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Megan Headshot
written by Megan Leech
Nov 17, 2023


Marketing for learning

It’s a challenge as old as our industry: poor learner engagement. And as the years go by, it's not improving. Our audiences are more distracted and overwhelmed than ever before. If we want to overcome this age-old problem, it’s time we do something differently. And if we want to do something differently, we have to start thinking differently. 


It won’t surprise any L&Der to hear that a lack of time is most commonly cited as a barrier to learning. We’ve all heard it, haven’t we? But with Statista telling us that people in the UK spend up to 9 hours a week watching Netflix… we’d argue that time isn’t the problem.

Our learners aren’t just “learners” are they? They’re human beings with other priorities, they’re employees, they’re parents, they’re friends – they have a whole host of identities, and being a learner isn’t really one of them. And because of these other priorities, learning falls down the list. So we’d argue that time isn’t really the challenge we face… it’s a lack of appetite for learning. And that lack of appetite comes from a lack of awareness.


L&D have an awful habit. If there is an issue in learning, we blame it on the tech. Poor engagement? Must be the learning platform's fault… right? And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Poor engagement usually comes from a lack of awareness. If somebody doesn’t know your platform is there, how on earth can they use it?

So we need to tell them it's there. And then comes another excuse reason… Nobody reads our emails. And truthfully, they probably don’t read your emails. But that isn’t an excuse to not try harder to market your offering, is it?

Imagine if Tesla did this. After investing millions into developing their cars, they open a showroom, put a car in the window, and just wait for the ideal customer to walk past. What are the chances of the ideal Tesla customer just happening to be in the right place at the right time? Slim to none, right?

And that’s exactly what we’re doing in L&D. Putting our incredible learning content on a state-of-the-art platform, and just hoping our people find it. And that has to change.


And that change starts with a change in L&D mindset, a pivot away from the ‘this is how we’ve always done it’, towards a proactive marketing mindset.

So what is a marketing mindset? We quite like this model from eConsultancy: The 10 C’s of a Modern Marketing Mindset.

In our opinion, three of these are particularly important in L&D:


We get it, you have managers, leaders and stakeholders all putting demands on your time. But this means that we aren’t prioritising the most important stakeholder: our target audience. You probably call these people your ‘learners’, but that is also part of the mindset shift needed. Instead of thinking of these people as learners, think of them as human beings. And you should be their biggest champion, putting their needs first always. This means always going the extra mile – and interrogating the ‘why’ of learning interventions, in order to better answer the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question.


L&D are rarely commercially-focused. Why? Because we aren’t asked to be. And that’s another mindset that must change if you want marketing success. Whilst championing our target audience always, we must also ensure we are impacting the bottom line with our learning offering and proving ROI.


Picture the best marketer you know. They’re friends with people in all parts of the business, aren’t they? They network. They schmooze. They know who’s who and what’s going on elsewhere in the organisation. And that’s what L&D needs to do too. Start networking, collaborating and engaging with colleagues from across the business. Work out what their priorities are. It’ll stand you in good stead for when you need a favour… and heck, it’ll even help you get to know them better as a member of your audience!


If you’ve got a marketing mindset, the chances are you have itchy feet about the process in your L&D function (unless you’ve already transformed it!) Because we typically see the L&D process looking a little like this:

The business need comes first, with the tech, design and delivery method all coming before our end-users needs. And that doesn’t sound very customer-centric to us. When you compare this to a marketers practice, you can see the stark difference:

A marketer’s first thought is always their audience, but this isn’t the case for L&D. Learning teams think about the learning too late in the game. And don’t get us started on how analytics and refinement are overlooked.

That has to change. Start with your audience. Understand what they want. What motivates them? What’s troubling them? Heck, you could even create personas if you really fancy 😉

But this customer centricity, alongside the collaborative and commercially-focused nature of marketers, is a clear reason why L&D must adopt a marketing mindset, if we really want to make a change.


Shifting mindsets isn’t an overnight task. It will take time, and it will take practice, but here are 6 changes you can make to start adopting a marketing mindset:

  1. Champion your audience. You should be their biggest advocate and their voice in the learning development process. They’re our end-users, so put their needs first.

  2. Be confident… with your offering, with your expertise, with your skillset. Confidence will get you a long way and help you earn respect throughout the organisation.

  3. Get creative. And no, we don’t mean getting out your pens and paints, creativity and artistry aren’t synonyms. But you do need to creatively problem solve if you want to adopt a marketing mindset.

  4. Collaborate with your colleagues across the business. Think of a great marketer you know, they’re friends with people in all business units, right? L&D needs to do that too. Stop working in silos and network across your business.

  5. Be curious and challenge, be confident in asking, why are we doing this? How does it benefit the audience? What business impact is it creating?

  6. Stay connected! Marketing isn't just about promoting your learning to your audience. It’s also about marketing upwards (and sidewards) to inform the business of your ‘why’ (and understand theirs too)!

So armed with these top tips, you’ll be well on your way to adopting a marketing mindset, but if you want a lil more help, why not check out the marketing mindset episode of the marketing for learning® podcast? Happy listening!


Join our 6 week programme to learn all of the marketing skills you need to transform your L&D function.
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Megan Headshot
written by Megan Leech

from the blog

from the blog