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Marketing to Your Learners

Marty's-Blog3-as-Smart-Object-1In learning and development our goal is to change behavior. For a long time that was done through training departments. But in the last five years, we’ve started to a see a shift in the way companies think about behavior change. The lines between learning and development and other parts of the company have begun to fade, and now there are companies whose marketing departments are coordinating with the L&D folks to create programs that make consistent internal and external messaging.

Marketing meets training

Marketing has the same goal as training. Both departments want to change behavior, but historically they’ve had different audiences and different looks. When I started at Allen 29 years ago, there was a very well-defined line between marketing and training. It used to be that marketing looked great, was interesting and caught people’s interest; and training was ugly, obligatory and dreaded. That gap is closing quickly, and, in many cases, isn’t even there anymore.

Increasingly marketing people are creating smarter messages that educate customers and employees. For example, I love camping with my family and have spent too much money at REI over the years. But the reason I go to REI is not just to buy a sleeping bag. I go there because they do such a good job about educating me about which sleeping bag is the right one for different conditions that I know I’m getting value above just a product. Is that training or marketing? I’d argue it’s both. They’re educating, but they’re also trying to make a sale.

Marketing and training have the same goal – to change behavior. And, in my experience, the blur between training and marketing goes both ways. It’s not just training that’s using instructional design principles to educate customers. Just as marketing is using instructional design principles from training, training also has to pull from marketing to address the motivations of learners. We must show people what the benefit of training is for them, why it’s worth their time and how it can inspire better performance.

Digital everywhere

Our world now has become surrounded by digital media, and it’s cheaper and cheaper to produce great-looking design. We’re immersed in videos and photos and podcasts that are well done, and we’ve come to expect good design in every part of our lives. The day is gone where training could get away with not looking quite as good as the other parts of a company’s branded assets.

There are some organizations who have subscribed to the culture of “We just have to get through it for compliance.” At those organizations their learners have written it off before they ever take the training. Why make the investment in creating training if it’s boring and doesn’t make a difference?

The sooner companies can apply marketing lessons to training and bring training insights to marketing, the better results they will see. There is still so much that can be done to integrate consumer and employee education, and drop the wall between marketing and training. Training is just marketing to your learners, and we should all be using it that way.

Have you thought about the best ways to market to your learners? See how other companies are talking to their learners.