Friday, August 31, 2018

What Can L&D Learn from Marketing?

Both marketing and L&D share the single-minded goal of influencing thinking and behavior. They deal with similar challenges including how to build more connection and engagement with their target audience. So, is there something L&D can learn from marketing?

  • Treat learners as customers - Whether we call them learners, participants, workers, professionals or customers, as L&D, we need to know their goals and motivations, existing knowledge and experiences, demographics, learning preferences and behaviours. Marketing starts with understanding their customers and marketing teams are diligent about audience analysis and use that information to design the right message for their target customer. As L&D, we must be clear about our target audience and create a compelling learning experience that is suited to their needs. One of the ways to do that is to adopt and adapt the concept of customer journey mapping to visualize each learning experience through the learner lens. As we take our customers through the learning experience, it is important to think about all those critical points of connect that L&D will have with them through the entire journey and focus on keeping the journey contextual and connected to real-life and work.

  • Tell a story - We have all heard a good marketing story. Simply put, a good story makes the message more memorable and personal. For marketers, stories help engage customers so that they buy into the product or service. It is safe to assume that the same can be done using the right stories around learning and performance. As L&D, we can leverage the impact of powerful, meaningful stories and narratives. Stories can help us engage our learners in conversations that are important to them. Besides, a good story is able to make a deep emotional connect where a perfectly designed training manual can't! As L&D, it is important for us to not only know who our learners are but specifically know how emotionally-invested they are into the learning experience. Knowing this, we can use stories and narratives to address some of their mental roadblocks and challenges and create the right expectations before and after the learning experience. 

  • Align to business - Marketing closely aligns with the business at all times. Infact, I don't think it would exist without this alignment. L&D needs to do the same. I spoke about the value of alignment to business in an earlier post. A constant focus on business and how L&D can impact the bottom line by improving everyday work performance is critical. In the absence of this alignment, we tend to design training or learning experiences that have little or no value to the business and to the learners. To take this a step further, marketing constantly demonstrates the value it adds to the business through various metrics and L&D must do the same. Using ROI, ROE, surveys, feedback, anecdotal evidence, etc. L&D must make a conscious effort to articulate its value to the business and to all its stakeholders including learners. Establishing an L&D brand positioning and using that as a guideline to identify the core capabilities and the unique value that L&D brings to the table is also a part of staying aligned to the business. 

  • Go where the learners are - The mark of a good marketing strategy and excellent customer service is to go where the customers are. Marketing teams don't wait for customers to get to them; they anticipate customer needs, build products and solutions and identify multiple ways of reaching and engaging with their target audience. L&D can do a lot more of that with their customers. L&D needs to move away from the 'if you build it, they will come' mentality towards 'how do we best provide learning and performance tools at the point of need.' L&D needs to make an effort to listen to what the learners need and where and when they will find the learning most useful. This means providing greater flexibility with learning including at work, online or via blended learning models and empowering learners to choose what, where, when and how they want to learn. L&D departments have to be where the learners are. They need to explore the themes of personalization and customization and think about using informal learning, social learning, microlearning and other emerging concepts, tools and technologies to reach learners and respond to their needs. 

If L&D wants to be customer-focused like Marketing, then it is time to:
  • stop managing and start empowering learners.
  • stop directing and start responding to learner needs. 
  • stop creating courses and start solving business problems.