If you build it, they will come&or will they?
All too often, professionals in charge of learning focus their efforts on building programs only to be disappointed with responses such as: “I’m too busy.” “It’s a waste of time.” “Is it mandatory?” “I’m doing OK already.”
Inadequate marketing practices are generally to blame. Busy professionals are apt to resist taking anything else on when the benefits aren’t clear. Problems arise because most messages about training focus on lackluster learning objectives rather than create excitement by outlining a clear payback that motivates potential participants.
To attract more learners to the training you’ve built-whether individual classes, a training series, technical training for a new or upgraded application or an enterprise-wide learning program-apply proven practices to market learning like any other product.
Start Market Research
The most critical step in effective marketing is taking the time understand the audience and appealing to its self-interest. According to Jim Hassett, author of Advertraining, “appealing to self-interest is just a matter of spin . . . you are more likely to get cooperation and enthusiasm if you can show people ‘what’s in it for me.'” As familiar as we are with “spin,” we should all be pretty good at using it. However, the key is spinning to the audience’s view and not your own. Identify the target market and determine what it wants, needs, is most interested in and motivated by. Then, consider how learning will help attain that. Keep in mind that the audience doesn’t care too much about the learning-only what rewards learning will bring.
Position & Brand Learning
Now that you have identified the market for your learning initiatives, consider its position in relation to other learning initiatives. How is it different? What’s in it for the audience? Jay Cross, co-author of Implementing eLearning, says to think about what you are really selling from your customer’s point of view – your “brand image.” Ivory customers don’t buy soap; they buy clean faces. DeBeers diamond buyers are purchasing eternal romance, not just a rock. What are your customers buying with your learning? Will it help them attain a better position? Get a promotion? Work easier or faster? Earn more money? Stay up to date? As you begin to pinpoint your position, you can identify the key messages that will most entice learners to attend.
Once you’ve defined your market position, think about branding your learning. FedEx branded itself with its “Absolutely, Positively Overnight” campaign, not only differentiating itself from the competition, but also defining the benefit and making a promise to the customer. Think about how you can create a brand that is known and respected. You can brand a single class, a series of learning events, project-based learning or an entire program. Develop a compelling name, a logo, and ensure you package your learning in a consistent and appealing manner.
Develop A Marketing Plan
Next, consider the best means to get your message out – what sources do people trust and access most? Typical marketing tactics for learning initiatives include brochures, e-mail blasts, posters, flyers, advertising in company materials, articles or white papers, Web sites, screensavers, mouse pads, learning portals or even text messages. Other creative techniques include Lunch ‘n Learns, in-person road shows, frequent learner programs and leveraging field-based learning advocates.
Remember that your marketing materials are your first impression to potential customers. Don’t underestimate the importance of great design, well-written copy and thoughtfully selected artwork. As you begin to develop brochures, e-mails and other materials, keep focused on the target market, ensuring that you integrate appropriate jargon, use relevant stories and testimonials and write headlines that will be meaningful to them.
Launch Your Campaign
Who will “leave the light on for you?” You probably know the answer because Motel 6 has been saying that for 40 years. Marketing is not a one-time event. Effective marketing campaigns are consistent and continuous. Launching a campaign is not about introducing learning and hoping people sign up. If your training will help people stay current with the latest and greatest in their field, you need to consistently and continuously tell them that-over and over and over.
Measure Your Success
Measuring the success of your marketing campaign can provide feedback that will allow you to tweak the plan. As you begin marketing, consider tests to ensure that you are on the right track. Use focus groups, learning advocates or steering committees to review the messages, pilot the channels and provide ideas about how the message is being received. To measure the success of your efforts, track training registrations and attendance rates. Or for more details about specific marketing techniques, launch and track individual campaigns, comparing the results.
Overall, a little bit of marketing can make a big difference. Appealing to your customers, spicing up your brand and developing a plan that will be continuously and consistently executed will entice learners to come, experience and remember the excellent training you’ve built.
Lisa Travis is president of Adelante Consulting, a Colorado Springs marketing communications firm that specializes in creative communications to advance business. For information, visit Adelante on the web at www.consultadelante.com or e-mail Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.