"Time is money,” said Benjamin Franklin, and this is as true in the learning and development business as anywhere else.
People are busy. Their time is precious, and they are pulled in endless directions by ceaseless demands. If they are going to voluntarily take time out for training, a course has to have enough appeal that people are banging on the door, eager to secure their place. Learning leaders can achieve this with a little marketing know-how.
Increasingly, responsibility for creating a buzz and excitement around training to ensure full workshops falls to learning leaders, who may be uncomfortable or unfamiliar wearing a marketing hat to sell initiatives within their organizations. For them, juggling this with more traditional learning and development functions can be a big task, but launching an inspirational internal marketing campaign to promote training can be managed more easily using the following nine-point plan.
1. Get buy-in from senior leaders.
The quickest and easiest way to drive home the importance of any new learning initiative is to get full and passionate endorsement from senior leaders, ideally the CEO.
“Any new initiative starts by making the case for change, and that job ideally comes straight from the top, so it’s instantly recognized as an initiative that’sgoing to be part of the very culture and fabric of the whole organization,” said Mark Deterding, the founder and principal of Triune Leadership Services. “The endorsement of senior leaders also signals that the values of the company embrace education and staff development, which in turn encourages interest and uptake.”
Programs that fail to secure senior leadership buy-in are more likely to fail. But leadership endorsements have to be genuine to act as an effective marketing tool. That means involvement can’t be limited to a superficial, “Yes, I’ll put my name to it.” They might take it a step further and talk about specific learning opportunities in key meetings or participate in development activities in some way.
If leaders seem reluctant to show authentic alignment,it can help to sway them by presenting data or statistics that show a clear correlation betweenemployee engagement, leadership and profit. This will help them see the value of investing their time.
Jim Irvine, who is responsible for talent management at Nissan North America, said CEOs are rarely reluctant to get involved, but making participation easy for them does help. For instance, to encourage the CEO to make a video to promote an initiative, script what they might say; don’t just leave it up to them and then stress out waiting for a response.
“If you want to put quotes from them throughout a workbook — a top tip that delegates notice andrespond well to — then write those sound bites for them, too,” Irvine said. “It’s not difficult to do a little research; find out what the CEO or other key influencers have said in the past, and write up some publicity based on that. You doing all the work for them eases their path.”
2. Create demand.
The best marketing strategies fuel demand for products before they are even available, and running an exclusive pilot for learning leaders who would like to become advocates for a new learning program can mimic this in the learning and development world.
“Running a pilot always makes sense,” said Evrim Asma, director of learning and organizational development for Actelion, a pharmaceuticals company based in Switzerland. “If it doesn’t work, then you can drop it swiftly. But when pilots are successful, you quickly gather around you a team of cheerleaders, which makes life a lot easier than if you’re the only one trying to sell it. Starting small, with exclusive invitations, builds up anticipation and makes our global rollouts far easier to sell, as there is a bank of demand built up in advance.”
3. Launch with pizzazz.
Any launch should be as exciting, sassy and engaging as resources and budget will allow, so don’t hold back. For instance, Asma invited the originator of a leadership model to appear in a leadership development launch by video link. He brought a splash of glamour to the occasion, and helped drive home the significance of the launch. By highlighting the commercial and personal benefits of the development opportunity, the video showed how the program was linked to business goals and could deliver positive outcomes, which increased interest and demand.
Not that celebrity launches are essential. When Irvine initiated a Learning Week at Nissan to unveil numerous programs, he dedicated every lunch break to 50-minute “bite-sized taster” sessions for each one, a hands-on approach that proved popular and helped increase registrations.
4. Make advertising creative.
Just producing a leaflet, putting up a poster or sending out email announcements to the workforce doesn’t cut it anymore; these familiar tools work much better when blended with more innovative advertising concepts. When Deterding launched a leadership training program as executive vice president for The Taylor Corp., an interactive print and marketing company, he unveiled it with an internal advertising campaign based on the title of the program: Gung Ho! The tagline “I’m Gung Ho!” was branded across the company on posters, water bottles, pin badges and cups to help create a culture where the program was constantly celebrated. The program exceeded all expectations.
5. Answer the “What’s in it for me?” question.
Rather than launching a new program simply by talking about the course and selling potential delegates on the benefits, Irvine repeated his Learning Week promotion strategy. Instead of sending out emails, texts and leaving voice mails saying, “Take our new course on dealing with email,” messages went out that pushed genuine results from genuine employees. The marketing email for the email course read, “Buried in email? I reduced my inbox by 24 percent!” Sign-up skyrocketed.
6. Persuade the skeptics.
However innovative, engaging and ubiquitous marketing the campaign is, there will always be doomsayers reluctant to embrace change. It’s often necessary to engage skeptics personally. If they’re reluctant to embrace new learning, but they hear senior leaders, informal or formal champions, and their immediate colleagues rallying to the cause around them, it’s tough for them to remain skeptical for long. This is essentially old-fashioned peer pressure, but it works. After the initial setup, buy-in and launch have been executed, and the learning program or offerings has generated positive road noise, even the most skeptical individuals should realize the value of getting involved.
7. Keep growing the campaign.
The most successful internal marketing campaigns extend well beyond the launch and continue to grow organically. As new stories, case studies and ideas arise, pick up on them and promote them through all available channels. Keeping senior leaders informed of this progress helps when asking for funding, time or additional resources down the line. When discussing success with them on a continual basis, let them know about hot topics, best-practice examples and results, and encourage feedback. Then they stay on board and remain willing to engage in fresh promotional initiatives. When delegates rave about a program, harness their enthusiasm. Appoint them as a champion for the program and task them with continually singing its praises to persuade others to come on board.
8. Don’t be afraid to use social media.
Social media can be a great tool to cement good feeling around learning and developing and create a hunger for more. A dedicated Facebook page or Twitter feed can encourage talk about a program and get messages out in an objective way. Social media can even replace the old-fashioned newsletter. Think about how public social media should be, though. Is it OK that details about the organization’s training are available on the Web for everyone to see?
But going public isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Public social media accounts can create positive online noise about an organization, showcase how the company is investing in people, and help create a reputation as an employer of choice. If that’s a step too far though, simply set up a private group on Facebook and admit only verified followers to the dedicated Twitter account.
9. Steal marketing ideas whenever possible.
In the same way that trailers advertise upcoming films to dedicated moviegoers, Nissan’s Irvine shows movie-style advertisements during any down time in training courses. “It’s an incredibly effective way to have people in one course clamoring to go on the next while they’re still in the classroom,” he said. “We make sure no one course operates within a silo in terms of marketing, and we never stop promoting our full portfolio at every opportunity.”
Use these marketing techniques and, before long, learning leaders may find their days of struggling to fill a class are over, and now there is a waiting list instead. The beauty of all these ideas is that, as in any marketing campaign, they make learning and development desirable. What better testimony is there for a learning leader than to be able to say, “I created a culture of learning so strong that our people feel lucky when they get to sit in a classroom!”