Grab employees' attention with a learning campaign based on marketers' principle of seven touches.
Have you ever developed a learning program only to have no one interested?
You send out emails and ask managers to promote the course, but few learners sign up. You're not alone.
Often, L&D teams develop great learning programs, but employees never consume or adopt them. Perhaps it's because employees aren't even aware of the program. Or if they are, they don't know how to access it or why they should attend. All of that wastes resources, frustrates your team, and means few people will benefit from L&D's efforts.
Take a chapter from marketing to understand how to raise awareness and get people to seriously consider your program and become advocates of the initiative. To accomplish that, use learning campaigns.
What is a learning campaign?
Rather than approaching a course or curriculum as a stand-alone event, a learning campaign approaches the training initiative as ongoing interactions that happen before, during, and after the core content. There is no single event but rather a series of communications across multiple modalities that raise awareness, facilitate consideration, promote decision, and reinforce repeat action.
The idea of such a learning campaign stems from how marketers promote their efforts. They follow the principle of seven touches. In short, marketers understand that it takes a minimum of seven exposures before someone is ready to hear their message. An example is a shoe company sending out multiple communications with just the brand and a basic message, such as "Your feet will love our shoes." Marketers always use multiple modalities. For example, for an introductory campaign, they may use a mixture of:
- One or more emails
- Social media posts (on different channels)
- Radio spots
- TV or cable ads
- Magazine ads
- A quote in a local newspaper (that is to say, public relations).
Marketers would create all of those with the hope that with the eighth exposure, the potential consumer would say, "Wait, I think I've heard of your company. What do you do?"
It takes frequency and multiple modalities to cut through the clutter and have a receptive receiver. And only when someone is ready to hear your message will they react or respond to it.
In a learning context, there are many parallels. Your learners are confronted with thousands of emails, text messages, voicemails, ads, permission slips, bills—let alone job assignments—that are competing for their attention. Leveraging branding and marketing techniques can help improve the visibility of your efforts and the efficiency of your communications.
Essential to shifting to learning campaigns is changing your mindset from approaching learning efforts as centered on a particular learning event (a course or training session) and viewing each interaction as part of that learning experience.
It's about looking at a continuum of communications, each one reinforcing the previous one but also adding little bits that incorporate learning content and explaining how applying that information will benefit them.
The principle of seven touches means that there must be at least seven precommunications before the main training event. Those communications will raise awareness and help prime learners to what you plan to share and why it's relevant to them.
Once you receive some degree of response from a learner—for example, registration or an expression of interest to learn more—then the true precourse learning campaign begins. As you transition to the learning content and introduce some knowledge transfer, be sure to keep the same branding and core messaging as the original communications. Continuity is essential. Postcommunications should also focus on extending the experience, rather than emotionless, knowledge reinforcement.
When developing learning content, think in terms of a campaign comprising four stages.
Promotional content. Use communications such as emails, flyers, voicemails, and manager promotion. Announce that the course is available to employees and that they should consider it.
Precourse. Use a series of drip emails, infographics, videos, or text messages to slowly introduce the concepts the course will cover, and then build on them so that learners are primed when they start the course.
Course. Keep doing the great stuff you currently do, ensuring that there is consistency in branding and messaging from what you communicated in the promotional and precourse communications.
Postcourse. This should be a continuum of the precourse and course experiences—not as tacked-on, spaced repetition, but rather incorporate the emotions and experiences that were part of previous campaign elements.
For each stage of the campaign, establish SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals. That information will help you know when to pivot and how to improve for future campaigns.
For example, how many emails will you send, in what timeframe, and with what messaging? What open rates count as success? What will you test as variations—different headings or subject lines or using pictures or sign-up pages? Will you use a mix of email only with written text?
When getting started, draft a creative brief to keep you and your team focused on whom you are trying to reach (your audience); what your goals are (Raise awareness of resources available? Get people registered in a particular amount of time? Ensure behavior change by a certain percentage of employees in the subject area?); and what sort of communications would work best for each group. For instance, emails to the accounting department with bulleted numbers that describe financial impact may resonate well with those employees, while for the marketing department, infographics that are highly visual and light on text posted on your company's intranet may work best.
As you set initial targets, think about the individuals you're engaging. Are staff physically in the office or mostly working from home? Establish some baselines for future testing. Depending on the accepted forms of communication within your organization, you may focus on messages via Slack instead of email. Pick a mix of seven ways and times to reach out, and measure those results. You'll start to establish some metrics of what's working when you do the second campaign. If you have metrics from previous efforts, use them to inform your decisions.
Don't test too many variables, and always have a control group that doesn't change (that is to say, how you've traditionally promoted courses). Be clear about what you want to report; how you will measure it; and where and how you will capture that information, such as via the learning management system, an email marketing tool, or intranet landing pages.
Ultimately, remember that behavior change is likely the real goal of all learning efforts—more so than registrations, open rates, or impressions. Thus, stay focused on that true goal rather than giving in to the temptation of easier metrics, such as how many emails you send.
How to build a learning campaign
A good learning campaign will incorporate two fundamental elements: personas and the learner's journey.
Personas are fictionalized versions of a representative learner and their motivations, challenges, and goals. They are not dependent on job description, role, or level in the organization. Although there should usually be no more than six for an entire company, global organizations may require modifications to account for cultural characteristics. For instance, in certain countries, female assertiveness may not be valued or is penalized, so keep in mind those influences.
Generally, aligning to motivations is the key to effective persona development and communication development. The what's in it for me (WIIFM) centers on someone's existing, internal motivation. While you can dissect that multiple ways, one easy way is using the six human needs that life and business strategist Tony Robbins identified:
- Certainty (for example, confidence in doing a job correctly)
- Uncertainty (for instance, be among the first to learn about upcoming changes to our systems)
- Significance (such as help our company transform cancer care)
- Love/connection (for example, be part of a team that's making a difference)
- Growth (Love to learn new things?)
- Contribution (for instance, we need people willing to help us address client concerns)
Set up testing, for example, by developing subject lines that align with each of the motivations. As you share the communications, move progressively through each motivational version until someone responds to a particular communication, such as an email. Tag that person with which version they responded to. Then for future communications, leverage the communication versions using that motivation.
The other essential element of your learning campaign is the learner's journey. In the marketing world, the use of journey mapping and the development of a buyer's journey have been tested and proven effective via inbound marketing—that is, providing useful, helpful, relevant content at the time of need.
Specifically, inbound marketing involves crafting content that meets people at their current knowledge level, addresses their current pain, and gives them language and a framework to pursue additional information and depth of knowledge to solve their problem. So, rather than disseminating sales flyers about how great a solution is or about all the LMS features, inbound marketing starts with how someone may conduct a Google search. For example, someone may type in "How do I keep track of compliance training?" That would be a "top of the funnel" question, meaning the individual has a pain point but doesn't know the options for addressing it.
In a blog post, the marketer could write a high-level overview about what's involved and a range of options, from handwritten sign-in logs to an LMS or specific compliance technology solution. A "middle of the funnel" blog post would go deeper into how LMSs and compliance technologies differ and some factors to consider to choose between one or the other. And a "bottom of the funnel" piece would provide greater detail about characteristics of different compliance technology systems and what to consider when deciding, such as elements that may be important for particular industries, global reach, or compliance requirements.
The value of that approach is that people aren't overloaded with information they aren't ready to receive; they don't get information that doesn't seem relevant to their use case; and it encourages self-directed learning because it's helping answer questions they already have or are led to ask.
A successful learning campaign uses the same approach for a learner's journey—meeting people where they are and guiding them to the benefit or the solution to a problem as they see it. Build the learning campaign in stages like the buyer's funnel, with content broken down into awareness, consideration, and decision as separate learning campaigns.
Rather than building cumulative knowledge in a course or curriculum, divide the process into stages that align with the questions learners may ask after what they learned in a previous stage. That keeps engagement and curiosity active and provides opportunities to reconnect the content to a learner's individual motivations.
For instance, you could have three learning campaigns for a sales enablement effort to improve closed deals. For the first, start with the question the individual may have, such as "I'm not closing enough deals—why?" For the second question, and therefore second learning campaign, build it around addressing options to answer:
"What can I do about it?" And for the third question and campaign, focus on "Which solution should I use?"
Too often, learning starts with what you want people to know. The key to an effective learning campaign is to start with what problem people want solved. Make the investment to get employees to a point where they want to know what you're offering.
For the learning campaigns, break down the content into your three questions, and tie the promotional, precourse, course, and postcommunications for each of the three stages to the relevant question.
As an example, for the second question, you could send a series of emails on options available, with pros and cons of each. "The pros and cons of cold calling to increase closed deals," "Top sales producers share why they like—and hate—automated emails to prospects," and "Our CEO really wishes the sales team did this one thing—and stopped doing this." Those three emails would be effective in helping teach someone about options they could use to solve the problem of not closing more deals—and the messages are positioned in a way that connects with the employee, meets them where they are, and sells them on the pros and cons versus lecturing to (or at) them.
In the course itself, promote the solution the company espouses, and make the argument for it. Then in followup communications, reinforce using that solution, and ask learners to be advocates for using it.
Putting it into practice
Being a learning professional can be rewarding but also terribly frustrating when people don't engage in your courses. By shifting from promoting a learning event to using a learning campaign, the learning organization can better meet people where they are, communicate WIIFM to learners, and support increased engagement at scale.
Learning Campaigns at Scale
To develop content targeting different personas at scale, first map where in the course you want to customize the different content types. Next, create a master draft, and then clone or duplicate the course. Finally, go into each cloned version, modify it where planned, and publish each version.
Tip: Use inventory codes to track which version of the course and related emails, graphics, and other collateral go together. For example, the code 2209CS1p1m1 could indicate:
- 2209 = September 2022, the publish date or date you start working on the course or through when a version is valid (for example, for a compliance course that needs to be updated yearly)
- CS = closed sales
- 1 = stage in the learner's journey (1, 2, or 3)
- p1 = persona 1
- m1 = motivation 1
Then each graphic, voice-over file, and other collateral related to that particular version would likewise use 2209CS1p1m1 as the stem for additional coding (for example, 2209CS1p1m1_slide20).
When developing courses, plan ahead what you'll swap out, such as banner images, examples, and particular words based on motivations. Doing so makes it easy to develop the variations initially and to replace those elements in the cloned versions of the course.
You can easily reuse the same assets for the promotional, precourse, course, and postcommunications.