Brand. If you’re working in L&D you’ve got one, whether you knew it or not. But, could you say what it represents? And, does this match the perceptions of your audience? Your colleagues, consciously or otherwise, will have a perception of L&D’s core purpose, how they relate to the learning experiences on offer and the value they gain from them. A recent study by Google and top brand agency Ogilvy revealed supremacy of ‘word-of-mouth’ (74%) as the top influencer in any purchasing decision. Content-led marketing via YouTube (64%) and Twitter (61%) grab 3rd and 4th spot to show people choose brands that engage their passion and interests in the same way they consume content.
With consumer behaviour changing so quickly, understanding that the path to purchase is actually a path to purpose has meaningful implications for brand advertising at all stages along the consumer journey,
Brandon Berger, worldwide chief digital officer at Ogilvy & Mather.
Are people choosing your L&D brand to support them at work? Do they know why it’s important to your organisation and what’s in it for them as individuals? One forward-thinking team we work with, for example, has a strong guiding principle for people initiatives which is already helping to create demand for learning: “What we do for our customers we do for our people, our internal customers.” Caring about your brand and treating your colleagues as customers can successfully deflect your focus from marketing a learning product to directly responding to your internal customer’s needs at critical points in their employee life cycle.
The L&D identity crisis
Take the much-maligned topic of mandatory training. Not only is compliance or regulatory training often the first contact new starters have with your learning brand but also it filters how people view your corporate e-learning in general. We’ve seen many cases in which mandatory training becomes synonymous with a LMS system or learning brand. How it is perceived matters. Building a positive brand for existing L&D services makes it easier for people to get excited about new tech-based learning initiatives. As an industry, corporate L&D has experienced a serious identity crisis over the last decade as it catches up with the way the world is doing business. Quite rightly, many teams have regained a strong sense of self, using digital and building positive meaningful relationships with their internal customers. Taking your brand seriously is part of this.
So, why is your L&D brand more important than ever?
1. Users have increasing expectations of online experience It’s very likely that you’ll already be using technology to enhance your offering or you’ll have plans to incorporate digital solutions. When you do, how will it meet the needs of the audience? What does the customer journey look like? People are spending more time online with brands that are dedicated to providing a seamless multi-channel experience. So, it’s not surprising that Towards Maturity reports 51% learners find irrelevant, generic and low quality material a barrier to using in-house content. People need to know what to expect from your brand regardless of channel and how the experience fits into what they do on a daily basis. Consistency needs to flow across communication and the solution itself.
2. Purpose is important Progressive corporates are focussing on their purpose and why they do what they do, not just what they do. They also understand that many customers are becoming more discerning and make purchasing decisions based on more than cost, convenience and quality. Trust, relationships, and making a difference are important. Progressive L&D brands are doing the same.
When we assemble a group of leaders in education, we think they share a purpose, but in fact, they only share a cause. Until they can understand the diversity of purpose in the room, the cause has little hope of moving forward or creating meaningful change.
Aaron Hurst, The Purpose Economy
Your brand narrative needs to be shared and trusted by the individuals in your organisation. We know people care about trust. For example, the Amazon customer experience is amazing, but the recent tax scandal has affected their brand enabling John Lewis, which offers a similar quality of customer experience, to knock them off the top spot in Nunwood’s Customer Experience 2013 chart. This demonstrates the power of brand and how behaviour matters. What does your brand currently say about you? If your purpose until now has been about ‘delivering training’ then will people trust a new social initiative you have planned without some serious context-setting and repositioning? If your brand has been more about ‘enabling learning’ or ‘improving performance’ then there is more space for your internal customers to become part of it.
3. Shift from top-down training to pull-based learning services Brand becomes even more important if your learning strategy is shifting from course delivery to performance support resources and pull-based services. Brand as part of the customer experience is crucial to creating longer-term relationships with colleagues that meet their expectations rather than tactical promotion supporting the ‘one-off-purchase’ of a course. Learning as part of the workflow requires an understanding of what resources people need, when, and in what context, as well as an understanding of seminal points in an employee lifecycle. As David Mogensen, Head of Brand Engagement at YouTube asks, “Are your media plans built around product milestones such as a launch, a new feature or a line extension? Or are they based on people milestones such as a new job, a recent move or birth of a child?” Translating this to the workplace, when do your people need your services and are they there to support them when it matters? If you don’t think about the customer experience, your colleagues resourcefully will go elsewhere.
4. Focus on building a learning culture Many L&D teams have ‘building a learning culture’ as a priority in 2014. Many are also moving to a 70/20/10 model, which recognises that formal training represents only a small % of learning at work. However, there is a whopping 60 – 75 percentage points difference between organisations aspiring to support a culture of learning and those achieving it through a) the provision of content to employees at point of need, b) speeding up application of learning in the workplace and c) using defined performance support practices (Towards Maturity Learning Technologies Benchmark 2013). Here, a brand, which gives people permission to share, to learn and collaborate, and speaks to colleagues with a strong value proposition, is critical. Brand helps create the right context. You need to understand who are your influencers, culture setters and enablers. This is likely to include line managers and people that take part in cross-functional initiatives as well as the ExCo top table.
5. Competition for attention Your learning brand is one among many. More colleagues are using online resources to problem solve and support their work than ever before. As L&D teams enable or provide digital learning solutions they a) are competing with Google and social media and b) they can’t control exactly how support is received so building context and credibility is not only important to the brand but also providing impactful, usable solutions for colleagues. Put simply, there’s a need to cut through the noise. If you’ve got a strong brand and a ready audience you’re not building from scratch with every initiative or campaign.
Allow your colleagues to co-create your brand
So, how can you build a strong brand narrative and create demand for learning using the resources and stories around you? Well, just like Facebook your users, your colleagues are your most valuable asset. They are the characters in your brand and they will co-create and help you build it. Be clear on purpose, find out more about your audience, listen to them and share their success stories. There’s a great opportunity to make your customer voice central to an effective L&D brand strategy. Watch out for a future blog post on this topic. Brand is a really important strategy for forward-thinking L&D professionals as we aim to engage an increasingly tech-savvy and networked, time poor audience with business-relevant solutions.
About the Author: Cheryl Clemons is a strategic consultant and communications expert. Before co-founding LearnerLab, Cheryl was Communications and Strategy Director at Brightwave where she was responsible for brand, marketing and helping global brands, such as Sky, Bupa, Heineken, PwC and BP build evidence, tell powerful stories and show leadership through successful campaigns, case studies and awards.
With over 15 years’ experience in strategic communications, Cheryl has helped numerous L&D teams build evidence, tell powerful stories and show leadership. As CEO of LearnerLab, Cheryl helps organisations build strong learning brands and engagement stategies.
Follow Cheryl on Twitter @cherylclemons or visit the LearnerLab website
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