Marketing for L&D: The secret to learning success?.

Written by Han Waddams

12 January 2023

learning management system

marketing for l&D

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As with every new year, the industry is currently full of predictions about what the biggest trends will be in 2023. And this year, one trend has come up more than it ever has before: Marketing for L&D. In this guest blog by Hannah Waddams from MAAS Marketing, we explore why marketing mindset, skills and tactics will help L&D teams reach new heights in 2023 and beyond. 

Take a second to consider your learners. How would you describe them? Enthusiastic? Motivated? Engaged? The truth is, when I asked this question to a room full of L&D practitioners, the answers were not so positive. Learners are busy, they’re sceptical of learning and most of all – they’re unengaged. But this isn’t a new problem in L&D, we’ve been talking about boosting learner engagement for years. So how can we begin to solve this problem once and for all? The answer lies in marketing.  

Marketers face one key challenge every day: to get their product (or service) in front of their target audience, who are almost certainly oblivious to the fact the product exists, or that they need it at all. Isn’t that the exact problem we have in L&D? So doesn’t that make you question… Do we really have an engagement problem? Or does our challenge lie with a lack of awareness? Or is it a blend of both?

Learner’s can’t engage, if they don’t know your learning exists

Right now, I have an obsession with Starbucks peach iced tea. Six months ago, I didn’t know this drink existed, I’d never heard of it and I’d never tasted it. But now I wake up at least once a week and think, “Oh, I really want a peach iced tea today.” And that’s because of marketing: I saw an advert, tried the drink and loved it. Of course, if the drink was awful I’d have never bought another. But without marketing, I wouldn’t have purchased the first. 

And this is why we need marketing for L&D. Because just like the tastiest drink on the Starbucks menu, even the best learning content needs to be marketed. This encapsulates the first challenge for learning professionals: capturing attention to overcome the awareness problem. 

However, as much as it is a very critical first step to boosting engagement; increasing awareness of your learning offering alone isn’t enough. We need to evoke emotions in our target audience and get them to take action. For example, even though I’m aware that Samsung smartphones exist – but I’ve never bought one. That’s because Samsung’s marketing has never got me moving, it’s never made me want to break my loyalty to Apple and try out one of their phones. Instead, I’m simply aware that the Samsung product exists. And this is where your learners’ will be sitting if you focus on boosting awareness alone. 

Marketing for L&D: Helping you cut through the noise and prompt action

We live in an attention economy. Your learners are distracted and they have a lot vying for their attention, which means they feel time poor and stressed. So if you want to make them aware of your offering and get them to interact with it, you need to take heed of these three top marketing for L&D tips:

  • Put the needs of your audience front and centre
    All too often L&D will launch a new course, programme or platform with the tech specs or features. Or hone in on the subject matter – and trust me, a course on GDPR never made anybody jump out of bed in the morning! It’s time to switch your thinking and put your audience first. What do THEY need to know? WHY should they engage with this learning? What will THEY get out of taking part? Lead with these answers in your marketing and you’ll be on the path to engagement. To answer these questions effectively, you need to know your learners really well, learner personas are a great help here!
  • Embrace the power of effective copywriting
    Many people think they can’t utilise marketing for L&D because they don’t have a fancy tech stack to automate the process. But this is absolutely incorrect. You can implement marketing tactics through many mediums, all by improving your copy. Copywriting isn’t a skill that comes naturally to everybody, but it is one that almost everybody can learn. In fact, a great tip is to take inspiration from the world around you – check out this blog from Marketing Examples for instance, it uses real life examples to show you the power of great copywriting. And remember, practice makes perfect!
  • Think about appearance and design
    First impressions count, right? So make sure you’re making a great first impression with an eye-catching design. Even if you can only use plain text emails to convey your message – make sure it’s short, snappy, digestible and chunked in a way that makes people want to read it. (In fact, your learning brand does a lot more than just creating a first impression, it also develops camaraderie and builds trust. So this is one I’d give a little extra attention to, if I was you!)

Marketing shouldn’t be the start and end of your engagement efforts

Marketing for L&D is a fantastic way of overcoming the awareness and engagement problem so many L&D teams face. But it cannot fix bad learning experiences. It is important that you focus on the entire learning experience from the very start (making your learners aware of your offering) all the way through encouraging them to be advocates learning. The truth is, we’re now at a point in L&D’s journey that great learning experiences alone aren’t enough – and neither is fantastic marketing. Instead, we need to bring the two together and create truly effective learning experiences, and market them in such a way that they get the attention they deserve.