What can L&D learn from marketing

Posted by on 21 June 2017

What can digital marketing teach us about learning? Karen Moloney from The eLearning eXperts shares the surprising parallels that she has discovered between the two fields.

Subscribe using your favourite podcast player or RSS

Subscribe on Android Listen to Stitcher rss icon

Sign up to our email newsletter to get podcast updates

Links from the podcast

Transcript

Robin:
It's Robin Petterd here, the host of the Learning While Working podcast. Today I'm talking to Karen Moloney, from The eLearning eXperts, about what L&D can learning from Marketing.

At the end of the interview I ask a question I maybe should have asked a little bit earlier in the interview, which was why Karen became interested in Marketing. Her answer's very similar to my own interest in Marketing: if you're running a business, you need to be an expert in Marketing. It's a key activity.

Karen has found that as she's learned more and more about Marketing, she's discovered it's got a rich set of ideas, tools and practices that can be used to transform Learning. There are a lot of great ideas in this podcast, including about developing personas, ideas around evaluation and ongoing measuring and testing, and using dripped email campaigns that happen over a period of time for spaced learning.

I really enjoyed doing this interview with Karen. I didn't feel like it was enough time, but I really try to keep these to twenty minutes. I might have her back sometime in the future to explore a few things like copywriting and calls to action and explore some of the nuts and bolts of Marketing.

Karen, welcome to the Learning While Working Podcast.

Karen:
Hi, Robin. It's great to be here. Thanks.

Robin:
It's really good for you to be joining me today to be talking about the relationship between learning and development and marketing and what L&D could learn from marketing. What are some of your big ideas around what L&D could learn from marketing?

Karen:
I could be here all day. There's a few things that I highlighted to talk about. I think probably the first thing I'd touch on is customer avatars, so I think years ago in traditional L&D as it was we would do learning needs analysis, and over the years that's something that's, I don't know, just disappeared in organisations. I know a lot of times when we were doing projects kind of going into clients and talking about how we could get to the audience and actually talk to the people who were going to be receiving the learning and taking part in the learning, and it was kind of, "Yeah. No. We don't really need to. We just need to talk to the subject matter experts." That didn't really fly with me.

I think it's really, it's getting more and more important to think about the learners. There's lots of talk about learning should be more learner-centric, which kind of always puzzled me a little bit, because if we're creating learning for somebody, why isn't it about them, but inherently it hasn't been. It's been more about pushing content on people, so I think doing this for my business as a marketing exercise and as something that we do in learning - really understanding who these people are can give you some great insights into how you can create a program that's going to really resonate with them and help with retention and transfer of learning.

There was a project that we did a few years ago where it was actually a project that was for the general public rather than being for internal, an internal organisation. The company that we were working with got an external consultant in to do some customer insights work, and she went and did some research and spoke to the small business owners and came back with this summary of six insights about that audience, and that was amazing for us because it just - it gave us a completely different skew on how we were going to deliver that learning, and it really hit the mark.

When I talk about customer avatar, it's really defining who is your learner, what age are they, what nationality are they, what gender are they, where are they geographically based, do they work in isolation, are they working as part of a team, how are they going to consume the data, what are their interests outside of work, and then you can take some of that information and build it into your programs. Really understanding where and when they're going to do their learning is super important, what else might be going on at the time, all of these things.

I think when marketing have a product to take to market, they will go, and go in-depth on who is that person and how can we best create the program or create the product or get to them in such a way that it's really going to resonate with them or make them want to buy it, and engage with them.

Robin:
There's lots of reasons for that, I think. There's the whole if you're marketing a product or a service you need to make sure someone's going to buy it, so you need to think about who your audience is. Then there's also this interesting thing that marketing companies are quite often dual design companies as well, and there's this thing around design thinking and design processes that are around really nailing who that person is at a really emotional level and building those stories you're sort of talking about as well.

Karen:
Completely.

Robin:
There's this really nice thing about also developing, what you're talking about, the personas, and then each persona having - a measurement might have come back from the insight, say, "This person needs to be able to do this," as a little bit of a scenario for the future as well, and that can be really valuable. Also, challenging sometimes from a learning point of view if some of those things are actually not traditional learning activities that they need.

Karen:
Yes. Absolutely.

Robin:
Cool. What else?

Karen:
I think it's getting clear on what the features and the benefits of your products are, so again, this is sort of classic marketing speak, but the features of your product and the benefits of them will help people engage with it and decide if they want to do it or not. Putting it out there, when you're saying to people rather than, "Oh, here's a piece of learning, and it's mandatory. You need to complete it by Friday," saying, "Okay, well here's this piece of learning. Some of the features are that it's online, it's accessible 24/7, on demand. It's in small chunks so you can do it as and when you want to." Those kinds of things. Talking about what the product's made up out of and how they can access it.

Then, the benefits of your learning outcomes, and I still see learning outcomes written as 'to understand'. At the end of the day, I want to know, if I'm going to spend my time engaging in some kind of learning whether that's a formal or an informal program, at the end of that what's the benefit to me? What am I going to learn? What am I going to be able to take back to my work? When people say, "to understand something, how do we really define that?" We need to get clearer on, okay, so you're going to be able to measure X, or you're going to be able to analyse Y, or you're going to be able to perform this transaction. Using all of those illustrative verbs to create real, solid learning outcomes, because I just still see the word 'understand' everywhere and it drives me bonkers.

Robin:
There's some things like flipped learning and those sorts of approaches which actually I don't think help. They actually sit there and validate, but learning is about knowledge, not about behavioural change, so it's really interesting. I sit there and go, actually, if it's got knowledge in it, it's probably a information product that you need, a resource, and, yes, there might be better ways of presenting that resource, but it's not a behavioural change.

Karen:
No. Totally agree with you.

Robin:
That's interesting as well, because essentially you're pitching it in your thinking as from a learner's point of view sometimes they don't actually - the benefit isn't to know something. The benefit's to do something.

Karen:
We all get bombarded by so many bits of information every day. I constantly suffer with information overwhelm, and there are so many things that I want to read. My pile of books is high and my folder with all the things that I want to read online is high. I have a thirst for knowledge, but I have got a bit tired over the years of reading the things, particularly online where it's blog posts about here's the things that you should do. It's like, okay, right, well, I guess, okay, so I need to - I should, I don't know, read more, but where can I go to do that and finding things that are more tangible that allow me to go, "Okay, so if I'm going to read these blog posts, I know at the end of that there's going to be a useful resource they will point me to, that will help me go and do that thing."

For me that's the benefit is that I know that when I get to the end of that thing there's going to be a thing that helps me go and do it, which is going to make a difference to whatever it is I want to make a difference to.

Robin:
Yes. Okay. That's actually interesting because there's a lot of marketing people also talk about the idea of if you've got a long form blog post that you also make sure you leave a tool that someone can access and download to help them actually implement that. They come from a point of view of if someone's read two thousand words, they might want to actually know it, be able to know something and if you give them something, and are you then also engaging them with a signup as well.

Karen:
I think these, again, these days, going back to that information overwhelm thing, there are so many opportunities for people to learn now. I think in years gone by the learning was kind of contained within the organisation. We were the ones that provided them with the learning opportunities, and nowadays people can go wherever they want and learn anything online, much of it for free, and some of it for just a few bucks. We're competing now, and we have to think more with a marketing mindset, because particularly if we're moving to more informal modes of learning delivery and things that are not mandatory, then how are they going to tell above the noise which things are going to be best for them to learn, and that that's going to be in the, okay, this is the features of this particular learning experience, whatever it might be, and this is what it's going to do for you. This is how it's going to improve your life.

Robin:
The marketing and sales process is actually a behavioural change process - becoming aware of another way of doing something, contemplating a future, then acting upon it, which is sometimes purchasing or engaging. It is very similar to our learning process in many ways.

Karen:
Very similar. Yeah.

Robin:
It's also interesting, I think the thing is - there's so many different ways of getting information and knowledge, I think the exciting moment or the thing that's happening is that learning, and learning designers, and instructional designers are now possibly in a spot where they can start to focus on learning processes with existing knowledge that might be in there as well. Just that it's like what you were saying with the blog posts, if you read it that doesn't necessarily mean you actually change or do anything differently.

Karen:
No. We could be using those things as the basis for, "So, yeah, okay, so there's some great information over here, and then when you've read that come over here and I'll give you something to go and do that's going to help you implement that thing, or show you how you can apply that knowledge to what you do." A lot of that content development has been done for us. What's missing with a lot of that information out there is the instructional design, the sort of sits underlying that, underneath that to pull it all together and help people make sense of it and to actually learn from it.

Robin:
Yes. Sometime hopefully soon we're actually going to put together a storytelling for learning course actually built around a series of videos that were actually for a MOOC that was on storytelling, and then actually organise the activities around them, so essentially almost needing no content development, because the content's already there, so really great material from really great storytellers, but it just needs to be contextualised for actually, actual learning. We can provide a demo of how that can be done.

Karen:
Look forward to that one.

Robin:
So, three things. We've talked about two things. What was the third thing?

Karen:
It's about measurement, it is - we always hear people banging on about evaluation, but it's just something that we really do or don't do. There's lots of stats and some reports that have come out this year I've seen about people that either don't measure or don't understand what the results were of that learning, and to me that comes back to the very beginning of when you take on a learning project is we need to be asking why are we doing this, and what are the changes that we're expecting to see in the business, or how are we actually going to measure it.

Yes, some things are difficult to measure because they're not necessarily tangible things, and some of them may take a long time to show themselves in the business, but we can - there are little things that you can measure along the way, even if it's just by pulse check type surveys with people, or observations of behavioural change for particular incidents. We can measure and there are a million different ways that we can do that. People have devoted their lives to helping us understand how to evaluate the impacts of learning, but we just don't do it, and it doesn't have to be difficult.

You can pick three benchmarks, so this is where we are before learning, and this is where we expect to be after learning, and this is where we actually are, and just see if you're actually making a difference. It's all very well getting awards for creating fantastic pieces of learning that uses technology and they're super swanky, but did they actually make a difference at the end of the day? This is the thing, and I think one of the reports I read it, I wrote a post on it a little while ago. I think it might have been the LinkedIn report, LinkedIn learning report.

It was about the fact that I think there's - It was something ridiculous like 98% of CEOs, like the C-suites, kind of believe that learning has a valuable part to play in the organisation's development and strategy, and all of those things. But something like 8% could actually tell you that they've seen some tangible results from learning that's been developed. So there's a massive gap there in terms of they kind of - so they believe in us, they want to give us the money to go off and do things, and they think that learning has a place in the organisation, but we're not demonstrating the value to them in terms of ROI.

We need to be thinking more about measurement, but the measurement comes at the beginning. You need to define it at the beginning of a project and not get to the end of it and go, "Right, okay, so how are we going to work out if this actually worked then?" Because by then it's too late. If you know what you're measuring at the beginning, then that actually feeds into the design of what you do.

Robin:
You've used some really nice examples there as well about ways of being able to collect data as well. There's a lot there, Karen, and I'll just pick up a couple of things. You've actually reminded me I like to put myself in the spot of being a learner on a regular basis, and I've been involved in a marketing development program for the last couple of years, and what's really fascinating is about every eight weeks they send out a short survey that's based on the net promoter score, so it's two questions: a rating, and then a short answer, taking people about two or three minutes every time.

Actually, now having done it for 18 months I've realised when I'm grumpy with the program my ratings change, and when I'm happy they go back up, and I sit there and I go, "This is so quick for me to be able to do. It's giving them data back constantly of how people are travelling as a cohort, and individually as well." It's just a really quick way of doing it. I've never actually been particularly keen on the net promoter score, but having been at the end of it for a long period of time, actually decided it's a really simple benchmark.

Karen:
Yes. It's good.

Robin:
Because marketing is like learning, I think, in organisations. It's quite often doesn't have a direct outcome, and marketing is almost sometimes seen in organisations as an overhead. It is: sales is directly generating revenue and delivery or product development is the billable bit, and then marketing is a bit that sort of tacks on at the beginning of all of this. Unless they were really good at measurement, marketing actually can be in quite danger, in a dangerous spot of being seen to be irrelevant.

Karen:
It can. I think because so much marketing is done digitally these days, I mean there are lots more ways that we can be measuring engagement and click-throughs and those kind of things, so I think marketers have a lot more tools at their fingertips now to understand what's working and what's not. There's still quite a big element of the 'suck it and see'. There's lots of like when we used to do blog posts, we always do the A/B testing which is: you send out our posts with something different on each one to half of our lists, so whether that's a different subject title or the title of who it's come from, just to assess, or the headlines that we're using, but just to assess what people are actually responding to and it's quite interesting that the patterns that are going through that. I think a lot of that can feed into learning as well.

They're the sort of things that we can be measuring to be able to tweak, whereas in the past it was kind of, you paid lots of money to create a direct mailer, and spent ages stuffing envelopes and sticking stamps on things, and then you just wait. Some people would have opened that and left it in their tray for later, but you got no sense of what's going on with that, whereas these days we've got a bit more of a sense of whether we're generating interest and where it's going. The same with learning. If you're doing things through LMSs and things, I think we don't really understand what our LMSs can do for us, and a lot of them are very clunky and not well suited to some of this kind of reporting.

I mean even on if you're hosting things on your intranet, if you're putting videos and things up there, IT will be able to tell you how many clicks those videos have had. There's ways that you can measure the effectiveness of even just those informal bits of learning in terms of interest, and then talk to people about what they did with it.

Robin:
I've talked about A/B testing a couple of times in webinars, and there are some confused responses about it, so it's actually interesting, because I think anyone who's running a business is familiar with it. If you haven't heard about the idea before, you essentially put out two versions of things and then just - it normally just only tests, say, one different thing, so like what Karen's talking about it's just a headline. I know the email software Sprout Labs uses essentially it works in a way where you put out the tests half an hour beforehand, and then it automatically decides which one's got the most opens, and then just shoots out the rest of them to the mailing list with the one that's optimised, automatically.

It's quite often interesting how the one that's working is not the one that I thought would be the case.

Karen:
It's generally what happens, isn't it? Even just down to things like when we've been looking at Facebook advertising, the kind of images that you use that people resonate with or don't resonate with and things like making sure the consistency of that. If you've got an ad and people click on the ad that's an image, when you get to the landing page their image should be the same image, because then they know they've got to the right place. Again, in learning we don't often carry those things through, so there's - we could be here all day. There's a million things.

Robin:
There is one more thing I would really like to touch on quickly, and now I've moved into this thinking about digital marketing a little bit. One of the things that are really common in digital marketing now is drip campaigns where messages are sent out to a particular persona over a period of time. What do you think the potential in learning for that sort of thing could be?

Karen:
It's interesting. I did a little video, a little webinar for Michelle Ockers and her team a while back, because they were looking at using email automation to drip feed little campaigns. I can share that with you if you like. I actually quite like that in terms of being able to just, when I get an email that drops in my inbox, it says, okay, right, so today you're going to go off and do this one thing, and then tomorrow you're going to go off and do this one thing, and Wednesday you're going to do that one thing. It's quite a nice way to keep people engaged and pull them in rather than expecting them to leave what they're doing and go into - proactively go into an LMS.

We're using LMSs to send out email reminders to people to say, "Oh, yeah, you haven't completed this yet. You're overdue for this yet." It's all quite negative, whereas you can use it in quite a positive way to deliver short bursts of learning, so whether that's a five day mini-course or once a week or even once a month, but just getting people - it's just that little nudge to, "Hey, come in and have a look at this." It was quite interesting because - I think it was an online discussion somewhere about, and somebody mentioned that large organisations are now starting to see how they can get rid of email, so this probably wouldn't work.

I just think that it would be a really long time before we can ditch email, and I don't know how many things in life would work without it. I think they have huge potential. I think most LMSs are capable of doing email automation workflows where, say, you can just point people to different resources. Sometimes it is just that, you know, "Come in and have a look," or just something that's interesting for you. There's lots of different applications for it in terms of content, but I think the premise of just tapping people on the shoulder and saying, "Hey, we noticed that you did this, would you like to come in and have a look at that?" It helps to personalise the learning as well.

Robin:
You're right that most of those same systems that we use for sending out reminders and nags could actually be used for sending out our content over a period of time just based on their experiences. We've got it set up in our learning content management system where message goes out and you literally click on a link and you go straight into the activity. You know, just log in, and that's quite powerful as well.

Karen:
It is. I think the one objection to it is that people already get too much email, and I think that's valid, because email is ridiculously used incorrectly in many places. But I think with all of this stuff we need to be able to set some time aside for people, so when they get that email that comes through every Thursday or whatever it might be, they need to know that they have some allocated time to be able to click through and go and do that thing, otherwise it's just going to get put to one side and not done again. That's another issue as well with any learning is that we're expecting people to be doing it on their mobiles and out of hours and whatever because we're all so busy in work time.

With that drip fed stuff, maybe it's each week there's a different discussion topic on something and have some live interaction rather than expecting people just to jump into Yammer and have a conversation. Why don't we send them emails and say, "Hey, we've got so and so that's our guest speaker today, and we're going to have a conversation about this. Jump on." Almost like little webinars even. They're just ad hoc type things that are happening, just little learning experiences, and then resources that hang off that if they want to follow up afterwards. There's lots of ideas.

Robin:
Lots of ideas. Lots of examples, and it sounds like there's a few blog posts there, Karen, you need to write.

Karen:
I've got a list. There's always something to write about.

Robin:
The email thing's really interesting. Essentially Sprout Labs, we internally have been quite email-free for a long time. We really do use email for external and I think one of the things that learning - and that sentiment about reducing your email can learn from digital marketing - is digital marketing and the stats keep on repeating that email is the way to get engagement.

Karen:
It is. It's always the top performer in any kind of campaign. Even now when you keep reading these blog posts saying, "Oh, email marketing is dead." It's so not, because I think it's that personalised thing, but I think if you can - I think learning is well suited to that, because if you can send somebody an email which is focused on one thing and getting them to do one thing, which is click on that button, then it works really well. If you send them an email that's got 45 different links in it and things off here and there and everywhere, they just get confused and think, "Oh, I'll do it later."

This is why I think the drip fed campaigns are quite nice, because you can just go, "Okay, right, today we're going to be looking at X, Y, and Z and here's a video." You just go off and do the video. "Here's an activity for you," or, "Come and join this discussion." If you can pace out your material like that it not only breaks it up and makes it seem less overwhelming but you're more likely to get higher engagement.

Robin:
Yes. Also another nice example was using it as a automated induction process, so the messages were actually coming from the CEO so that gave a different level of intimacy to senior management in an organisation, and I thought that was a really nice way of dealing with that.

Karen:
Yes. I've done that in a few places just to pace out that onboarding process, again, rather than just piling everything on for people, working out what do they need in this week, what do they need in that week, and just pointing them to different resources even on the intranet, or telling them to go and contact this person and set up a meeting to find out about that department or whatever it might be. If you just, rather than giving them a huge checklist on day one, send them an email each week with what they need to do, and I think it just breaks it down for people. When it's less overwhelming, I think it's easier for them to take it in.

Robin:
Karen, I've actually got one more question and it was actually a question I should have probably asked at the beginning. How did you become interested in marketing?

Karen:
Just being a business owner really. I think when I started my business I didn't really have much clue about business or marketing at the time. I was just very passionate about what I did, and once I'd started, I think because I contracted for a while it was fairly easy to get work and the market was a bit smaller then, or the industry was a bit smaller then. I think over the past five years the industry has opened up quite a bit, and we just got really, really busy with work, which was great, and we had lots and lots of clients. But then once those projects finished and we came up to breathe, realised there's wasn't much of a pipeline happening, because we haven't been doing much marketing, and by then it was a bit too late really.

I started thinking then about what could I do? So I started delving into marketing a bit more, and then probably the last three years there's been a lot more happening in the digital marketing space. It's moving very quickly and I think one of the things I've always loved about what I do is it's all IT focused. I'm just a bit of a geek really. I like all that stuff, and it's just been a really interesting space to follow, and so I've done a couple of qualifications in it and just thought more about how I could model my business on some of those marketing principles.

As you know, like now that the eLearning eXperts is no longer a projects business, it's actually a business that's - It's a purely online business focused on helping people find useful resources through those digital marketing channels. I'm just really interested in it, but I think as I've been learning more, the similarities between learning and marketing have been quite astounding for me where I've just been going, "Okay. Yeah. I completely get that methodology because that's what we do over here." It's just a different target audience really. It's just a different kind of thing that we're trying to do, but ultimately we need to - it's our job to sell people into the courses, or to the learning in whatever shape it is.

We've just spent so many years shoving content at people without really thinking about who they are and how they could use it, and what the benefits are. I think marketing is like the modern day learning, I think. I think we can learn a lot from a profession that's been around for a good number of years with some tried and tested methodologies. Rather than trying to figure it all out ourselves, why don't we just look at some things they're doing and go, "Okay, how can we apply that to what we're doing?" I think that will help us get better recognition within organisations. I think it will help us measure our ROI better, and also maybe have a bit more fun in doing it.

I think we're quite a serious - well, not me - but quite a serious bunch. It's like, "Okay, it's learning's very important and it's done this way." You think it's a bit more informal these days, and I think we need just to go with that flow.

Robin:
I think there's some lovely quotes and lovely sentiments to finish in those last set of statements, Karen, to finish the interview, this interview on. Thank you so much for joining me today. It's been really, really good --

Karen:
Thanks for having me.

Robin:
-- set of ideas. I might actually get you back later to talk about some other things as well, like A/B testing and call to actions and go into some real detail around some of these things. Cool.

Karen:
It'd be great.

Robin:
Thank you.

Karen:
All right. Thanks, Robin.


comments powered by Disqus