You’re standing in a supermarket with a shelf of similar-looking soft drinks in front of you, you can’t base your decision on taste, so you go by the best packaging. The branding acts as a shortcut to decision-making. That’s where most people think a brand’s influence ends, and they’re wrong!
Imagine the branding or slogan connects with you so much that you share it on your social media stories after, and then the taste or experience is so good that you commit to a full post to shout them out. The more you scroll through their feed, the more you realise that brand has the same values as you, and engaging with them adds a net positive to your life. Suddenly, you’re engaging with all their content and telling your friends and followers about it.
Now replace that soft drink with your learning platform or strategy and picture how sweet that would taste.
Your learning brand would be flying off the metaphorical shelves! People would connect to its message and values, use it more often, and become brand advocates who get more people to buy-in. By creating a strong learning brand, you can replicate the same loyalty, communities, and connections at work!
Why does a learning brand matter?
Aside from that connection and giving people a positive experience that they’re willing to share? Brands make people feel something, and that keeps them engaged! Or another way to put it is that they create long-lasting relationships. Almost 50% of food and beverage brands that were so popular in the US in 1923 were in the top five in 1997, more than 70 years later (source).
And with hopefully our last reference to food or drink, think about all those blind taste tests where people can’t identify their favourite brands from the rest. That brand has created a perceived quality that’s hugely powerful to how people interact with it.
We can’t always rationalise our connection to a brand, but it quite often gets passed down by our parents or a friend gets us hooked onto it. That’s a real tangible benefit of creating a strong learning brand! If you become an advocate, then you might encourage disengaged colleagues to buy in or share your good experience with friends outside the business.
As we’ll discuss later, that can make your company a far more attractive place to work. Even to the point where an employee who’s moved onto pastures new remains and an advocate in their new position!
Sometimes, a strong brand is used by companies to make noise and let you know that their product exists, especially in crowded markets or where one big player dominates. Sound familiar?
A big barrier to L&D is often a lack of awareness, whether that’s of the solutions altogether or what they can be used for. Or even worse, it’s a case of apathy! Well, a strong learning brand is something people can buy into far more easily, helping you tackle those two dreaded A’s.
Building your learning brand from scratch
One of the key things to keep in mind is that your brand can be crucial in making learning part of the higher conversations and help normalise development as a key part of the business. And it’s going to be much more successful at that if you involve the company’s wider goals and values, plus the key people.
Sit down and create a mission and vision statement for your brand, one that helps you understand your people and purpose. Ask yourself who your learners are, which problems they need us to solve, which goals you can help them achieve and so on. Define clear goals, objectives and an approach with your people at its heart. Your vision statement is much simpler, it’s where you want the brand achievements to take you further down the line.
Once you start to create the brand, make sure you’re involving people from the off! When people are more connected and have more influence over a project, they’re more likely to be engaged, invested, and an advocate once it’s live.
You might start by testing the water over what they’d like to see in your learning brand or strategy. When it comes to naming, logos, the colours, and all those other visual elements, ask away! Not only are you ticking that involvement box, you’re creating more awareness and familiarity with the learning brand. When brands offer an aspect of community, 37% of people stick with them because of that social appeal (source: the Content Marketing Association).
If you’ve already got a learning platform, brand or strategy, use that to guide you. If you were to rip it all up right now, which parts would you keep? Ask the same questions to the people using it, if there’s an aspect that really turns them off then that’s best left behind too.
Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it could be the lifeblood of your learning brand! The more you speak with people, the more you’ll spot those with genuine intrigue about L&D in your business. Harness that curiosity to convert them into genuine brand advocates, because their passion will help get others on board and your brand’s suddenly snowballing nicely.
Pitching and selling the brand
This section’s more about buy-in, we’ll come to more specific marketing tips shortly. So, how do you achieve that buy-in from all the right people? You’ve got to sell your brand effectively, and that means pitching the benefits effectively, while also considering that different departments will benefit in different ways.
For example, it’ll be an easier sell to your HR team if they understand the role it can play in talent acquisition. 50% of employees view employer branding as a key part of their HR approach, while those with a strong employer brand see hiring costs fall by 43%. Your learning brand offers a tangible way for them to demonstrate this to candidates and demonstrate the importance of development in your business. Not to mention the word of mouth difference that your people can make to talent acquisition when they shout about how good things are.
Apply the same thinking in the early discussions with stakeholders and other departments, which problems could your learning brand help them overcome? Pitch that in your messaging, and it’s much easier to see what’s in it for them. Don’t stop there either, as your brand evolves over time, ensure you continue to consult them and collect feedback. If they feel like they’re shaping the brand over time, you’ll create those longer-lasting relationships.
Everybody hates those ‘do as I say, not as I do’ people, so don’t be one of those when it comes to your learning brand. If you’re not using it consistently, why should anyone else? When you deliver onboarding and when you send out communications, incorporate your brand logo, messaging, values and voice.
One final thought on pitching your brand, never underestimate the power of rewarding people for their time and engagement. We’ve all seen those social media competitions where the prize is something pretty basic, and yet there’s hundreds or even thousands of engagements on the post.
A giveaway could be the gateway to buying into your brand, so think about the actions you want people to take and which rewards would encourage them to adopt those behaviours. They don’t have to be five-star holidays or a sports car, sometimes a badge or certificate will do the trick.
Marketing your learning brand
If your organisation has a marketing department, that’s the first door you should be knocking on! Not only do they have the skills needed to sell your learning brand effectively, they’re also the custodians of the company brand and should have a strong understanding of the business values. Essentially, this means they’ll help you position your brand as aligning with the wider strategy and identity.
If you don’t have a marketing team to lean on, you can still create an amazing promotional strategy and message. There’s a great phrase that features tell and benefits sell, which loosely translates to people only care about what they stand to gain from what you’re offering. Try to resist telling them technical things the brand or learning platform offers and create simple messaging about the benefits of buying in.
Another tip is to think about storytelling and making people feel like the ‘hero’ in your messaging. Help them understand how they’re personally going to engage with learning. Tap into the emotional aspects over pain points and frustrations they’re experiencing, possibly around growth or accessibility of resources and knowledge.
Creating a clear communications plan is another step you should take. Think about the timeline for release and how far ahead of that you’ll need to create a buzz. Also, consider how easy it is for people to share your communications and become advocates, that will determine the channels and messaging you use. For example, a 10,000-word internal press release is much harder to share than one visual infographic that covers a few key ideas or benefits.
We already hinted at the idea of a name, slogan, identity and tone of voice for your learning brand, and their power in marketing can’t be overlooked. We all have those brands that we have an irrational adoration for just because we love the way they talk or their imagery strikes a chord with us.
If you’ve understood your audience’s needs and interests well, you should be able to tap into that. For example, is there an informal term people already use internally that you could transform into a slogan or brand name. Do you know that people detest boring course names and having a little fun in them would catch their eye?
That ties in nicely with our final tip, think about where your audience is already engaged and tap into that. If the current intranet gets terrible response rates but the internal newsletter is everybody’s must-read each week, where are you going to have more luck?
Want to see how you can create a learning brand?
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