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Talent Development Leader

Attract More Learners With Better Marketing

Shift your training programs from “must” to “want” in nine steps.


Tue Sep 19 2023

Attract More Learners With Better Marketing

Shift your training programs from “must” to “want” in nine steps.

Is your training program passive? Does your team publish e-learning content, send out webinar invites, and schedule lunch & learn opportunities—merely hoping for clicks or attendees? In a time when companies are cutting budgets, the economy is adding pressure to labor costs, and potential participants are understaffed or overworked, talent development professionals cannot expect participants to engage. Employees don’t want the training.


Remember that you are not selling anything for a price. In-house training is usually free, which works against you because people inherently ascribe a lesser value to an item that is free than to something with a cost.

So, what is your cost? Time.

All training takes time—not just to complete the program, but to practice and assess progress as well. When delivering a training program, the TD team is asking learners to spend their most valuable asset, the one for which there is no refund.

What are they buying for their time? The TD function’s credibility.

TD must deliver products to end users that matter to them, improve their ease of work, or show a benefit other than a check mark for attendance. Without such benefits, each time TD initiates a training program, the TD function damages its credibility. And, as the TD leader, your credibility is on the line as well.


Use these nine steps to create desirable programs. (Note: Although this system will work for compliance training, this plan is more for growth programs.)

Step 1: Define the end user

Is your training program for the executive team? The midlevel managers? Maybe frontline team members? Don’t overcomplicate when defining your audience.

Step 2: Determine how learners communicate

Find out the end users’ communication preferences. How they communicate—whether via email, a messaging platform such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, a podcast, or video series—matters more than the content.

Step 3: Vary your methods

Once you have created a communication plan, revisit it often. The communication platform Discord wasn’t on the map four years ago. Technology is a quickly evolving field. Diversifying your communication methods eliminates low-use cases, ensuring that your program reaches as many learners as possible.

Step 4: Be a good business partner

In a prior career, my frontline team members took Monday and Tuesday off; Friday was their busiest day. Looking back, I should have messaged them more on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The same goes for you. If you know that Monday is a heavy meeting day, avoid impromptu communications on Mondays. Staff can’t respond while already engaged.


In the beginning, try different times and days. I recommend testing times using the A/B method: Send an email message on one date and time one week, then send the same email on a different date and time the following week. Track the results and gather available analytics. After you find a slot that works, be consistent.

Step 5: Use clickbait

Steps 1–4 should feel familiar to you. As a training leader, none of those steps is outside normal monthly or quarterly expectations. This step, however, is different in a great way. Whichever way you choose to communicate, send users something that matters to them, such as an infographic or short video. The content should comprise only three to five minutes of learning time.

One of the best pieces I ever sent out was a business trip packing infographic. Years later, I had participants, now leaders themselves, reaching out to me to send the same infographic to their teams. Is there a return on investment on that infographic? Absolutely. I saved them time and gained credibility.

What could you send out to gain ROI in less than five minutes? Could it be a short e-learning module? A coaching guide? A 60-second video from the CEO? A five-minute audio message from you?

Step 6: Track it

Before your team emails that infographic, put the file on your file-sharing site so you can track who is clicking and downloading your materials. Once an end user clicks, you can facilitate more content based on that interest. Those who do not click, you can infer, have not yet found relevant or useful content.

According to Mailchimp, for every 100 emails sent, 21 will be opened and one will be clicked. Therefore, your content and the manner in which you share it—to include the language you use to describe it—significantly affect relevancy.

As a standard, my goals are a 35 percent read rate and a 7 percent click rate. So, for learners who don’t engage with the content, repeat steps 4 through 6 until you see engagement at a preferred rate.

Step 7: Make it special

By using analytics, you can view exactly when users transform from “need to train” to “want to train” and which content inspired the change. Use that knowledge to your advantage.

Schedule a webinar around a popular topic. Create a lunch & learn around a commonly downloaded piece of content. The idea is to cater to those who click and to make them feel special. When individuals feel special, they tell their peers.

By making your training exclusive, you create a need. People want to be in the cool group. Make your training the cool group.

Step 8: Ramp it up

Now that you’ve customized your content, go bigger. Send longer modules, full courses, surveys, and podcasts, and ask for testimonial videos.

Step 9: Automate it

Once you find content and communication methods that suit your learners, automate it. By automating the process, as more people click, your team doesn’t add more work. Rather, automation takes over.

Mandatory training no more

Don’t overthink the process. Don’t go for perfect. Go fast and iterate. There is no need to add headcount or reallocate resources (although an intern or entry-level copywriter could certainly jump-start the steps). Remember, you’re trying to sell a free product. If it’s the wrong product, there is no refund for time. The only cost becomes your credibility.

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