February 2014

Opinion piece: How should you implement your Learning and Development marketing strategy?

Training professionals must ensure that a significant marketing element is included in the roll-out of their training initiatives in order to ensure their effectiveness: this was the conclusion reached at the end of the first part of our study1. This second part offers some tips for building your L&D marketing plan, simply and – with budgetary constraints in mind – cost-effectively.

Despite all the talk about the fact that ’the greatest asset of any company is its people’, in reality the development of human capital is only rarely made a priority. Rather illogically, everyone in the corporate world agrees on the importance of training, but few consider it as really urgent2.

A must for L&D is being perceived for the value it brings and having a high recall rate with the target population; this cannot be taken for granted. Given that marketing’s raison d’être is to change customer’s perceptions and behaviour, the objectives we have set are the following:

  • State the L&D learning proposition and ensure its visibility;
  • Find the appropriate targets for our initiatives, get them involved and secure their loyalty;
  • Bring on board all those who can contribute to the success of our initiatives;
  • Promote the company’s successes and demonstrate the contribution L&D makes to company strategy.

Let’s now consider three essential principles that should be borne in mind when designing our L&D marketing plan.

Building our brand

In one of his recent seminars, Don Taylor asked several training professionals to define their role. Three types of response quickly emerged: L&D actions, deliverables and skills. By the end of this exercise, Don had led us to conclude that L&D should not be defined by what it does … but by what it makes possible3. It should be expressed in the form of a promise for the company, for the teams and for the individuals. All that remains, then, is to find a name for this promise and we will have laid the foundations of a brand.

First of all, let’s express our identity! There are countless training centres that have been named … training centre. The same applies to corporate universities. This avoids any risk of confusion, certainly, but visibility can be significantly increased through the addition of a powerful baseline and a highly original visual identity. We will create our brand positioning through both the structured communication of our successes and the words of the sponsors we will ask to represent the brand.

We can witness a similar phenomenon when it comes to naming training courses or activities. We have all seen courses with such evocative, glamorous names as ’Fundamentals of communication’, ’Finance for non-financial managers’ or ’Time management’. Again, we are neglecting what they promise in favour of clarity. In the same way, the different stages of a training program called E-learning questionnaire or Seminar would benefit from being reworded in terms of what benefits they bring. The learners themselves believe that names such as Evaluating my working practices or Find out and try out are much more meaningful in terms of the value proposition and yet do not sacrifice any clarity in the process.

Thus, setting up a panel discussion with a group of managers and learners is an excellent way to ensure the the vocabulary of the target audience is used rather than the more technical language of our own field of expertise.

Defining our targets

We will assume that an L&D professional will systematically define the problem and assess the issues communicated to him or her by the client. The value – real and perceived – is an absolute prerequisite for our ’product’ to reach its market. If this ’product’ doesn’t offer the target a real solution to a real problem, all our efforts to promote it will have been in vain.

However, necessary as it may be, value alone is not sufficient. The next step consists of identifying and considering the attributes of our target. Factors such as availability, working environment or previous training experiences (to name but a few) will be key when it comes to making the correct choices for him or her.

As an illustration, the sales department is usually characterised by employees being geographically scattered, rarely in any one place for very long, highly individualistic, results-focused and ready for a challenge. Considering these attributes together, we might design training initiatives that include: a clearly expressed promise of results; alternately coming together as a group and working on individually tailored distance-learning activities … and ideally a fun element that will engage the target and hold his or her interest. This summary of the market study can easily be reworked for each target population, thus reinforcing the learner-centric dimension of what we are offering.

Furthermore, when we talk about targets, there is no point simply focusing our attention exclusively on the company and its learners. Our team, our buyers, our advisors and our partners as well as the different types of internal influencers (executive committee, HR, managers and so on) all have a crucial role to play. Our approach must therefore bring together all these parties. In the case of important training initiatives, it is recommended that a preliminary chart be drawn up of all the people involved and then each population provided with segmented documentation.

Keep communicating

Our premise is that the perception of our promise and results is crucial for L&D initiatives4 to be effective. However, when we broach the subject of communication with regard to training initiatives, many professionals think that:

  • It isn’t their main activity;
  • They don’t have all the required skills within their team;
  • They don’t have the available budget to design and deliver training courses.

In reality, the most successful L&D communication initiatives I have had the pleasure to witness in recent years owe more to the creativity of the teams than to the budget. The vast majority of them were put together from simple, cost-effective elements.

When we analyse the cost of training (creating the training materials and delivering the course) then add logistical and labour costs and the cost of staff downtime, the figures can quickly mount up. Compared to this, the cost of sticking a poster on the walls of all the lifts in the company advertising a training course is just a drop in the ocean. Buying a photo, drafting some copy, the cost of paper, ink and sellotape – together it adds up to very little.Take another example: a T-shirt bearing the logo of the corporate university and the name of its key training program will make a huge impact for less than 5€ per participant.

Bear in mind, however, that these noteworthy examples all adhered to the following principles:

  • The company’s strategy and its current situation should be used to link the training to day-to-day activities;
  • The training courses should be supported from beginning to end, not merely at the launch stage. During the initial stages teasers and news updates can be used to prepare the different targets, followed by structured editorial content to support the roll-out, and finally promotion of how successful the training has been (case studies, awards, testimonials and so on);
  • There should be specific segmentation and communication for each of the different populations;
  • Communication activities should be scheduled in right from the initial scoping phase;
  • Team work is essential … and external expertise should be called on, especially within the organisation’s marketing and communication departments.

Above all, the L&D teams were quite convinced that communication is of the utmost importance in the success of their training courses.

A few further points …

For the sake of completeness, we should look at each of the variables in the mix.

The price – or the cost for our targets – will be the subject of a fairly substantial forthcoming article, in which we will, of course, analyse the direct and indirect costs that are the focus for our buyers. We will also analyse the costs to managers (time, organisation, change management and so on) and to learners (workload, adaptation efforts, uncertainty and so on). The perceived value of L&D will be measured increasingly by deducting the costs invested from the visible benefits of our actions.

Building and maintaining intelligently segmented ranges represents another of our challenges. This is especially tricky because technology is in a state of rapid and profound change, our directors demand high standards of agility and our teams have financial and organisational constraints to consider.

As we are dealing with a complex strategy-related subject, this format obviously raises more questions than it answers. Our forthcoming articles will tackle in more depth the points mentioned here.

In conclusion

In reality, we never have enough time or energy. After carefully completing each stage, from learning consulting to signing off a training course, we usually feel a sense of mission accomplished. Adding a marketing dimension to the product then becomes yet another task on an already long list.

But believe me, a couple of extra hours spent putting together a teaser or a training pack, or talking to a sponsor, can radically change how our product will be perceived by its end-users. It is nearly always the ’little differences’ that make all the difference.

We owe it to ourselves to promote the training initiatives in which we have invested so much. An excellent product deserves excellent marketing.

1 Click here for the first part : ’Why define an L&D marketing strategy?’ 
2 A priority can be defined in terms of its levels of importance and urgence (the Eisenhower matrix)
3 ’L&D should not be defined by what it does… but by what it makes possible’ – D. Taylor – 2011-09
4 ’Why use an L&D marketing plan?’ – J. Wargnier – 2011-10