laggards — will continue to rise with the right investment in branding.

Oracle has a bevy of brands under its umbrella, and though the buyers know them well — or may even use them — they aren’t associating them with learning as strongly as they could. Oracle has the resources and the recognition to make significant gains in this space, if they choose.

But the learning space is big — buyers identified more than 200 brands by name alone. And though there are a few technology providers that set themselves apart in brand recall and awareness measures, there are new challenges to be faced:

  • Low overall provider satisfaction
  • Negative feelings about vendors overpromising and underdelivering
  • An appetite for innovation and openness to change

For a vast majority of companies out there, you’re probably not looking to crack the top 10 brands in the learning space. Instead, you’re looking to gain market share without spending the gargantuan amounts of money required to move even a few points.

So how will buyers navigate these hundreds of companies and figure out what matters to them in the important decisions they face in the next few years? They’ll be looking to brands to help guide them to their ultimate decisions. It’ll be up to you to connect with those that best fit with what your organization has to offer. The art of branding is due for a comeback.

It’s up to every organization to raise its collective game to make brands with clear messages, that bring in the right buyers, and that follow up with products and services that deliver on the promises their marketing makes.

It won’t be easy, but there are some revolutionary marketing leaders already working to turn around the results you see here. Are you ready to take on that challenge?

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