Vi's CLO Guide to Planning and Marketing Your Learning and Development Brand

Get out your No. 2 pencils… It’s survey time!

Check the statements that apply to you and your Learning Organization.

  1. Your annual learning and development budget is consistently cut or you struggle to keep your existing budget.
  2. The learning and development programs you offer employees is cut when economic times are tough in your company.
  3. Your internal customers go to external training vendors to provide training your team could have developed and delivered more efficiently and effectively.
  4. You have training programs being developed by your internal customers because they don’t know what your team does and how you can support them.
  5. You have a learning management system and have poor online course utilization.
  6. On your employee survey, employees consistently state they have insufficient training.
  7. Employees consistently state in their exit interviews they had insufficient training and development opportunities.
  8. Your learning and development initiatives are not tied to company business initiatives and objectives.
  9. Your executive management team cannot articulate key Employee Learning and Development initiatives that support key company business initiatives and objectives.
  10. Your company’s learning and development initiatives and metrics are not reported in your company’s board.

If you checked next to one or more of the above, chances are, you're not effectively and deliberately marketing your learning and development organization.

As with any business, Chief Learning Officers (CLO) must be able to articulate and consistently demonstrate the value of what and how the Learning and Organization Development function contributes to the success of their organization.

At Vi, the Learning and Organizational Development Team places a great deal of emphasis on creating an annual marketing and communications plan to promote the value proposition of their organization and the investments the company makes in learning and development for their employees.

As a result of these efforts, in the last two years, the company has realized over 1,000 percent increase in utilization of their online university, E-Campus, and has received employee engagements scores related to training and development ten percent higher than those of high-performing companies.

When I joined the company just over four years ago, the Learning and Organizational Development Organization had a weak internal brand.

To determine how our brand was viewed, I held internal customer interviews and meetings. At the end of my customer interviews, it was obvious our function was not viewed as adding value.

In fact, many functions within the organization outsourced their training to external vendors or developed training without the support of the Learning and Organizational Development function. Chief Learning Officers often forget that internal customers have choices too, and it’s absolutely critical we continue to reinforce our value proposition.

With over 20 years experience as a human resources and organizational development professional, 19 years at United Airlines, and over eight years experience managing operations, marketing and business development functions, I put my education and experience in marketing into action.

Developing an Internal Marketing Strategy

Step 1: Define Your Objectives

An important part of developing your marketing strategy is to define your objectives. What behaviors and attitudes do you need to change in your organization? How do you want people (employees, managers, senior leaders) to behave? What does success look like? How will you measure your success?

Step 2: Define Your Brand

The next step in developing an internal marketing strategy is to define your brand. Once you learn how your organization is viewed, it’s important to define what you want your brand to be and how you will consistently demonstrate proof points of your brand.

Based on internal customer feedback, I recommend identifying 5-6 descriptive words (known as brand attributes) that describe how you want your organization to be viewed. As you come up with this each of these brand attributes, think about how your organization can demonstrate this.

Take the following example:

Current Brand View: Difficult to do business with for internal training projects.

You organization is currently viewed as difficult to work with by your internal customers. In order to get support for an internal training project, your internal customers are required to complete several lengthy documents and review process.

As a result of this process, many internal customers look to external vendors for training or create training on their own.

Desired Brand View: Easy to work with and approachable.

Thinking about your desired brand view, think about your existing systems, processes, and procedures and determine what changes you need to make to "prove" your brand promise. To underscore our brand attribute of being easy to work with and approachable, Vi made the implemented the following:

  • Established a cross-functional Learning Council to review training projects and initiatives.
  • Removed any employee restrictions and approvals related to online course access through our online university, E-Campus.
  • Held regular learning and development calls with community leaders to seek feedback and ideas related to learning initiatives.
  • Reaffirmed actions and commitments in a newly created ViLearningnewsletter, our company newsletter and at functional meetings.
  • Reaffirmed employee success and department collaboration success stories in the company newsletter and through E-Campus.

If your desire is to change the perception that your Learning and Organization Development function does not add value, promote employee and business success stories from training at every opportunity.

Sharing how training initiatives reduced costs, improved productivity, increased revenue and contributed to the success of the company’s corporate initiatives will go a long way towards building your brand attribute of value.

Repetition of these messages is critical. When Chief Learning Officers market from the perspective of what motivates people, we knew we had a greater likelihood of engaging our end-users.

Step 3: Identify Your Marketing Segments

The next step in developing a marketing strategy is to identify your internal marketing segments—that is, what are the distinct groups of employees that you want to reach? For instance, at Vi, they have many employee groups and audiences.

What’s important from a learning and development standpoint to Vi’s nursing staff will be completely different from what’s important to Vi’s chefs or directors of engineering. What’s important to frontline staff and frontline managers will be completely different.

A learning organization’s marketing message/communications should always focus on "what’s in it for them." Knowing your audience(s) pains and needs is important in determine what message you want to target.

And don’t forget to target messages to your executive and others in your organization. Examples of segments may include; external candidates, senior management team members, board members, functional heads, and frontline employees.

Here is another example:

Knowing Vi’s nursing staff requires annual certification credits to maintain their nursing credentials and the process and cost of taking these courses is cumbersome, we targeted a marketing and communications campaign specifically around the expansion of E-Campus to offer 500 free nursing recertification courses.

Not only can Vi’s nursing staff take free continuing education courses at their own convenience, their continuing education credits are automatically reported. Vi’s Learning and Organizational Development team promoted this benefit through posters, tent cards, employee testimonials, webinars, and leader endorsement.

Step 4: Identify Your Marketing Channels

Once you have identified their marketing segments, you need to think about the different marketing channels you have to reach each of your internal segments. What works for one segment, may not work for others. But remember, repetition is important.

Marketing/communication channels to consider include:

  • Company intranet
  • Social media blogs on your online university
  • Tent cards
  • Posters
  • Stories in your company newsletter
  • E-mail promotion campaigns
  • Leadership meetings
  • Training brochure for candidates
  • Corporate website
  • Calendars

One of the most effective marketing strategies is to solicit and leverage user testimonies and stories. Individual stories and successes resonate with employees.

Step 5: Develop Your Marketing Message

I believe you should always consider your audience and brand attributes when developing your marketing message. Consistency in messaging and repetition helps build a strong internal Learning and Organizational Development brand.

Using employee testimonies to support your brand messaging is extremely effective. Also, as appropriate, leverage the power of the brands of any of your training partners to reinforce value and quality. For instance, Vi partners with Harvard Business Publishing and Rosetta Stone.

Because of Harvard Business Publishing and Rosetta Stone have such strong and positive brand recognition, Vi’s Learning and Organizational Development team markets these partnerships with internal employees and external candidates.

Some Final Quick Tips

  • Repeat key brand messages in words, stories, and visuals
  • ngage senior leaders in telling the story
  • Always market your organization’s value proposition
  • Involve cross-functional leaders as advocates
  • Leverage your business personality – partner with your Marketing Department
  • Develop an annual marketing calendar
  • Target marketing at all levels throughout the organization
  • Leverage employee success testimonials
  • Partner with marketing
  • Include products and services "benefits" in recruitment materials
  • Always focus on "what’s in it for them"
  • Market externally (press releases, awards etc.) and then reverse market internall—share successes
  • Leverage brand alliances and partnerships to promote value of learning
  • Ensure your message and value proposition are clear to external candidates through your company website and that your messaging is consistent

Vi (formerly Classic Residence by Hyatt) is the developer, owner and manager of residential communities for older adults. Judy Whitcomb, SPHR, Vice President, Human Resources and Learning and Organizational Development shares how they have created engagement with the learning and development function and promoted their L&D brand both internally and externally at Vi.