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.
The 5D’s of Marketing for L&D: DEFINE > DESIGN > DEVELOP > DEPLOY > DATA
DEFINE – Who, What, Why, & When
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:
- Do they need to block their calendar, sign-up, ask for approval to attend, etc?
- Are there any materials they need to read prior to the learning events?
- Do they need to fill out a pre/post-training assessment or survey?
- For leadership, do they need to push a personalized message to their team?
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:
- What will happen if they don’t take action?
- How will taking action make things easier for them?
- What will happen to the business if action is not taken?
- How will business be better off if action is taken?
- What is going on in their work-world that might be interconnected or related to this L&D experience?
- What barriers or concerns do they have that are preventing them from taking action? Can we address those?
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:
- When do you need them to take action?
- How much lead-time do they need to take action?
- When are messages like this typically disseminated?
- Are there any recurring communication points (newsletters, meetings or events) where it makes sense to share this message?
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.