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Ashley Headshot
written by Ashley Sinclair
May 04, 2020

How to apply marketing to your L&D

Marketing for learning

Marketing in L&D

One of the wisest things I’ve ever read about the job that I do said: “Marketing is a contest for people’s attention”, which is irrefutably accurate. But isn’t L&D fighting the same battle?

I recently chanced upon this quote again, and it got me thinking about the challenges the L&D industry faces. It never fails to amaze me how many parallels you can draw between marketing and the L&D industry. After all, we’re both aiming:

- To engage and drive interest with a potentially distracted, detached audience
- To instigate a change in behaviour, whether that’s to come to our website to buy something new, or visit a new LMS

We’re also both trying to achieve these same goals with a potentially large arsenal of tools such as social media, videos, websites (or LMSs), e-books and more. And in 2020, it’s not good enough to just spend money and hope for results. We’re expected to prove value and a return-on-investment where our output is concerned.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot of similarities. But that’s good, because there’s actually a lot that L&D can learn from marketing: an industry that is at the cutting edge of digital technology and is constantly pushing the envelope to evolve. They’ve done the leg work, so why not learn from their mistakes and adopt some of their most impactful approaches?

So whether you’re launching a new piece of elearning or trying to drive interest in your LMS, here’s my list of 6 approaches L&D departments can learn from marketing.

1. Swiftly adjust to an ever-changing landscape

When the internet was created, it completely disrupted business as usual for many industries, marketing included. There’s always disruption (the most recent of which is Covid-19) and as a result, we’ve had to adjust and adapt, innovate and move with the changes. When smartphones became prominent, how did marketing respond? They’ve gone where their audience is, providing mobile experiences and just-in time information delivery. Those that didn’t got irrevocably left behind.

Guess what L&D? You have to go where your audience is too.

Same as marketing has, you need to go digital, multi-channel, personal and targeted. Google, Amazon, Netflix and Instagram (and so, so many others) have taught your learners to expect immediate access to information they need or want, wherever they are. If you want them to engage with your learning, you need to do the same - give them what they need, when they need it.

Accept that your audience is evolving and changing; accept that the way you deliver training has to as well. You must be the driver of change.

2. Become a big data lover

Data is a big deal, particularly for marketing. Because of the volume and depth of data that can be captured, teams are now able to draw insights into the behaviours of their audiences and understand in much more granular detail what’s working and what’s not.

So, rather than assuming your audience’s behaviour, why not take a leaf out of marketing’s book and use the data you already have to make educated decisions about what you should do next?

Don’t have data handy? Then start collecting it. You could introduce email surveys (which can easily be set up in SurveyMonkey or Typeform) and see what your learners really think about your training programmes. And if you haven’t already, definitely install Google Analytics on your LMS to monitor user behaviour. Like marketers do, use data to drive knowledge about what your audience is doing, and then adjust your approach accordingly.

A continuous capturing of data also allows you to track successes and prove the value (and ROI) of the training you implement, which is becoming more and more critical for any department responsible for budgets.

3. Work to be resourceful

Marketing teams are a resourceful bunch, and often will produce several pieces of content from one source (ie, a whitepaper could be transformed into a slide deck, an infographic, blog posts, webinars and more). This multi-content approach means you’re providing your audience with a variety of consumable information, and one version is certain to catch their attention.

Same goes for L&D. Why can’t that elearning also be supported by a variety of different content, consisting of virtual classrooms, emailed infographics and blogs on your intranet?

Don’t expect your audience to come to you. Remember to reach, reach, reach.

In our time-poor industries, it’s important to make more of what you’ve already got, as there are likely more resources in-house than you think. Tap into assets from other departments, and don’t forget to leverage your own marketing and comms team for resources, tips, ideas and more.

4. Use all the channels you have at your disposal

When a marketing team has something to say, they don’t just say it once, in one place. They utilise a range of unique channels to ensure maximum reach. Sure, sending an email might be marginally effective, but pushing the same concept on social media and in a short video could well reach those untapped audiences.

So, time to reflect on your efforts. How do you get your message out? Your LMS is just one channel that you should be using for key messaging and information. What about email, social media, posters in the kitchen/toilets, your intranet and even visual content such as infographics and videos? Campaign out your news like a marketer would, and don’t be afraid to get visual.

5. Don’t be afraid to get personal

Personalisation is a major trend in marketing. As we discussed earlier, Google has set the bar pretty high in terms of a personalised experience for its users. For example, marketing can provide relevant content to someone who’s looked at a product page, or send them key information when their product is up for renewal. This approach is a great way to provide a relevant and more impactful experience for audiences.

L&D can replicate this experience by focusing on a personal experience for learners. You must bear in mind that you will require some form of data to do this well (see point 2).

Some options for personalisation with learners include:

  • Creating a unique homepage with relevant content for the user when they log into the LMS
  • Tracking their progress in the LMS and sending reminders when new learning relevant to them is available
  • Provide learners with a preferences selection, where they can identify key areas of desired personal development, then serve them information based on those preferences
  • Some of the key data points you could use for audience segmentation and personalisation include:
    • Job title
    • Challenges they face (ie customer-facing roles vs non-customer facing roles)
    • Location
    • Duration with company
    • Skill level
    • Usage of the learning

The key here is serving up content and learning that is relevant to the learner, instead of the traditional one-size-fits-all approach.

6. Testing is vital

Trying to be heard amongst all the digital noise can be a real challenge, and when we’re constantly vying for an audience’s attention, how can we stand out?

Think about what your learner is exposed to outside of work. They’re used to responsive websites, beautiful designs and seamless browsing experiences across smartphones, tablets and desktop, all of which has been tested by marketing teams across the globe to see what works best.

This testing approach can be applied to learning, as well as LMS layout and user interface to maximise results. Consider creating different versions of pages (especially those whose main goal is to instigate an action) that modify layout, colour and more. Test them over a set period of time to see which is the most successful.

Utilising split or multivariate testing ensures you’re maximising results and removes all the guesswork out of elearning and LMS builds and user interfaces.

Getting more from what you’ve got

I've often considered what the L&D industry can learn from marketing. The main challenge is that learning is internal and is so often locked in an LMS silo, whereas a marketing campaign can go to many channels and build impact over time.

If we can overcome that key challenge and break down the barriers of the LMS, then we are revealing huge opportunities to engage our learners.

So, if you’re already doing a bit of light reading every week to keep an eye on changes in the industry, why not add a marketing blog or two into the mix, and get yourself some fresh inspiration to connect with your audience?

My favourites are:

Let’s start thinking a bit more about our people and how we best can connect with them. Marketing approaches really can help!

Ashley Headshot
written by Ashley Sinclair

from the blog

from the blog