Marketers have to adapt to a customer-centric world. Similarly L&D (Learning and Development) professionals work now in a learner-centric environment. This creates challenges for each profession in the way they operate, the skills they need and the tools they use to interact with customer-learners.
Reasons to compare L&D with Marketing
Why is it worth comparing and contrasting the challenges faced by Marketing and L&D in today’s business world?
In a user-centric world, neither function is any longer seen as a voice of authority. As learning & development and marketing professionals face up to this fact, there are three main reasons why they can gain from looking at each other’s situation:
Learners have become customers and customers have become learners. So both professions are dealing with a world centred round customer-learners
L&D and Marketing are the two business functions most affected by the explosion of social communication powered by digital technology
Marketing’s inherent strength is gaining attention while L&D’s is gaining engagement. Both attention and engagement are vital.
LEARNING & MARKETING COMMON CHALLENGES
Learners = customers
Digital-powered social communication
Attention + engagement
Learners have become customers and customers learners
How learning has changed
In the past L&D concentrated on training, producing courses that employees were expected to attend. Senior management outlined the need for specific training, such as induction programmes or courses to support new processes and software; and department managers came to L&D with functional training needs.
L&D then worked with the overall training requirements and used their expertise to produce and deliver standard courses. That did not work well and is no longer acceptable.
‘When we give people loads of information in one ‘injection hit’, they can’t contextualise it. There’s no point giving people any knowledge transfer, unless they can go back to their workforce and actually ask – ‘how does that impact me?’ Michelle Parry-Slater 
Nowadays senior management are focused on the ROI of training; and employees look for performance support and expect to find learning content readily available when they need it. Managers and staff naturally turn to online resources and to social media to ask colleagues, friends and the wider community for support and share learning.
So employees and managers act like customers, shopping around for the best solutions. L&D have to anticipate, uncover and respond to needs by providing appropriate learning solutions very quickly. As the CIPD states they need to be “savvy” and have “commercial acumen” .
Realising they are dealing with learner-customers will enable learning professionals to sell the benefits of L&D skills. In particular it will help them emphasise how they can support learning that is relevant to the needs of the employee, the department and the organisation.
How marketing has changed
From the marketing perspective, the main challenge used to be to gain the attention of your prospects. Once you had it, you could position your solution with authority and fight for a sale against a few known competitors.
In today’s world the customer can find out about a vast range of possible products or solutions from the internet. Once she or he has an idea of something to buy, they can quickly learn about it. They can ask friends, colleagues and other users for recommendations and advice.
Marketers must make their brand known by offering valuable content well in advance of potential sales. Then through multiple contacts (touchpoints) they must keep potential customers interested while building up their approval and trust. Once this has been done, marketers are positioned to sell the benefits of a solution to a particular person at the right time.
‘Relationship marketing is grounded in the idea of establishing a learning relationship with each customer, starting with your most valuable ones.’ Harvard Business Review 
Customers have become learners, consuming the knowledge readily available to them. Marketers must make attractive content available for potential customers, so they learn about benefits and gain trust in the brand. Otherwise customers will shop elsewhere.
The explosion of social communication
The key role of both marketing and L&D is to communicate with groups of people – the customers and learners. Both have to find out the needs of their audiences, as groups and as individuals. They need to build up their understanding of what would improve their customer-learners’ jobs and lives. They must identify solutions and explain their benefits.
Moreover those of us in L&D and marketing no longer start from the established position of authority we occupied in the past. No longer can marketing state “Trust me, I have the ideal solution for you at a fantastic price” nor L&D say “We’ve got a standard course for you to attend on which you will learn all you need to know”.
As marketers or learning professionals we need to remember that we are joining in customer and learner journeys. Our audience is clarifying their needs (to themselves as well as to us); they are finding about the possible options before choosing solutions.
There used to be a few voices to listen to – focus groups and market research panels for marketers, executives and managers for L&D. Now there is a hubbub of conversations taking place between individuals on social media and in group conversations. We can and must pay attention to them. These conversations give us a great opportunity to uncover and discuss needs, because people are often willing to share openly with those they trust.
However, the conversations create a number of challenges: first to find the places where these conversations occur. We may even have to nurture spaces that allow the conversations to flourish. More often, we will have to gain admission to listen or participate in them. Lastly we have to be skilful to pick out the relevant conversations and to clarify the underlying concerns.
All this could be very time-consuming. This is why we need a range of tools and techniques that help us to manage our part in social conversations. Marketing and L&D each bring different elements to use, such as social media tools from marketing and coaching and analysis skills from L&D. We will look at these in more detail in the next article in this series.
Gaining Customer-Learner Attention andEngagement
While each profession may be able to do both, marketing is traditionally good at gaining attention while L&D’s strengths are often in gaining engagement. Both are vital in working with audiences who do not autmatically look to you as an authority and who can be easily distracted by alternative solutions or activities.
Marketing has always been good at grabbing people’s attention and getting their products and messages noticed. There is a long history of market research, clever wording, striking images and use of colour. Marketers have developed skills to make sure messages are seen and heard. Some of the techniques are highly relevant to L&D. They can help them be listened to by senior executives and be invited to a seat at the top table. At the same time they can enable them to be seen as a go-to resource for employees who are looking to develop skills and abilities.
L&D on the other hand has intrinsic skills in helping people to express their needs, in involving them in learning, in coaching them to discover the next steps, in providing reviews at measured intervals and in keeping them engaged. Marketing needs to improve its capabilities in this area as it seeks to personalise its messages, gain approval and trust, and offer the right solution at the right time.
Compare, contrast and learn
With their shared challenges of dealing with the learner-customer, of handling the explosion of social communication, and of being able to attract and engage, L&D and marketing have much in common. However, they come with different backgrounds and skills and each can learn from the other.
In this post I have just touched on some of the areas of where experience can be shared. These will be explored in future articles which will look in detail at “Engaging the Audience”, “Enabling the Learner-Customer Journey” and “Measuring the Results”
This post is the first of four on “Thriving in a Learner-Customer world” which are part of RSC’s “Marketing and Learning” series. If you are interested please have a look at some of the other articles, which explore different areas. You can see a “map” of the other articles here)
This continues my series of articles discussing the synergies and differences between marketing and learning. Both marketing and learning are having to adapt to today’s interconnected, always-on, social world. Here we examine the need to be involved with micro-moments throughout the whole customer or learner journey.
Historically there have been three main “moments of truth” (MOT) where marketing and sales are involved in the customer journey. The first moment of truth (FMOT) is where the customer first saw or looked at the product or service, after they had decided they were interested in buying. The second (SMOT) where they purchased and started to use it. Finally the third moment (TMOT), where they gave feedback on their experience. This is shown in the first diagram below.
In 2011 Google introduced idea of ZMOT (Zero Moment of Truth). This reflects how customers now react when they first think about something new – either to address a pressing need or with the dream of something better or more exciting. More and more often people will go online to ask “How can I …?” or “What is available to…?”. Marketers must be ready with answers at this zero moment of truth. And they must then accompany the customers on their journey, providing the appropriate content for the micro-moments when additional questions crop up (“Will it work in my situation?”, “Is it compatible with…?”).
The second diagram shows the new marketing involvement – from the very beginning of the journey through the decision process all the way to the aimed-for loyalty at the end. Companies that do not engage with potential customers right from the beginning find that by the decision point they are probably already out of consideration. Those who have engaged have already demonstrated their value to the customer.
The journey of a learner has different stages. Traditionally L&D and training companies were called in to provide training in support of some change. The change might have affected an individual such as the induction of a new hire or a change of job or responsibility; or there might have been a change effecting a large group or the whole company e.g. the launch of a new product, introduction of new software, or enhanced compliance requirements. With the focus on training courses, learning after the event was often left unstructured and supported only by some generalised user guides. This journey is shown below:
Marketing has to adapt to users finding out for themselves online and via social media. Similarly L&D and learning providers have to help learners who expect to be able to find out answers at the point of need and whose go-to resource are the mobile phone and internet. Happily, this learner demand fits in with the increased use of learning methods such as 70:20:10 and the emphasis on performance support.
So as users are demanding more support at the point of need, learning providers are putting in place learning tools that are available as tasks are being done. They are also providing bite-sized learning modules that can be consumed when the learner has some time.
Micro-moments for learners occur when they come across a problem in their everyday work. Learners want to consult a support community or find help that is specific to their situation – and they expect a rapid answer. They also want to use spare moments, maybe while commuting, to learn something to help them for tasks that are coming up.
Learning resources need to be provided to help coach people who are putting new skills into practice. Then at the point of need, they need support for their situation, from guides or from communities of use. Providing these learning resources will allow them to gain expertise more quickly. The added benefit is that they will then be able to share their expertise with the community and so help others on their learning journey. The final diagram shows the constant involvement in the learner journey.
Google has identified key elements for being involved in the customer journey. Two of them apply just as strongly for learning:
Be present in the moments that matter
Have something relevant or engaging to say
This is the challenge for marketing and learning. The rewards, however, are great, in being able to understand and satisfy customer and learner needs. This allows solutions to be tailored to their needs – building loyalty in customers and expertise in learners.
This is a view of Learning Live 2016 from the outside – and from an outsider.
It is from the outside because I did not manage to attend Learning Live this year; and I am an outsider because I do not work in L&D. I am a marketing consultant and have been doing a project for a learning company over the last two years. This has fired my interest in two ways; firstly, realising how vital learning is for my own self-development and the improvement of marketing; and secondly because of the similarities between learning and marketing and what each discipline can take from the other.
So what is my view of Learning Live from what I have seen and read?
It is certainly a challenging time for L&D. However, as well as identifying the challenges, the conference also shared insights into solutions and pathways to overcome these challenges.
3 of the challenges that struck me most were:
Doing it for themselves
"Learners and business units think they can do it for themselves" was a challenge identified by Tom Spiglanin.
Learners have their own networks that they can ask for help and their connections can answer rapidly via social media.
Also a quick search can unearth "how to" videos and articles with information about every conceivable topic.
So how does L&D remain relevant and involved with both learners and business units?
Many people including @CaribThompson and @DavidInLearning tweeted the slide used by Tom Spiglanin which showed the frequency that learning was needed in a person's working life versus the frequency with which the person had contact with L&D.
L&D is just not in touch with learners frequently enough to help them at the points of need.
Elliott Masie's keynote speech at Learning Live highlighted the need for "safe failures". As Henry Stewart (@HappyHenry) commented: "We need more failure. I don't want to be on a plane with a pilot who hasn't crashed (in a simulator)". Andrew Jacobs (@AndrewJacobsLD) made a similar point in his #ldwish tweet "More failure - that's where the learning happens."
The challenges identified above are all made more difficult by the distance between L&D and those who need to learn. So it is not surprising that the insights shared in Learning Live on ways to overcome these challenges tend to focus on coming closer to the learner:
Be at the start
Visitors to Learning Live were encouraged to share their #LDwish. Claire Haynes (@WildfireSpark) contributed “To be ‘at the start’ of the biz thinking”. On a similar note, Cathy Hoy (@Cathy_Hoy) pointed out that we need to engage with learners and line managers BEFORE the course.
So here we have one way to meet the challenge of missing touchpoints – work to create touchpoints at the start of any project and whenever new objectives are set,
It may take a change of mindset and require screwing up your courage, but you can ask people and business units “What learning and changes in behaviour do you and your team need to meet your objectives?”. The answers will allow you to work alongside the business to develop learning programmes to meet these aims. The initial touchpoint can be the catalyst for many more.
Design with the audience in mind
If you have already managed to “be at the start” then designing with the audience in mind becomes easier. You should have established contacts with the business that let you talk to the learners and understand their needs.
Even if you have not managed to make contact earlier, you can make the design stage a place to involve the learners, to gain understanding and to build trust. Richard Wiseman in his keynote pointed out that you should “visualise the process and not the end point”, which involves understanding and responding to the learning journey that your audience want and need to make.
Kate Graham (@KateGraham23) reported on the session given by Joe Tidman, Director of Learning Capabilities at GSK. He talked about the need to surface resources out of the huge mass of learning material available nowadays.
Surfacing resources is one of the ways that L&D can meet the challenge of learners doing it by themselves, as well as the need to have more touchpoints with learners.
It requires L&D to use their skill and effort to find, evaluate and categorise learning resources. Also it requires a mindset of searching widely, both internally and externally to the organisation, to find the best material. Learners can be asked what sources and type of material they have found useful previously.
Once a directory of good resources has been identified, it is then necessary to provide “signposts” to help learners use it. These signposts will suggest the next resources to use based on where the learner is in their journey, where they want or need to go, and how they want to travel (e.g. bite-size videos for understanding new concepts or help tools for on-the-job help learning).
This approach is effectively content curation in a learning environment. It provides a valuable tool that self-directed learners should want to use often and provides frequent touchpoints between L&D and learners.
Jumping off the cliff
“Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down” was the provocative statement of Sarah Lindell, Global Director of Digital Learning and Innovation at PwC, from her session on “Getting Practical” as reported by @JamesMcLuckie.
This might seem like the worst thing to do to meet the challenge of “safe failing”. But, if the conditions are right, it can be a good way to try out new ideas and ways of working.
Firstly, you can involve others at the beginning to help you build your wings as you fall. Take the example of surfacing resources discussed above. You could involve a small group of learners to help you identify useful resources for a particular learning need. They could suggest useful resources and give feedback on the different ideas for signposting that you are considering. Involving others not only helps with the wing-building but also provides their encouragement to give you the courage to step off the cliff and enjoy swooping down rather than being petrified about the landing.
Also you can choose a small cliff to begin with. So again using the example of surfacing resources, you could choose a small area of required learning to tackle first. That way, there is less risk if you do land with a bump
With the support of others and starting with small jumps, you can fail safely. Learning from this, your next jump will be more controlled.
The Marketing Analogies
As I said at the beginning, I do not work in L&D. So if my insights do not truly reflect some of the challenges and opportunities faced by L&D professionals, then I stand ready to be corrected and would welcome constructive criticism.
My marketing background inevitably makes me consider the analogies between the situations of L&D and marketing whenever I consider the learning industry. The challenges for L&D identified above are very similar to those faced by marketing today:
Marketing is faced with self-directed customers who will ignore most pre-packaged promotional material and instead ask their friends for recommendations or search for them online. Meanwhile business units can blog, create videos and use social media by themselves
We also need more touchpoints to make customers aware of our products and their benefits well before they decide to buy. If we do not keep in touch, other brands will come more readily to mind when they are ready to purchase
Ever-changing technology and new trends are constantly creating new ways of listening and talking to customers as well as new sales channels. Marketing also needs to experiment all the time and to have ways of failing safely
Marketing can also learn from the opportunities for L&D that are discussed above. Like L&D, it needs to be in at the start – to help define product development and to underpin sales and profit targets.
It must design with the audience in mind: listening to customers and prospects so that products are developed to meet real needs; creating messages and content that help customers understand what the products can do ease their pain or improve their lives. In this area, marketing can learn from L&D who are often closer to their customers and who evaluate the outcomes (even if too often they are prisoners of Kirkpatrick Level 1 as Elliott Masie said).
In the field of surfacing resources, however, marketing may be able to shine some “marketing light in the toolbox of L&D”, to quote Barbara Thompson (@CaribThompson), since content marketing is such a focal topic at present.
Both marketing and learning (and many other professions) need to “jump off the cliff”. It is encouraging that we are not alone and we can gain support and advice from each other.
In a previous post I discussed some of the ways that learning and marketing were similar
Listening to and understanding the needs of your audience or customers
Putting across messages in memorable ways
Having last month attended the Learning Technologies Summer Forum (#LTSF16) I have been struck by further similarities between the challenges in the two disciplines as well as in the terms used to describe new approaches.
A key problem for 21st century learning professionals and marketers is working out how to engage the audience. For learning professionals, it is no longer the case that you can expect a classroom of learners to sit for an hour being lectured to. No longer is the onus on learners to pay attention even if the lecture is boring. Learning content must engage the learner for two reasons: firstly because research has shown that lecturing at people is a poor way to help them learn; and secondly because learners nowadays are taking control of their own learning and will avoid materials that do not stimulate them.
Similarly, marketers can no longer expect prospects to pore over long brochures or sit through pages of PowerPoint bullets. Even attractive videos and TV adverts only hold attention for a short time and compete against more and more alternatives. In addition, customers are less likely to stay loyal to brands since there are so many other options that scream out “Try me instead”.
As both marketers and learning professionals struggle to work out what will engage customers and learners, they have to focus on the same critical elements:
Use of emotion
The user journey
Understanding needs and pain points
The very first thing we all need to do is to understand our audience. To do this we need to ask the right questions then listen to the answers and reflect on them. This is true whether we are providing a learning environment to help people develop or offering products and services to address their needs. Often the instinct is to concentrate on the product first – what we want them to learn or buy – because that is the easiest to manage. Instead we should start by tackling the difficult area of understanding the audience’s needs and current situation. It involves opening up conversations, running surveys, listening and collecting answers. Once we understand enough about them, we can tailor our solution to address their needs.
Let’s take an example from CLS Performance Solutions, with whom I have worked recently. They provide learning solutions for companies implementing or upgrading major business processes or software, such as ERP systems. So they start by finding out what processes or solutions are already in use, how they are used and the existing level of software skills and understanding. With this basis the learning programmes can be designed to bridge the gap between existing practice and the new ways of working.
Likewise in marketing, understanding the pain points of your prospect’s current solution is key to identifying the particular product features that will bring real benefits to them. When I was working for Dell marketing PCs and laptops to large corporations twenty years ago, it was often tempting to emphasise their fast performance above everything else. However on many occasions, talking to the purchasers and users revealed that although performance was important, it was less important than being able to provide consistent product worldwide over a long period of time. This consistency made software installation, support and service so much easier and hence provided users with much more reliable tools to use.
Engaging Curiosity and Personal Interest
Once we have discovered user needs and worked out how to address them, the next stage for both marketing and learning is to put across the message in an engaging way. I had the privilege of attending a masterclass given by Andrew Stanton a few weeks ago. Andrew is the Oscar-winning screenwriter and director of a number of Disney Pixar animations including Finding Nemo and WALL-E. He was talking about the process of creating a story and the incredible work that goes into developing a script for an animated film, with particular reference to his most recent film, Finding Dory. For him the key question that you had to answer was “Why should I care”?
“Why should I care” is the same question you have to answer for the participants in your learning programmes and the recipients of marketing messages. Everyone needs to understand what the benefits will be for them. You have to engage their curiosity so they bother to listen to your messages about what you are providing. Then you have to present the messages in ways, and using the right words, that resonate with their personal concerns and interest.
Of course, there is one major difference between learning and marketing at this point. Often, learning is something that people are told they have to do and find it difficult to avoid. Whether it be in business life, where your company provides mandatory training, or in formal education, where students are required to attend courses, there is often significant pressure to participate in learning. In marketing however, prospects are usually much freer to ignore any marketing messages. However, learners who are forced to participate without being engaged, are unlikely to gain much from their training. So the drive for engagement of learners is vital in order for training to result in real learning.
Marketing has the long experience of trying to engage prospects who will ignore its messages unless their attention is grabbed quickly. As a result, it has techniques that learning can profitably use. Customer testimonials and case studies (real or even theoretical) are commonplace in marketing, allowing prospects to relate to the experience of “people like them”. They provide a story which shows needs, concerns and pain points which are met by the benefits of the solution being marketed. Just as marketing creates marketing personas which are representations of the different types of customer for whom messages can be personalised, so learning can create their own personas and personalise the learning benefits for each one in order to engage their audience.
Humans are wired to react to and remember great stories. Think about the stories you remember vividly: those that someone told you – maybe a parent, grandparent or teacher when you were young; those that you have read or seen on TV, at the cinema or in the theatre. We remember them because the characters excite our interest and we connect emotionally with their emotions – hope, fear, anger, sadness and happiness – as they journey through the story.
Marketing and learning normally cannot touch our emotions nearly as deeply as the best fairy stories, blockbuster films, classic books or musicals. However, they can harness the same principles at a less intense level. Each should be trying to show the audience their journey from a point of need (either for learning or for a particular product) to the emotions they will feel once they have achieved the learning or acquired the product. We are emotional beings which is why we respond so well to stories. So we need to show that the result of learning some skills or purchasing a product is not just a bald fact but has an impact such as relieving pain or worry, giving us a sense of achievement, opening up new possibilities, making life easier or more enjoyable.
There are already great learning companies which have really embedded storytelling techniques as part of their process. At the Learning Technologies Summer Forum, I came across a number of them, such as Simpleshow with their explainer videos and their emphasis on turning viewers into participants; or eLearning Studios and Nokia with their virtual reality scenarios which are discussed below.
Engaging the senses
Engagement of your audience is helped by involving their senses as much as possible. Learning used to have the advantage over marketing in that it involved face-to-face contact making it easier to see, hear, touch, taste and scent. With the growth of eLearning and mLearning this advantage has reduced. The good news is that new technology is bringing the power to engage people’s senses more fully even remotely.
The presentation by Nokia and eLearning Studios at Learning Technologies Sumer Forum was a great demonstration of this. They presented virtual reality (VR) scenarios that had been developed to make people really feel they were in the situation in which they need to use their learning. For example, to test learning of ethical conduct the VR can simulate the atmosphere of relaxing in a bar after work, where it is easiest to be tempted or lulled into behaving unethically.
VR may not be yet be commonplace, though it is likely to be so in 10 years’ time. However, use of attractive and interactive video is one example of a technology that can involve the senses more and that is affordable and easy to use nowadays in both marketing and learning. The way that music and song creates and evokes strong memories in most people shows us another way that we can make messages memorable by including sound, rhythm and music as part of our learning and marketing material.
This article talks about how to use visual metaphors to enhance learning, as is often done in marketing:
As Julian Stodd remarked at LTSF16 “we’re innately social – & latterly technical”. This reminds us of the necessity and power of involving people’s social network for both marketing and learning. Over the last ten years with the rise of social networks such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn, marketing has become obsessed with the use of social media to promote products as well as to communicate and listen to feedback.
Three factors work together to make social media such a powerful tool for marketing: firstly, as I mentioned earlier, testimonials and recommendations can be very persuasive and when they come from those we know, they are even more powerful. So social networks are ideal places to spread positive (as well as negative) reviews. Secondly, online networks make it easy to spread the message quickly to many connections. If someone recommends a product, the recommendation can quickly be seen by hundreds of people. And thirdly, it allows marketers to find specific groups of people, based on the likes, location or online habits. So messages personalised for different types of people can much more easily addressed to the right target markets.
The use of social networks brings similar advantages to learning: firstly, because of people’s enthusiasms for using them, they make great places to share experiences. So it is easy to spread experiences of how to overcome difficulties in learning new skills as well as useful tips on specific topics. Secondly feedback and questions can rapidly reach a large number of people. In this way best practice can be circulated quickly. Also many people will see a question that has been raised, making it more likely that a solution is speedily given. Thirdly, people can search content by topic so that problems and answers are seen by the relevant people.
There is one additional advantage for learning in using social networks that does not apply to marketing. It allows many people to build on the suggestions and comments of others, building a deep set of insights and ways of working. As Charles Jennings says in ‘Love Learning, Love Sharing’: “Social learning is not dependent on teachers and trainers, but on sharing experiences through rich dialogue and conversation.”
Social networks provide the power to bring together people who can learn from each other and build a rich set of knowledge and practice. This shows how the social element of learning can be even stronger than the social element of marketing. “The new social learning reframes social media from a marketing strategy to a strategy that encourages knowledge transfer and connects people in a way consistent with how we naturally interact” (Marcia Connor and Tony Bingham “The New Social Learning”)
The sections above show how both marketers and learning professionals can, and must, take their audiences on a journey: from asking them about their current situation and needs, through providing personalised marketing or learning experiences, to helping them share and enrich their experiences both online and offline.
Whereas in the past it was the marketer or teacher who mapped out the journey, nowadays it the customer or learner who chooses the path themself. For the marketer it is a question of gaining attention for their brand as early as possible, ideally even before there is a specific need, so that the prospect thinks of their brand as soon as the need is established. The move is from “push” marketing to “pull” marketing, with the consumer or client selecting information they want when they want it, rather than having it forced down their throats. So the marketer has to build brand awareness and have relevant content ready to be accessed by the prospect at their time of need.
For learning professionals, the learning goals may be set – by a company in the case of professional development or by exam boards in formal education. But the learner must be provided with materials to reach the goals by the path that suits them. It is a question of providing a “learning playlist”, to use the term used by Saffron Interactive. Learners must be made aware of what the playlist contains, and how to access it. More importantly, they need to be able to personalise it with their experiences and share those experiences with a growing network.
The role of both learning professionals and marketers has become that of a guide for the journey which the learner or customer manages for themselves.
Donald H Taylor remarked recently that it is “A vibrant time for learning”. The same could also be said about marketing. Changes in people’s expectations coupled with new technology are forcing us to change. They are forcing us to engage and have conversations rather than to shout.
I am currently working for CLS Performance Solutions who are a great company providing blended learning and continuing performance support to workforces in medium and large companies that are installing ERP systems. CLS do a really good job and are well appreciated by their clients, but are not widely enough known, which is why I am helping them improve their marketing and promote their brand.
The project appealed to me not just because CLS are good to work for and have a service which delivers real value to their clients, but also because of their field of expertise. I was intrigued to find out more about modern learning and training techniques, because I felt they would be applicable in marketing.
In marketing you are trying to make your product and service attractive to prospective clients. You want to convey messages about the features that add value for each particular client in such a way that they are memorable; your aim is for prospects to remember what your service can do for them and, even better, to be able to explain it to others (colleagues, other contacts) so that word of mouth expands the reach of your marketing. To do this, you also have to be able to listen to your prospects so that you understand their needs, what benefits you can bring to them and how you can best convey the message.
This parallels closely the design of learning – understanding each learner’s current position, their needs and the best way to put across the information or skill so that they will remember, understand and be able to apply it. Learning as a field of knowledge has been heavily researched to determine and verify the best and most efficient methods and I feel that this research can be tapped to improve (my) marketing.
My belief in the cross-over between marketing and learning were re-inforced today when I read the Kineo Oxford Group guide “Blended Learning Today” which states that “Learning = Marketing” and encourages learning providers to think like marketers: “because blended design is really about engagement and persuasion. We’re trying to sell a concept to learners.” “Marketing professionals…talk about how you’re going to stimulate demand. Who are you trying to reach? With what message? Where do those people hang out now? How do we use those channels? How are we going to get action?”
Marketing and learning professionals have a lot to give each other and to learn from each other
There seemed to be no avoiding the topic of hadling conflicts yesterday.
First on LinkedIn one of my connections recommended a blog post by Bernard Marr, a LinkedIn INfluencer. I read it and then continued to the next post: “The Vital But Forgotten Soft Skill of Truly Successful People”. In it he discusses how a vital skill for leaders is the ability to address and resolve conflicts rather than leaving them to fester. His five point plan on how to address them is simple to understand (you could summarise it as – Breathe, Acknowledge, Listen, Focus, Respect) but, as he points out, takes a great deal of practice to implement well.
But it was the point made at the end of the blog that struck me most – conflicts can often be opportunities for “learning, innovation and even team building” with issues explored and people helped to listen and understand different views.
This article tied in strongly with another that I read shortly afterwards. A post on the eFront blog about rewarding users of elearning referenced an article by Clay Shirky “A group is its own worst enemy“. Although the Shirky article is ten years old and the technology has moved on since then, the points remain valid. You may not know the examples that he uses, but the risks of groups descending into internal squabbling remain today.
Clay Shirky suggested four ways that groups could be designed to avoid or deal with internal issues:
Ensure users have an identity (a “handle”). Even it is a nickname it gives others a chance to learn about the views and approach of each user and so to form opinions about them
Have a way for users to gain a good reputation and for this to be shown. This allows the committed users to have a greater stake in the group
Put more control in the hands of the committed members and do not allow a large number of not very involved people to determine the future of the group
Work out how to scale the group so that it still retains a way for members to have conversations with close associates and for relationships not to become swamped in a large mass of communication
I have not done the article justice and you should read it yourself to find out more. But like the Bernard Marr article I talked about initially, it deals with conflict resolution and with addressing issues that arise between people, though in the Clay Shirky case it is in relation to online groups rather than groups in physical organisations.
Synthesising the two different articles has lead me to three key points:
accept that there are always going to be conflicts between individuals in any groups and plan how to make the best of it
the conflicts can be beneficial if they result from different views of people who are committed to the group, and give members a chance to understand each other’s viewpoints
there needs to be a mechanism for resolving the conflicts, which needs a leader or group with the power to listen to different views, try for consensus but then act to carry the group forward