Strategic Marketing for Effective Learning: Insights and Practical Solutions

Jerry Zandstra (JZ), Senior Director of Learning | Miriam Taylor (MT), Customer Success Manager | Adam Eling (AE), Vice President of Client Services

Miriam Taylor (MT):  In part one of our conversation, we talked about the importance of marketing the learning we create to our learners. Does anyone want to summarize that discussion?

Adam Eling (AE): I’ll give it a try. When we think of marketing something, the main goal is getting the attention of the target audience. In this case, it is learners. We want to tell them the story of the learning experience, why it matters, how it will help them, and how it will help their organization achieve its goals. We must do more than create and release learning content. 

Jerry Zandstra (JZ): We also discussed knowing our audience and how creating personas for various groups of learners in global companies can help. A persona is an archetype. It won’t be inclusive of everyone, but it will be an amalgamation of a group of learners. Learner profiles or personas help learning professionals target their message to learners around the world. It is like painting a picture of a specific learner so that you understand why they might be interested in this topic or what pain points they experience in their workday. It is helpful to know some basic demographic information as well as something about their daily routines. 

MT: We talked about the need to make local connections for organizations with global locations. I thought this was a key point. While we can get some information from research and surveys, nothing beats local knowledge and feedback. 

AE: This discussion is supposed to focus on practical solutions so perhaps this is the first piece of guidance. Create a list of your global locations, describe what you know about that location, create a persona, and then list all the people with whom you have personal connections. 

JZ: Those local connections can help you understand how best to communicate with your learners. Some locations might have people who read a daily email bulletin. For others, banners and signs would be more effective because of limitations to the internet at work. The point is, you will only know these things if you can have meaningful conversations with people in that location. 

MT: When we are marketing learning, what exactly are we trying to communicate?

AE: In a word, I would say value. Learners want to know why this matters to them, to their team, and to the company. Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why is a good read. If learners do not know why a particular learning experience matters, it is unlikely that they will give it much attention. 

JZ: A practical suggestion is to assign a priority to each learning experience. I know we want to say that all learning is important, but, in reality, that usually isn’t the case. Some learning experiences are mission-critical. These may be new priorities, changes in a procedure or process, and the result of a serious failure that threatens people or the company. Others might be more mundane, compliance courses. There will be different levels of marketing intensity depending on the priority. 

MT: When something is a very high priority, how do you get people’s attention?  What have you seen that works?

AE: We recently used artificial intelligence to create a photo-realistic animation using an image of the company’s CEO. We took a recording of the CEO’s voice and, using AI, created a voice-over track of him reading a script that talked about why this learning really matters to their team members and the company. 

JZ: The next step was even cooler. We translated the script into multiple languages because the company had several global locations. The AI voice tool was used to create several versions in different languages all using the voice of the CEO. We talked earlier about the importance of getting the attention of learners. For high-priority training, this was a great option. It certainly got everyone’s attention. 

MT: That’s a great use of AI. What else have you seen that works?

AE: Competitions tend to work well, although it is good to keep an eye on cultural issues when working with people in various global locations. Competitions can be individual or can be made up of teams in one location or various locations competing against each other. It is important to keep things friendly. And prizes are always good motivators.

JZ: Competition works well for launching learning. I’ll explain the actual learning initiative first though for some context. We had a client who wanted to improve the financial management skills of their management team. This was a large global company with dozens of locations on three continents. They created an actual video game in which the players had to make financial decisions throughout the game that increased or decreased the financial health of the company. For instance, a player might decide to invest heavily in research and development. To do so, they needed to cut their marketing budget. That might create a situation where they have wonderful new products but no budget to market them. Teams were created regionally. They played against each other for two weeks. The winning team moved up to compete against other teams until there was a single winning team. Adam mentioned prizes. I believe it was extra time off and money to go on a trip. Not only did the players engage in the learning exercise, but they were also highly attentive to the learning experiences that followed the game. It was a great way to get attention. 

MT: You mentioned that you’d explain the learning initiative first and that sounds like a great one. But can you explain a little more about how you marketed it? 

JZ: Right, we don’t want to forget that. As I mentioned, the players were divided into teams. So long before the game started, the marketing began. There were videos announcing the game and lots of internal emails and other communication about it. Then the teams and competition were announced in an all-company announcement. Everyone had their eyes on this competition by the time it kicked off. 

MT: Both of these examples are fairly intense and require some work. What about learning that is lower on the priority scale where budget and time are very limited?

AE: We mentioned banners and signage. Those are always good options, especially if you can create a theme around the learning. I’ve seen this done where there was more of a slow reveal. In other words, not all the information was given out. As the campaign progressed, the banners revealed more information. That approach engaged learners by getting them to ask questions based on what was being revealed and some anticipation in the build-up to the release of the learning. 

JZ: We should point out that a single approach is not going to suffice. Learning teams need multiple marketing tools in their toolbelt.  It will be a challenge to get the same level of interest at every release using the same tactic. One common approach is to release a sneak peek at the learning to create enthusiasm like creating a sizzle reel of less than a minute to highlight various parts. Humor works well but you really need your local connections to tell you what will actually be funny and what might be confusing. We mentioned using AI-generated animations featuring a known leader but there can be many versions. A simple animation explaining why this training really matters is a great approach. 

MT: What about using champions in various regions?

AE: We’ve seen that done well too. Champions are people who are influential. They might be the same people with whom you’ve developed relationships to help you determine both the learning and how to market it. Give them some tools to help them build anticipation. Maybe they need some slides they can present or an infographic they can share with the people on their teams. I think the most influential champions are those who share their personal experiences and so perhaps a short video of that person that can be shared with the entire team would be effective. 

JZ: I’ll throw out another idea. Marketing experts start by getting the attention of their customers. This is stage one of what is called the marketing funnel. Once someone is aware of what you are offering, the goal is to nurture them to move to the next stage which is called consideration. That means basically that the potential customer is thinking about your product or service. The next stage is conversation which is where a potential customer becomes an actual customer and makes a purchase. The final stage is building loyalty which means that you have met their needs, and they will come back to you again. 

MT: How does this apply to learning?

AE: It takes creativity to get the attention of learners. The tactics we’ve already discussed are a good way to do that. They are now aware, but that is not enough in the funnel. You can nurture that awareness into consideration which means they are thinking about the upcoming learning. This is often done by reinforcing your message through emails or meetings.  Marketing really isn’t a single-action kind of thing. It is progressive and people who are really good at marketing layout an entire campaign for how people are going to move through the funnel until they have become brand ambassadors for your learning experiences. 

MT: This ties into my last question. Where does feedback from learners fit into the marketing effort? 

JZ: That’s a great question and an essential part of building learning champions by marketing your learning. Of course, asking for feedback is the first step. This communicates to your learners that their opinions matter and that you are here to help them improve and grow. Unfortunately, too often feedback remains stagnant on a spreadsheet and does not get converted into action. If someone is critical, connect with them and ask them to help you improve. Companies do this all the time. Their marketing division will often ignore positive feedback but pay a great deal of attention to negative feedback. This helps them improve their product or service. 

AE: I agree with that but there is marketing good that can come from positive feedback too. For those who give glowing reviews of your learning, ask them if they would be willing to endorse that learning experience. People will pay attention to what their peers like and don’t like. Keep an eye out for people who might provide effective endorsements of your learning. 

MT: Adam and Jerry, I want to thank you for these conversations. I think our readers will benefit from your insights and, hopefully, find some very practical ways to market their learning experiences. 

AE: I should say that if any of our readers want to have a more in-depth discussion, we are happy to help them formulate a marketing plan for their content. Please contact us. 

JZ: Those are some of the most enjoyable conversations we get to have because there are so many wonderful and creative options.  Thanks, Miriam for your leadership in this conversation and for putting together some excellent questions.