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Apr 2016

Campaigning for better learning: 5 tips from a marketing professional

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Shaping the future of learning


Changing people's behaviours and forming new habits is not easy. Even with an amazing, motivating, inspiring learning intervention or two, old habits can creep back and noble intentions to change are forgotten. Alas, do we give up? No. Instead, go for a campaign approach to beat the forgetting curve, take learning deeper, and form new habits. As a learning consultant who's joined the marketing team - it makes perfect sense to me.

What is a marketing campaign? 

Think of a product or brand, and a jingle, image, story or even a feeling will probably pop into your mind. That's probably because it's had a great campaign behind it. Great marketing campaigns: 

  • grab attention – through all sorts of methods: stories, humour, shock tactics, surrealism –   often through something emotional  
  • target specific audiences – with timely, useful, relevant content stylised for them
  • go multi-channel – tapping into the places, virtual or physical, where their audience goes
  • plant seeds of thought
  • build up in mental presence over time
  • go viral – by creating content people want to talk about and share
  • ultimately, lead to action.

What does this have to do with learning? 

Well, everything. If you want to drive action or behaviour change, you should be looking at long term, targeted strategies that start with a hook.  

But I’ve got amazing learning content… 

Brilliant – but does your audience know it’s there? And if they know it’s there, do they know why it matters to them? And if they do it, are you sure it will change their behaviour?  

To embed learning and bring about deep behaviour changes, you need more than a one-hit wonder. You also need more than a bunch of resources, even with a great search engine and regular reminders of the key points. You need to sustain and deepen the learning journey through continued activity and experiences, making it rewarding along the way. 

Hello campaigns for learning  

We've been making and talking about learning campaigns for the last few years. It's a passion of ours, and for good reason. Delivering short, targeted learning interventions and experiences in multiple modes, across different channels is more likely to:  

  • Drive up traffic
    Pulling more people into the learning from the (virtual) places they hang out
  • Beat the forgetting curve
    By keeping ideas and messages alive and conscious in learners' minds 
  • Take learning deeper
    If you use well designed, spaced practice (not just reminders) and generate effective social learning conversations to expand the framework for the learning 
  • Make it stick
    By going for the long game and support people to change their habits  

Changing behaviours and habits isn't easy. In Neuroscience for Learning and Development, Stella Collins explains that when we're trying to form a new habit, we get a kick from the dopamine the new action releases in our brains. But it's short lived. 

'After a time management course you get back to work and practise your new routine of only checking your emails at lunchtime and get the reward of feeling virtuous...But after a little while that reward is less 'rewarding' and if the habit hasn't become fully engrained then it's really easy to slip back into the old routine because that in itself has some reward associated with it.' 

Taking a campaign-based approach, much like microlearning, can help sustain the learning curve through to unconscious competence, or habit.

Two sides to the coin 

When we talk about learning campaigns, we probably mean two things: one is driving traffic to the learning content using marketing techniques, and the other is delivering the content in a way that matches the best of modern, shareable content. Think episodic videos, games, catchy one liners, stand out infographics, must-share stories. 

To make a success of either, you need to know your audience and where they hang out. It goes without saying, you need to profile your learners and consider how and where best to target them, be it digital spaces such as forums and Yammer, or physical spaces where posters will get good footfall. 

As a learning designer who's recently joined the marketing team, I'm straddling the two camps. Luckily, they're not too far apart. In our series of marketing tips for L&D, I've pulled together five to help you maximise your campaign for learning.

5 tips for a cracking campaign

1. Set goals

'Habits usually have a trigger, a reward and a routine and you can break a habit by changing any one of them. Sometimes the tricks is to identify which part you have the most influence or control over.'*

As with any new learning project, you need to be clear on your goals. What outcomes are you looking to achieve, at a business and personal level? Who's the audience, or audiences? What measures will show success? And because it's a campaign, think about how many people you aim to attract, participate or complete certain elements, and by when. End goals or points where you stop to review how you're doing are crucial to any campaign. 

2. Get planning

Keep your campaign regular and relevant with upfront planning. Starting with the goal(s) you need to change, you need to plan your campaign in detail. What is there to drive traffic, and what is there to drive performance change? (Some assets will do both). Create a media plan that lists out what you're going to do, for what goal, and on what channel - whether it's a storytelling video, deskdrop, email, leaders' blog, weekly pre-recorded radio show, performance support app, competition, live forum debate, poll or poster...the options are endless. But each needs to have a purpose and a call to action.

3. Call to action

CTAs aren't just about the performance or action you want a learner to take in their workday, although these are ultimately important. Each element of your campaign should be part of a journey, and CTAs help move it along. Include click-throughs, as buttons or text links, from each element to at least one other element in your campaign. Be it a poll that asks learners to vote on the contents of a video drama or a link from a Tweet to the central learning page – use them to join the dots. Don't forget to make it social too, with easy CTAs for sharing and commenting. Once you've got your CTAs, you can measure them – if the click-through rate to get people from A to B isn't high, what needs to change or how else can you get people there? (See our blog on using data). 

4. Create a brand

Create a brand and identity for your campaign that stands out from the crowd and gels together all the disparate pieces. Consider a branded homepage to hold it all together, whether that's a bespoke microsite, Facebook, Vimeo, intranet or LMS page. And go for a name with no shame: rather than ‘Intellectual property’ spin it into ‘Our ideas are our business’. Use the same tone of voice and key terms across channels, but don’t just copy and paste - it might mess with your Google stats, as well as get a little boring. Get emotional with your brand identity – how is your campaign going to make people feel? Emotion helps learning stick, so strive for a reaction.

5. Trail it

Think of your campaign as a widening funnel, where you start with some attention grabbers and then build up the content and context - using CTAs to move along through it. Since we're talking learning and behaviour changes, your content needs to get deeper and more expansive. Enable learners to explore, play, discuss, and expand their learning through deepening content and activities, whilst continuing a  social media campaign to keep and grow the footfall. Just because it's a campaign, doesn't mean everything should be kept light touch: you need to challenge, stretch and surprise to drive deep changes. 


Make learning campaigns part and parcel of what you do, and you'll see the results.  

Don't forget to measure the success of your campaign as you go, at a micro level with those CTAs, and at your stop and review points on a more macro level, where you can gauge how much you're impacting performance on the ground. Here's a great blog post with tips on how to do this.



Shaping the future of learning

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