You’ve built this amazing learning program. You’re excited. Your boss is jazzed. The CEO even called you out during a recent leadership meeting to say how proud they are of the work that you and your team have put into building a learning experience that will support not only talent development but also the business. This is such a win-win!
You. Are. On. Cloud. Nine.
Then, the program launches and…..
Enrollment in the program is a quarter of what you projected.
So what happened? The CEO was on board, and the team leads were excited. The SMEs that helped you with the needs analysis said they were looking forward to signing up, but you don’t even see their name on the enrollment list. It doesn’t make any sense. You did everything right. You built this amazing program, updated the carousel image on the intranet over three weeks ago to announce the launch, added it to the LXP and sent an email to the full company informing them that the program launched.
(Insert screeching noise.)
But what did you do to promote the launch, again? You put an image on the intranet homepage, added to the LPX, and sent an email?
This launch plan might contribute to the lack of engagement.
Our leaders, learners and our teams are increasingly distracted and overwhelmed. Just because you built a brilliant learning program—and have heard team members are excited to participate—that doesn’t mean they will actually sign up. And just because they sign up, that doesn’t mean they will actually attend. And lastly, just because they attend, that doesn’t mean they will actually apply the learning back on the job.
Your program is impactful but not on its own. Your audience is faced with SO MANY distractions, and it’s hard to keep their focus. Even more importantly, it’s hard to keep the learning experiences that you are driving top of mind.
How many times have you heard someone say, “I didn’t know that <insert program/job aid/resource> was available?!” Too many times to count? Yeah, me too.
So, as the title of this article suggests, maybe it’s time we leverage Marketing principles to support our L&D programs. Ok, some of you may be thinking, “Yeah, that sounds like it might be beneficial, but I don’t need one more thing to add to my to-do list. Marketing sounds really complicated, and I’m not a marketer.” If that’s the case, let’s pause here for a moment and unpack these statements.
Yeah, that sounds like it might be beneficial – Might be beneficial?! It is estimated that by 2024, total media advertising spending in the United States alone will grow to 322 billion dollars. Billion. With a B. That’s a lot of money. And although some (maybe even me) would argue that many of those dollars are ineffective and wasted, the reality is that marketing, when done properly, is impactful.
But I don’t need one more thing to add to my to-do list – I get it. As a learning experience creator, you wear so many hats. Not only are you a consultant to the business, but you also conduct needs analyses, design curriculum, build multifaceted learning experiences, facilitate, and more. But sometimes there are tasks that, when ADDED to your to-do list, actually help SUBTRACT tasks from your list down the line.
Marketing sounds really complicated and I’m not a marketer – This statement is just untrue. Marketing is complex, but it’s not that complicated. And YOU ARE A MARKETER. You just don’t know it yet. You may not be the best marketer in the world, but I promise you, you have transferable experiences and skills that make you a marketer.
As I pivoted my career focus from business and marketing to Talent Development, one of the first realizations I had was that L&D and marketing are more similar than different.
In marketing, we are trying to change behavior so that target audiences buy a specific product or service. In L&D, we are trying to change behavior to support a specific outcome on the job. As Seth Godin, author of This is Marketing states, “Marketing is a contest for people’s attention.” I would argue the same is true for L&D. Learning experiences are a contest for people’s attention, too.
But how do marketing and L&D drive the behavior change we are after? To borrow again from Seth Godin,
“Marketing is the generous act of helping others become who they seek to become. It involves creating honest stories—stories that resonate and spread.” ― Seth Godin, This Is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn to See
L&D is the generous act of helping others become who they seek to become. It involves creating honest stories—stories that resonate and spread.
So how do we create stories that resonate? It’s part art and part science, and there are many tips and tricks out there that you can employ. If you have the budget or resources available, I highly recommend leveraging a marketing team to help you build a marketing campaign for your L&D initiatives. (See the resources section below for a few suggestions.) In the meantime, below are a few thought starters to help you begin marketing your learning programs today. Start with one area or leverage the full framework. Either way, I am confident that you will see greater engagement in your L&D efforts if you borrow from marketing principles to support your initiatives.
In developing L&D programs, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. The same is true for marketing. The key is to understand who you need to engage, what you want this target audience to do, when they need to act and why it matters to them. Ask yourself these questions:
Who: Who is your target audience that should be informed of or involved in the learning experience? A target audience is a group of people that are most likely to be interested in your message. This group includes not only your target learner but also any key stakeholders who are involved in the success of your learning program.
What: What specifically do you want each of your target audiences to do, and where are they in their learning experience journeys?
One model that is used in marketing is a Marketing Funnel. It is the journey that your target audience takes as they move from learning about your product or service (awareness) to repeat purchase or usage (retention).
The question to ask is not only what you want your target audience to do but also where they are in the learning experience journey. What you want your target audience to do prior to the launch of an L&D program is going to be different than what they will do during a program or after.
Once you know what you want them to do, you can more clearly identify and name the call-to-action (CTA). So many times, we have in our mind what we want people to do but are not clear on communicating what we want them to do.
Keep in mind, your target audience is not just your target learner but instead anyone who will be involved in or supporting the learning experience. Below are a few questions that you can ask yourself as you start to narrow down the “what” that you want your target audience to do before, during or after the learning experience:
Once you are clear on WHAT you want your target audience to do, then you can dive into the WHY.
Why: Why should they care or act?
The “What’s In It For Me,” or WIIFM for short, is so important to both L&D and marketing. Why should your target audience care or take action? If you can’t come up with a compelling answer to this question, then it might be time to ask yourself if the audience in question is truly your target. Below are a few questions you can ask:
Finally, articulate WHEN the best time to engage your target audience(s) will be.
When: When is the best time to reach them with your CTA?
Walk a moment in their shoes in order to empathize with what else is going on in their world. Ask yourself a few questions to narrow your timing:
Once you have clearly defined who you want to engage, what you want them to do, why they should care and when the best time to engage them is, then it’s time to move to the Design stage.
To support the learning experience, we must engage our target learners and stakeholders multiple times across multiple touchpoints. There are two key components to keep in mind when designing your marketing communication experience:
Reach is defined as the number of people that will be exposed to your message across all the various marketing campaign touchpoints. Examples of internal marketing campaign touchpoints include: email, intranet landing page, town hall, direct mail, table top sign, poster, elevator wrap, LMS/LXP landing page, etc.
The second component of marketing communication is frequency. Frequency is the number of times your target audience is exposed to the same message through the same touchpoint. One-and-done communication is not enough. Our stakeholders are bombarded with messages throughout the workday and only a few messages will have sticking power.
You may have heard that people need to be exposed to a message at least 3-7 times before it resonates. The same is true for our stakeholders. Sometimes your first message will be seen and action taken. But more than likely, they will need to be reminded multiple times to take action. This is where reach and frequency work in synergy together. When we reach our audience in multiple ways (touchpoints) and multiple times (frequency), it increases the likelihood that our message will be received and acted upon.
Sometimes, when a single message is deployed in the same touchpoint multiple times, it can be easily ignored. In marketing, this is referred to as ad fatigue, when your audience sees your advertisements so often that they become bored and stop paying attention. One way to combat ad fatigue is to vary the frequency of our marketing touchpoints with always on vs pulse periods. Always on refers to those tactics that run continuously over a longer period of time. An example of an internal marketing touchpoint that leverages always on could be a banner ad on the homepage of your Intranet or a poster in the breakroom.
Pulse periods are concentrated to a specific timeframe. They are typically used at the launch of a program. Following a pulse period, there is often a period of time where they pause marketing efforts for a short period of time.
One of the most commonly missed opportunities that I observe when companies are promoting their internal L&D programs happens 3+ months after the program concludes. While there is often a heavy push for engagement when a program first launches, once the newness wears off, there is no further mention of the learning opportunity. This is where pulsed communication is beneficial. Staggering the communication across a longer period of time will keep the experience top-of-mind for learners and relevant stakeholders.
Below are questions to guide you as you outline the optimal touchpoints, reach and frequency for your marketing communication.
Once you have these answers, you can then map out the marketing calendar that you will work against. The visual layout of a calendar gives you a birds eye view of key marketing dates. This is particularly useful when you overlay all of the L&D efforts that you have deploying during the same time period. Here is a marketing calendar example and template to get you started.
Over time, it is likely that you will leverage similar touchpoints to deploy your marketing campaign. This makes it easy to rinse and repeat this stage. Once you complete this exercise for your first L&D campaign, you will have a marketing calendar to build from for your next campaign.
After you have determined the various touchpoints for your marketing campaign, it’s time to develop copy and visuals that will be used throughout the campaign. If I were to outsource any of these five stages, this is the one I would choose to bring in outside help with. Consider asking your internal marketing team or set aside a budget to bring in an outside marketing agency to help you write copy and design your visual. Do-it-yourself solutions will check the box, but when talented copywriters and designers are brought into the mix, you will be amazed at the impact it can provide. If you are not able to invest in outside help, below are a few considerations to keep in mind as you are designing the creative for your marketing touchpoints.
Make it relevant - Customize the messaging for each audience and touchpoint. The copy you use to engage managers, for instance, will be different from the copy you use to engage target learners. But although the messaging will be slightly different, be sure to keep in mind any brand standards to drive consistency. Brand standards are used to provide guardrails for the look and feel of your organization, team or project and include elements such as colors, fonts, tone, language, etc.
Address barriers – Whether you are talking to a target learner or a stakeholder that will support the learning experience, it is imperative to address their barriers and highlight their Reason to Believe (RTB). The RTB addresses the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM). What might hold them back from taking action? How can you help them overcome that concern? Why should they care? Those are just a few of the questions you can ask when trying to address their barriers.
Have a clear Call to Action (CTA) – Leverage the CTA that you specified during the Define stage. A CTA is the one thing that you want your audience to do. One of the most common mistakes in copywriting, particularly for tactics that have limited space for copy, is to feature more than one CTA. Even if there is space in the design, resist the urge to add multiple CTAs. It dilutes your message and can confuse your audience on what they should do. If you have multiple CTAs, consider deploying multiple tactics to communicate each message.
Repurpose & reuse – You don’t have to start from ground zero when designing your visuals. One suggestion is to create a Hero Image to be used as a guide for all other design development. Perhaps instead of hiring an ad agency to design all 10 touchpoints, you have them design one and then you use that artwork and copy as inspiration to guide the remaining nine elements. A second idea is to use the creative from a past L&D campaign to plug’n’play new copy and images. This allows you to take a templated approach based on what you know worked well previously.
The fourth step is to deploy your marketing campaign. This effort does not have to sit on your shoulders exclusively. Look for ways that you can automate or delegate your efforts. For email, consider using your LMS, LXP or an outside vendor such as Hubspot or Mailchimp to deploy a series of email messages that are responsive and dependent based on who you are targeting and what they have done to-date.
Where possible, delegate responsibility. Rather than sending an email from the Talent Development team, see if the Senior Leadership team would copy/paste a message to send to their team. The personalized message from leadership often has a greater impact. And finally, be sure to test your marketing campaign and apply those learnings moving forward. Just because something worked well historically, does not mean that it will work again.
The fifth and final step is to monitor, measure and modify your marketing campaign. Where possible, set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and monitor the performance of your marketing communication (email opens, likes, shares, sign-ups, referrals, etc). When you first deploy marketing efforts to support your L&D program, it may be difficult to identify the benchmarks you want to measure against. If that is the case, rather than setting KPIs, identify what you want to measure, then after you deploy your first program, leverage those benchmarks to guide future success criteria.
And finally, remember that marketing is not a slow cooker—we don’t set it and forget it. Once you get feedback that something is working or not working, be sure to modify as needed and engage the appropriate parties to act.
In summary, marketing your L&D programs will not solve all of your L&D challenges. But it can help drive awareness and engagement with your initiatives. And sometimes, half of the battle is ensuring your target learners know that your L&D program exists. Whether you build a marketing campaign in-house or outsource to a marketing consultant or agency, take the time to define who you need to engage, design how you will reach them, develop impactful copy and visuals, deploy multiple touchpoints, and measure the results. You’ve got this. You are a marketer.
Resources to guide your marketing journey:
Definitions of the terms used throughout this article:
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