Five Essential Marketing Skills Every L&D Practitioner Needs

Optimisation cycle of delivery - marketing and L&D

One of the wisest things I’ve ever read about the job that I do said: “Marketing is a contest for people’s attention”, which is irrefutably accurate. But isn’t L&D fighting the same battle? After all, we’re both aiming:

  • To engage and drive interest with a potentially distracted, detached audience
  •  To instigate a change in behaviour, whether that’s to come to our website to buy something new, or visit a new LMS

Instigate a change in behaviour? Wouldn’t we all love that, an alternate universe where your learners love training and get all amped up on elearning? So why are we all getting it so wrong? Modern learners require modern approaches. If you really want to get under the skin of your learners’ mindset, the same way marketers do with their target audiences, then there are several key things you must do in order to really leverage marketing techniques to make your training interventions even more powerful, useful and appropriate for your employees.

1. Unify systems to create a singular learner view

You’re probably wondering why I am talking about unifying technology when you were expecting marketing skills and tips. But I promise you, this is a foundational, fundamental aspect to any data-driven marketing function – and is absolutely critical to achieving good results in L&D too. Good quality data is the lynchpin of almost everything I talk about from hereinafter – and getting it all in one place is just the beginning.

Got loads of systems? You’re not alone. According to my webinar attendees, nearly 40% of L&D departments have at least 5 different systems in place. Five. What a challenging situation that is.

Marketing webinar - results poll 1Don’t get me wrong; I’ve worked in marketing departments where we have an email marketing system that is siloed from our CRM, with data, insights and analytics separate too. Nothing talks to each other and I confess to spending far too much time just trying to understand what the heck is going on in marketing, and whether anything I did resulted in any positive business impact whatsoever.

But I tell you what, when I did know the impact of my efforts, or when I worked in places where those insights were easier to get a hold of, boy did my marketing approaches and subsequent conversions thrive. Translation = we sold more stuff.

Siloed data makes everything really, really hard. But by amalgamating your systems, or at the very least getting them to talk to one another using things like APIs, you’re taking the first step in gleaning critical information about your employees, what they do, how they consume information. And this is 100% critical to the success of what we’ll discuss later.

But this is where you start. This is your foundation and it will either make or break your L&D strategies if you want data and insights to be an integral part of approaches (which they really need to be if you want to be successful).

2. Big data and personalisation

If you’ve successfully managed to unify all your systems with one another or maybe dumped them all for something that offers a consolidated, holistic approach to organisational training (which you really may have to consider doing) then probably one of the first things you’ll notice is that amount of data you have. I expect it’s A LOT.

So much data. What to do with it?

No – don’t put it in the bin (which I confess to considering doing myself with all the new GDPR regulations coming into play next month). There are some gems in there though – I promise.

Let me ask you a question: Do you know who you are trying to reach? Like, do you really, really know? Yes. Of course, it’s your learners. But do you even know what they like/hate/want/need? Do you know what motivates them? Do you even know their pain points or challenges? It’s time to really get under the skin of your audience and big data will help you do that.

Just as marketers are profiling their audiences to produce more targeted content, so should you be profiling your learners to better understand what motivates them, what learning has been effective (and why) as well as understanding generational divides in learner pools and how that might impact the way you deliver the training.

This is where key data segmentation is important. In marketing, it’s so vital that we are talking to specific pain points of our audience, which of course will vary hugely depending on your audience pools. This helps immensely with personalisation and creating a sense of utility – always fulfilling the “what’s in it for me” sentiment that many learners now have.

Harnessing your data - marketing and L&D slide

I know you’re probably thinking, geez Ashley I don’t have all of the time in the world to be lurking in spreadsheets, analysing data. I do understand that. But if you can have one key take away on this point, then make sure that you take the time to understand and profile your key audience types that you are always talking to, creating learning for etc.

3. Content marketing

Ultimately, I know you want better engagement. Don’t we all. But I bet you don’t have a learner engagement strategy in place. What’s the plan guys, or are you just hoping that you can put some “snazzy” (you can’t see my air quotes, but they’re there) elearning out there, and MAGICALLY everyone will love and adore it?


I’ve talked about creating timely interventions with your learners using all your shiny disseminated data. But what the heck are these interventions I speak of? Well, in marketer’s terms they’re content. Ya know, ebooks, guides, blog posts, infographics, webinars, social media posts, gifs, videos etc (just a few things then). And in L&D terms, they’re your elearning modules, the messages you send about training and the assets you use to drive awareness of the training/LMS.

Making the pretty things

I understand that considering creating loads of content seems daunting, but remember what I said, this already includes your elearning modules, the email messages you send out to learners and the supporting assets you use within training environments. With many businesses contending with 4 generations of learner at work, never has it been more important to interact with them differently.

So how do you do that?

Let’s talk about your elearning first, because if we don’t fix that, it doesn’t matter how much energy you put into getting people interested in doing it, when they end up doing it, they will despair and they will be extremely reluctant to do further training. It’s the equivalent of me putting loads and loads of energy into driving my target audience to a core landing page to download an ebook or guide, but when they get there, they realise the guide is crap. Maybe they download it, maybe they don’t. But if the content was crap, they sure as hell won’t be coming back to my website anytime soon.

Pure and simple – remember, always fulfil, WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?!?!

Based on my experience in marketing, there’s a couple of core items within content marketing that have proven to better engage audiences.

  1. Video and visual content. Yes, it’s just one type of content, but gosh is it important. Its meteoric increase in popularity is fuelled by social media – just look at the dominance of YouTube. You absolutely need to consider how you can start using this medium in your business. I don’t care if you don’t have big budgets – there’s plenty of cheap and easy ways to make videos now that we all have smartphones.
    • Selfie videos as part of your onboarding programme
    • Simple animations can cost as little as £1500 – or, you know, subscribe to Litmos Heroes…. (shameless self-plug ALERT – because we have loads of video training as well as supporting resources such as infographics, workbooks, imagery, video clips and more).

    Here’s an example of the type of videos you could consider:

  2. Gifs/visual content/rich media: Check out this really cool image making programme called Canva (it’s a super easy way to make rich media assets using templates). It will save you hours and hours of time and could be used in all sorts of environments including:
    • Giving emails that your LMS sends an uplift
    • Visual content to promote training on your intranet
    • Posters, snail mail etc (this is for the folks who aren’t always sat smack-dab at a computer all day).

Content repurposing, with purpose

I know, I know what you’re thinking – “I don’t have the budget for this stuff.” Ahhh well – neither have I in some marketing departments I’ve worked in. That’s where the secret marketing sauce really comes into play and that is content repurposing. Producing content isn’t always about creating something new. I know you don’t believe it – but you have a wealth of content just ready to be repurposed – all housed in your elearning. TIME TO GET CREATIVE.

I’ll give you an example of a campaign I did once: I wrote a guide. From that guide I created three different blog posts, two infographics, a webinar (whose slides I then turned into a separate ebook), countless social media images and stats, comparison tables. You name it – I made it. All from one source piece of content. Why put all that energy into creating just one single thing – and then let the wealth of your effort just lurk there?

Create stellar synergy content from your source elearning and remember – it’s not always about volume (well in my honest opinion, it’s never about volume). Focus on creating quality items, rather than reams of them.

4. Optimisation

Ahhh more data. Optimisation is really important to continuously and iteratively improve marketing efforts – so I asked my webinar attendees how many of them presently do any sort of analysis on the success of their training interventions? Some interesting results:

Marketing webinar - results poll 2I ask you: How do you know what you’re even doing without data measurement and iteration? How do you know if your training is successful if you just pop it in your LMS and never look at anything apart from completion rates?

Optimisation, in my opinion, starts with benchmarking. This is your baseline of current success (and don’t be afraid if the results are underwhelming, we’re going to fix that with our ongoing optimisation!!). Without this foundational understanding of the current state of play, it’s going to be really hard for us to evolve and improve.

How do you benchmark?

Well, depending on your LMS, you should at least be able to get completion rates. If you don’t have Google Analytics on your LMS, I highly recommend that you install it ASAP. This will give you plenty of data that you’ll need for benchmarking and red flag indicators such as (just bear in mind that it will take some time to get clear results):

  • A bounce rate of above 55% or more on any of your pages – a bounce, according to Google, means that someone landed on the page and took no further action. Surely there was something you wanted them to do on that page?
  • Extremely short dwell time on pages – again, surely there was something you wanted them to do on those pages?
  • Long dwell times on pages – Ohhhhh learners likey. Not always – perhaps they’re getting stuck? Maybe they can’t find what they need to. Maybe they left their browser open on that page for 3 hours. Without investigation, who knows.

Once you have some data from GA and your benchmarking (which should highlight areas that you want to improve) it’s time to consider introducing A/B testing wherever you can. The key with A/B testing is only changing one thing at a time, so consider:

  • Changing layouts of your LMS homepage
  • Changing layouts of course pages
  • Changing the colours of buttons etc

This all helps you gain a better understanding of what’s working, so you can do more of that. And less of what’s not. This sounds fundamentally simple, but I expect so many of you aren’t really taking the time to understand your audience, profile them, and then actually leverage behaviour data that even the most simple of LMSs hold. Time to make a change. Optimisation is about a constant cycle of delivery – devise > deliver > iterate > review > restructure > devise. Do that, and never, ever stop.
Optimisation cycle of delivery - marketing and L&D

5. Customer (read: learner) experience

Customer experience is quite the buzzword du jour in marketing. Everyone who is anyone is talking about it. It felt foolish to not include it here, because, ya know, marketing IS L&D, right?

So what’s customer experience? In commerce, customer experience is the product of an interaction between a business and a customer over the duration of their relationship. So if we translate that into learners….then that’s right – learners are with you for life. What are you doing to have ongoing connections with them, to foster advocacy, to really get them interacting with you? Well – if you’ve done points 1 – 4, you’re making a good start.

I borrowed this methodology from McKinsey – here you have a clear plan of action around creating a holistic, engaging learner experience.

  • Observe – Learner journeys consist of a progression of touchpoints, that together add up to the experience that learners get when they interact with your business. Seeing the world as their learners do helps leading organisations better organise and mobilise their L&D departments around learner needs.
  • Shape – Designing the learner experience requires re-shaping interactions into different sequences, and though the effort may start small, soon entails digitising processes, reorienting company cultures and nimbly refining new approaches in the field.
  • Perform – Rewiring a company to provide leading learner experiences is a journey in itself, often taking two to four years and requiring high engagement from company leaders.

It all adds up to digital transformation

This may be about integrating new learning technology. You’re only as strong as your tools, maybe it’s time for a tech overhaul. Maybe it’s time to introduce some new methods and approaches into your business. Either way, you must be the driver of change in your organisation – you must be the one to initiate, iterate, and integrate. Accept that your audience is evolving and changing; accept that the way you deliver training has to as well.

And remember – always think about your learner, in every single thing you do. Always ask yourself – what do my learners want?

This content is taken from my recent webinar, feel free to download the resources here.

Webinar recording

Webinar slides

Stick Man

Author Stick Man

Stick Man is the saviour of the Learning Technologies industry. He’s not happy unless he is saving the world from boring learning. He’s been saving the world from boring learning since 2014, and intends to continue to do this well into old age (Stick Men live to around 3000 years old apparently). He loves it. Other things that excite him are cat videos and a nice flan.

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