When most people think of branding, they think of a colour scheme, dictated font and rules they must follow to be ‘compliant’ (or the marketing team will come down on them like a tonne of bricks). However, branding has true business impact. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a multi-billion dollar industry with organisations worldwide buying into the concept. And branding in learning is no different.
So, what is branding?
The Chartered Institute of Marketing describes a brand as: The set of physical attributes of a product or service, together with the beliefs and expectations surrounding it – a unique combination which the name or logo of the product or service should evoke in the mind of the audience.
Simply put: it’s your identity. It’s what makes your target audience remember and relate to you and understand your offering. So, why is branding so important?
Branding to build trust
A brand creates an easily recognisable ‘face’ to a company, regardless of whether it has a tangible product or not. And overtime, customers begin to trust whatever product, blog, article, video (and so on) that a brand shares, because it comes from a persona that they have an established relationship with.
We all know how important trust is in L&D. Learners need to trust in the quality of the content. They need to trust that it will have a true impact on their future. And most of all, that it’s worth their time. Generating this trust without having an established brand would be a huge challenge – and one I wouldn’t want to take on.
If you’re working in an L&D function where your learners are employees: a strong brand will show you learners that you mean business. It’ll prove that your organisation is taking learning (and learner development) seriously. And this will automatically build trust.
If you’re working in a learning department where your learners are external, and perhaps need to pay for your content; trust (and therefore branding) is even more important, as your learners are in the market and shopping around for the best learning provider. The professionalism of a strong, beautifully designed brand will go some way to making you the provider of choice.
Brand to develop camaraderie
Camaraderie in learning isn’t a new concept. It’s why primary schools encourage teamwork and why mentorships exist. Learning independently isn’t easy. And as The Beatles classic says – we get by with a little help from our friends.
A strong brand for your learning function is a great way to develop camaraderie among learners. Because of this camaraderie, they’ll then become advocates for your learning, fuelling the marketing engine to spread your message further. Why do you think so many university graduates don their branded hoodie years after leaving? It’s because they are proud to represent the university, what it stood for and what it taught them. A strong brand can ultimately help your learners learn and your organisation grow.
Again, this is equally as important for internal L&D as it is for external. It creates a different identity for your learners to engage with, away from your corporate brand. You’re no longer an employer, you’re a teacher. And peers that are equally as invested in the learning opportunities become their classmates, regardless of the team they sit in within the organisation.
Branding to convey a message
Last but not least, your L&D brand conveys a message. As we’ve already discussed, your brand should encompass your beliefs and accurately portray them to anybody who comes into contact with your brand.
An organisation that does a fabulous job of conveying their message through their brand is WeWork, the co-working space. In all of their communications WeWork are consistent with their core brand message – they are striving to help people make a life, not a living.
Any L&D brand should portray a strong message. One that sits in line with their purpose for learning and what learners will get from the programme. This strong message, conveyed through branding, will not only build a relationship between existing learners and an organisation – but will also entice potential learners to come onboard.
How to develop a brand
Developing a brand is a complex task and usually requires involvement from quite a few stakeholders in your organisation. However, if you’re really scratching your head about where to start, here are the 5 steps I recommend you take:
1. Research your learners
Learn who your learners are, beyond being a learner. Understand their emotional drivers, and what will really get them to buy into your ethos.
2. Undertake a SWOT analysis
One of the most overlooked stages of developing a brand identity is understanding how you already meet learners needs (and where you miss the mark).
3. Outline your mission and value proposition
This stage involves identifying who you want to be, and what makes you unique. Who are you as an organisation? How do you stand out from your competitors?
4. Get creative
Now you’ve identified who your learners are, who you are and what makes you unique, it’s time to create the visible part of your brand. Design your logo, your colours, typography and tone-of-voice – and make sure they fall in line with everything you’ve identified in steps 1-3.
5. Unleash the brand (and let it evolve!)
Integrate your newly formed identity across all of your communication platforms. Of course this includes rebranding learning platforms, brochures etc. But it also involves ensuring your tone-of-voice is accurate across all platforms – including email and social media (if you use it!)
Over time you’ll learn ways to enhance your brand, allowing you to more accurately meet learner needs. Don’t push against this natural evolution. All of the best brands evolve over time – don’t become so wedded to your initial brand that you can’t change with the times. Each and every learning campaign you run will teach you something new and give you new ideas for your brand – go with the flow and watch your engagement skyrocket.