Lead with Marketing, not Learning

People talk a lot about making the learning experience engaging. Usually what that means is that there’s good content, presented in an interesting way, usually with some nod to interactivity, inside the modules or elements of the blended programme. And it might well be engaging – but that’s subjective. A screen of text might be engaging, if I’m interested in the subject. And a lot of so-called engaging interactions? They probably distract and irritate as often as they engage.  

I’ve no problem with making things engaging. I do have a problem with where and when it gets done. If your engagement effort is spent in-full inside the learning programme, then it’s in the wrong place.  It’s a billboard in the forest – highly informative, if I happen to chance upon it – but most people are never going to see it.

So when we talk about engagement, we have to take a step back. We’d like to believe that great learning interventions will get attention by virtue of their innate greatness. But the volume (quantity and noise) of competing information coming at the modern knowledge worker will almost guarantee that won’t happen, unless someone forces me to do it (which isn’t a strong long term motivator), or it’s absolutely vital to my achieving a goal I care about (and even then, you have to tell me it exists and how it will help). Or maybe, just maybe, someone does an amazing job of raising my awareness of it.  Now who could do that?

Hello, Marketing? L&D here. Let’s talk

Who engages people for a living? Who spends their waking hours trying to provoke, stimulate, shock and humour people into changing behaviour? Marketing professionals. They’re in the persuasion business. If you involve them (as we do) in ‘learning projects’, they are refreshingly disinterested in the efficacy of the design model or the details under the bonnet of your approach. They 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? What is the campaign theme? How will we know if it’s working? These and a hundred other questions are their stock in trade. These are the right conversations to have (and not, please not, in the final two weeks of the project).  

Content, Marketing – perhaps, my friend, we are not so different?

By ‘marketing’ we’re not talking about just creating flyers and banners, or competitions to win a gift voucher for being the 999th person to complete the module, and the like. That can help (depending on your audience), but that’s more at the tactical, collateral end.

Savvy marketing people are already switched on to the latest trend in marketing: content marketing. That’s recognising that high quality, original content, not advertorials or slick, surface level media, is what will really win the war for attention.

This is where the worlds collide. Great content marketing needs compelling, high quality, authentic and original content – not sales puff. Great learning experiences needs the same. Great content marketing is sustained, multi-channel and relentless in its aim to communicate the message and win over the target audience. Marketing professionals know a thing or two about honing a message, getting it across, and measuring impact. Their elevator pitch isn’t that different from L&D.

It’s happening now

Our work at Kineo is as much about marketing and communications as it is about learning. We’ve spent seven years doing things just like this article: developing content to communicate an idea. Clients like Warner Bros, the Co-operative, BP and Nikon see the value of a strong content marketing element as part of an overall programme. We’ve worked with them to create campaigns – you can read case studies with marketing elements here. There’s great content in the ‘marketing’ elements.  The learning isn’t the payoff at the end of the content marketing campaign. It IS the campaign. 

So next time you are asking yourself the engagement question, take a step back. Engagement can’t just be within the walled garden of your learning programme. You’re in the content marketing and persuasion game. There are no walls.