Raquel Gonzales

Lessons in edtech marketing to enhance access

Raquel, please tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your background.

I was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and was part of a family that had very humble beginnings. I like to think of it fondly, but it is such a contrast to where I am at today. The home that I grew up in was a multi-generational home with my grandmother, my mom, all my uncles, and my mother (my father was a bracero at the time) –all in one home. From the dirt floors to the outhouse and the tiny garden and pig sty, the home felt like a mansion to my eight-year-old memory.. I have a beautiful image in  my mind of my roots; where I started.  

I migrated to the US in the late 80s at the age of eight, facing the challenges of  being an ESL learner and navigating an educational system that was not created to support a learner like me. As the oldest of three, I became my parents’ lawyer, translator, and more of an adult role -- a partner to them as they too were navigating a system they weren’t familiar with. It’s a common first-gen, immigrant experience. These early responsibilities have shaped me into who I am today.

I’ve embraced various roles throughout my life. From being a single mom in my 20s, to an empty nester, mom of three and wife in my 40s I’ve developed a unique empathy  ‘superpower,’ understanding diverse audiences with varied backgrounds and experiences. This journey has molded my perspective and fuels my passion for connecting with people from all walks of life. A journey I didn’t realize was PERFECTLY equipping me for my marcomm career.

How did you perceive the US back then?

I had two stages of understanding what the US was. When I was in  Mexico, telenovelas and TV shows showed me this American dream in  this beautiful place where there was access and opportunity for all. Despite that positive perception, I was very resistant to moving to this land when I was eight. I loved our home; I did not know we were poor. I thought we were very, very happy and rich in both love and resources. We had what people would refer to as a small homestead complete with garden, trees, all types of animals (pigs, chickens, rabbits, dogs) and space to run barefoot or make mudpies. So, I didn’t understand why we would leave our  home for something else.  

When I was told about this American Dream and our move to achieve it, I pictured the mansions and  the telenovelas and these amazing places. However, when we actually moved to the US, it was very different from what I expected. We came to a single bedroom studio to live with my dad, and it was very different  from what I was anticipating.

I excelled in education very early on. I loved getting those gold stars  in class. That is what motivated me the most; I felt like I belonged and my achievements reinforced that. I remember one of my most impactful teachers, my ESL teacher for two years, Ms. Virginia Gonzalez.

I loved that she was someone who I could speak to in Spanish immediately while she encouraged me to learn an entirely new language without fear or reservations. So I approached learning English as a skill that could reward me with another gold star. She incorporated edutech in her classrooms and created a seed for lifelong learning.I regret that I never got a chance to connect with her as an adult, she was close to retirement when I met her. If she only knew the impact she had on my life.

What was the journey that took you to education, EdTech and marketing?

My EdTech journey began in the early 2000s at Corpedia, an eLearning  company later acquired by the New York Stock Exchange. Initially, as a graphic  designer and later served as an interim director, I witnessed Corpedia’s visionary approach, integrating webinars  and a thought leadership magazine into our content engine. The experience ignited my passion for marketing and sales, especially under the  guidance of CEO Alex Brigham, who understood the power of storytelling.

Transitioning across verticals, I honed my marketing skills, delving into copywriting, automation, and more. My quest for diversity in marketing led me to various industries, but my heart returned to education, particularly career and technical programs. These programs  emphasized access and empowerment. Then ASU approached me with  their compelling Learning Enterprise vision, blending education and technology for universal opportunity. I immediately thought, “Oh, wow, that is my love language”. This full-circle journey brings me back to EdTech, from my graphic design roots to where I am today.

How does Learning Enterprise fit into the larger Arizona State University organization?

ASU comprises three distinct enterprises: Academic, Knowledge, and learning. The academic enterprise, established about 100 years ago, represents our university undergraduate and graduate programs. The knowledge enterprise, around 20 years old, focuses on driving innovation through research. About four years ago, under President Crow and Executive Vice President Maria Anguiano’s leadership, a transformative vision emerged for a New American University that provides broad access to education for social and economic advancement.

This visionary concept led to the birth of ASU’s Learning Enterprise – dedicated to advancing access to learning at all stages in life. LE offers diverse learning content, spanning from preschool to long after retirement and still learning+growing. This includes learning solutions such as ASU Prep Digital for learners in pre-K to high school or CareerCatalyst for employing innovative strategies to equip today's and tomorrow's workforce with the necessary skills. Other initiatives, like the Study Hall partnership with YouTube and Complexly, offer a path from youtube to college credit.

By embodying the university’s charter of inclusivity and success, the Learning Enterprise  reimagines education, offering open access, accessible options, and strategic partnerships to realize the vision of broad and impactful learning opportunities. It’s all about who  we include, not who we exclude.

How do you tackle the marketing challenges in terms of content and audiences that come with this universal approach to learning?

Marketing is all about reaching the right audience and meeting them where they are — the right channels. It's not about a one-size-fits-all approach. We partner with product and business experts to bring new learning solutions to market every three to six months. Our strategy is focused on understanding our audience’s  archetypes, preferences, values, challenges, and where they consume content. This personalized approach ensures that our message resonates.

We concentrate on specific audiences / personas throughout the marketing funnel,  understanding that influencing the right stakeholders, like department heads, can lead to  successful engagement with decision-makers. It’s all about pinpointing our messaging and  creating advocates who champion our solutions.

✨ Pearl of wisdomAt ASU’s Learning Enterprise, we operate with a startup mindset, rapidly building, testing, iterating, and pivoting. This freedom allows us to fine-tune our content and engagement strategies based on real feedback.

What’s your biggest challenge today?

I have two significant challenges. Firstly, due to our organization's youth, effectively balancing startup resources, both human and budgetary, remains a constant struggle. Secondly, the delicate equilibrium between financial sustainability and global impact is a pressing concern. Finding a way to achieve both while remaining financially sound is complex. These challenges intertwine, particularly in the initial years of our organization as we gather momentum.

The mission fuels me, acting as a motivating force as I work to expand this thriving EdTech ecosystem.

✨ Pearl of wisdomWhen these challenges seem daunting, I draw strength from my deep connection to education’s transformative power. Education changed my family’s legacy, and if I can navigate these immediate hurdles, I can continue advancing access and opening doors for learners everywhere.

What are the ultimate goals of the Learning Enterprise?

Our overarching mission is to create social and economic upward mobility by providing  opportunities and access. This mission drives our efforts, while we also set annual objectives. Currently, we’re focused on specific growth goals within our portfolio. One area  is our CareerCatalyst portfolio, addressing workforce needs like semiconductors, micro electronics, and professional soft skills. Another focus is foundational learning for the  P-20 age range, including initiatives like  Accelerate ASU, which empowers high schools with ability to deliver college credit through turnkey curriculum from a world-class research university, expanding educational opportunities.

These goals are complemented by several nascent pilots in emerging technologies or verticals like health literacy, which we’re still developing. Our impact dashboard tracks lives touched and educational offerings delivered.  For instance, our YouTube Study Hall garnered millions of views and resulted in 6,000  sign-ups within just four days of launch this spring. Achieving access and scale through  collaborations like Google Classroom aligns with our impact objectives for the current and  coming years. The dynamic realm of EdTech holds immense potential for us, and we’re committed to realizing it.

No gatekeeping, just a “here’s how we succeeded'' approach. This spirit  aligns with ASU’s charter and President Crow’s vision for the new American University, driving Learning  Enterprise efforts. It’s important to recognize that I am not to be credited for all of our success , I'm honored to share it with my team and fellow marketers.  Learning Enterprise is the first of its kind. As a result, we are excited to continue to build and share the blueprint for what’s working well so that we can advance access to education together with universities across the globe.

✨ Pearl of wisdomThe ultimate goal for ASU Learning Enterprise’s marketing leaders is to create a learner engagement blueprint, openly shared with universities worldwide. Collaborating with global marketing heads, I envision providing insights into our journey to inform system-wide transformation.

How is your team organized?

Learning Enterprise comprises around 150 colleagues, showing significant growth from  just two people three years ago. This growth reflects our high-quality content production and commitment to innovation. It’s crucial to note we have a strong partnership with ASU’s knowledge core – the faculty whose expertise forms the foundation of our work. We don’t create content in isolation; together we transform  existing university knowledge into innovative formats. For instance, our courses like Communication 100 (Intro to Human Communication) leverage faculty expertise, ensuring alignment with the university’s core  curriculum and pedagogy. Our vision for broader accessibility is powered by this essential collaboration with the knowledge core.

What are the main functions your team is organized around?

My team consists of both a centralized and a helixed line of creatives. Our centralized creative team collaborates with product marketing experts to drive growth campaigns and initiatives. Our helixed product marketing experts lead growth and retention marketing efforts for a dedicated solution or portfolio, with each learning solution having a dedicated marketing director.  

These directors, aligned with both product and marketing  teams, collaborate closely with business leaders. For instance, the CareerCatalyst product has its own skilled marketing director (Kyle Rassel) who works in tandem with myself and the Head of CareerCatalyst leader (Meredyth Hendricks). Our core team includes writers, designers, social media strategists, marketing automation strategists  and more.

We also engage talented ASU students who gain real-world agency experience  through student worker or graduate student contributions. Collaboration extends beyond our team, involving partners  from various ASU  enterprises and service units and, at times, external agencies for larger projects. Our dynamic structure ensures effective marketing strategies and impactful campaigns.

✨ Pearl of wisdomOpenness in navigating the unknown and devising inventive solutions is crucial. This flexibility isn’t tied to a specific role—it’s a core attribute for success in any marketing role. If someone leans towards rigidity or slower innovation, the pace of EdTech marketing may not be a fit.

What are the things you look for when hiring someone?

I seek a blend of technical and soft skills. One of the portfolios we support, CareerCatalyst, is a major proponent of Professional Soft Skills. With EdTech’s rapid evolution, my team needs both technical expertise and adaptability to ambiguity. This adaptability is pivotal since we’re constantly innovating in uncharted territory.

I value change enthusiasts who embrace fresh ideas and relish the autonomy to dream up solutions. In our dynamic enterprise, the ability to thrive amidst uncertainty is paramount.

✨ Pearl of wisdomPrioritize the end user. Whether it’s students, learners, or partners, start by understanding their circumstances, needs, desires, and concerns. Craft your strategy, user experience, messaging and implementation around addressing those needs.

What’s important to keep in mind when working in education or marketing for education?

Ideally, a well-coordinated product team lays the groundwork for marketing to collaborate on user-centric experiences that then impact marketing effectiveness and impact. If you’re not already working alongside your product leadership, I encourage you to work closely with them.

Effective communication with your product counterparts is crucial. Tailor your language to resonate with the specific audience. What engages a Gen Z learner will differ from a high school principal. Avoid industry jargon; communicate as fellow humans - strongly encouraging conversational writing styles when communicating with B2C audiences. The key is to always keep people at the center of your strategy.

What tools do you use for research to understand your audience?

I favor a combination of research, interviews, and testing for effective strategy. When I  started at Learning Enterprise, we utilized a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation resource that they graciously shared as a framework for archetype development. Instead of traditional personas, we focused on context, considering learners’ circumstances  that may impact their decision making stage , like financial constraints.

We intentionally architected a framework that avoided implementing any learner persona stereotypes, rather identifying specific needs, life context, and challenges. Research and interviews validated assumptions, and we tested  messages through market validation. This iterative process helps us refine our approach.

✨ Pearl of wisdomOver my 20-year career, consistent A/B and user testing remain the only certainties, as each launch requires unique adjustments based on real-world results.

What’s your biggest achievement?

My most meaningful accomplishments can be grouped into personal and professional  spheres. Personally, I take pride in having chosen a supportive partner who has helped me navigate a nontraditional path as a Mexican-American woman pursuing both personal and professional  fulfillment. Raising three children in a blended family has been immensely rewarding; I take pride in knowing that my legacy is their privilege to CHOOSE their own paths.

Professionally, I’ve relished building brands from scratch, including my role in my 20s of supporting the transformation of Corpedia into an acquisition-worthy entity under the vision of our CEO. In my 40s,  I’m focusing on molding future leaders, seeing them thrive in their careers and make a  positive impact. As a person of faith, I believe in the importance of treating people well and fostering growth in others.

While achieving growth targets remains important, my current journey centers on being an inspiring leader, supporting families and changing lives. My journey from an eight-year old Raquel navigating the unknown adventure to a new land to now heading marketing at a transformative university enterprise stands as a testament to the  power of education, which I continue to champion.

Ultimately, my most significant achievements lie in the lives I’ve influenced and the leaders I’ve cultivated. Fast forward to my 60s, and I'm hoping some of these leaders will let this retiree consult for them. After all, I'm just laying the groundwork for my retirement gig – an edtech leader is always thinking ahead.

🔥 Rapid fire questions
Inbound or outbound?
Outbound. I have to do inbound every day, but outbound is where I am pulling people in.
Marketing or sales?
Hubspot, Pardot or Eloqua?
Specialist or generalist?
Ed or Tech?
Both. I do not believe there is one without the other.
Thinking or doing?
Quantity or quality?
In-person or virtual?
Agency or in-house?
I need both to survive.

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