Turning Learners into Fans Part 2: Your Real-time marketing plan to reach learners

June 16, 2022 | Activate Learning | 15 min read

A two-part series by David Meerman Scott, marketing strategist and author of 12 books including the Wall Street Journal bestseller Fanocracy

In the first part of this two-part series, we looked at how to segment your learners into distinct groups, what I call learning personas. Then we considered ways to educate and inform your groups of learners by publishing information and being active on social media. Now let’s move on to the power of real-time communications as well as building a plan to reach learners.

Imagine it’s a typical morning at your organization. You’re busy with the tasks at hand, perhaps getting ready for a meeting with your team and preparing a presentation for an event next week.

You glance at your newsfeeds and notice a massive cybersecurity breach overnight at companies just like yours all over the world. Of course, your IT department is scrambling to determine if your systems have been compromised.

But what about you? How are you reacting?

It’s likely that into that breaking news scenario employees at all levels are wondering what corporate security means to them.

Or consider the end of the year, typically performance review season at many organizations. New managers need to understand how to provide effective feedback to their direct reports in both written and verbal format.

These are ideal opportunities to share learning content!

Instead of telling people what they should learn when you’re ready, a modern real-time marketing mindset turns the typical communications approach upside down, sharing learning content with employees when they are most interested and likely to act.

Smart real-time marketers engage and communicate when the moment is right. So can you.

Into the breaking news about the cybersecurity breach comes an ideal opportunity for you to alert employees to a short course about digital security, perhaps Being a Responsible Corporate Digital Citizen on Percipio. And at the start of performance review season, you might suggest the Percipio course Planning for Skills Needs and Managing Performance.

The real-time business world

Early in my career, I worked on a Wall Street bond-trading desk. As they pore through data and news, traders are poised, ready to commit huge sums of money when the moment is right. They peer intently at the Reuters and Bloomberg screens displaying bond prices the moment they change. Data from futures markets and stock exchanges update the instant a trade is made.

Speed on the trading floor is crucial. Technology has transformed financial trading into a game where instant information informs split-second decisions worth millions of dollars.

Today, the same thing is true for all kinds of businesses, including yours, because real-time news is available to everyone, not just bond traders. Employees of your organization know instantly when news affects their work.

I see a huge opportunity for you and your team to think more like bond traders, delivering appropriate learning content to people when the moment is right.

That might mean that you take a calendar approach to promoting learning content. For example, during the public company annual reporting season early in the new year, you could suggest an appropriate course offering such as Key Accounting Concepts and Principles from Percipio.

Scanning the news and maintaining an awareness of what people are talking about within your organization is another great way to offer learning content when it is needed most. Selecting a learning program to offer people when they are thinking about that topic is a key to driving tremendous engagement. When you are on top of the trends that are most important at that moment, you build fans of lifelong learning.

For example, during the Tokyo Olympics held in July and August 2021, top ranked American gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of several events, including the women’s team finals and the individual all-around competitions. Her inability to compete wasn’t due to a physical injury, rather she said it was related to a mental health challenge she was facing.

A few weeks later, Japanese professional tennis player Naomi Osaka went public with mental health issues of her own, affecting her ability to compete at the top level. As Biles’ and Osaka’s mental health became major stories reported by the world’s news media, millions of ordinary people considered their own mental health challenges.

These kinds of real-time breaking news stories are ideal opportunities to suggest targeted learning programs to employees. Just like a bond trader, when the moment is right you should communicate with employees in your organization.

The news of Biles’ and Osaka’s mental health challenges presented an ideal opportunity for learning professionals to communicate to employees the ways that their organization can help those facing similar issues, perhaps by sharing a link to the Mental Well-Being channel on Percipio.

A focus on real-time communications adds to how you are likely communicate to learners today. While it’s important to focus on the needs and skills that are required for people to do their jobs and the concepts deemed important by executives or the training department, a focus on the real-time news of the day delivers programs that are timely.

Considering what’s happening in the wider world based on what's important in peoples’ jobs, what's trending, and what's going on in the world at large is a great way to formulate part of your publishing program to promote learning content.

This real-time focus also delivers something else of value. Your learners recognize that you and your colleagues understand what’s important to their work and their personal lives. When you anticipate people’s needs, they become fans!

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Building a marketing plan to reach learners

As I've connected with people from around the world about their marketing strategies, I've heard from many that they've struggled with getting started. Most of the implementation challenges that people describe involve the shift from focusing on products and services to the more effective approach of focusing on buyer personas and creating a publishing program that helps solve buyers' problems. A secondary challenge people share is the shift in emphasis from offline marketing techniques and programs (such as direct mail, trade shows, and advertising) to reaching buyers on the web.

Perhaps you are facing similar challenges connecting effectively with the employees in your organization.

For marketers, I devised an aid to tackling these challenges: a one-page marketing strategy planning template. It helps marketers begin focusing on buyer personas and creating a publishing program that reaches them effectively. As I received feedback on prior editions, I’ve continually revised it. In fact, the template is now in its 10th edition and has helped nearly a million people around the world in the past decade.

Working with the Skillsoft team, I’ve revised the template to make it work for learning officers who want to implement the ideas in this report.

You can start with this template whenever you have something of value that you want to communicate to employees of your organization. The Internal Marketing Strategy Planning Template could be your starting point for:

  • New course launches
  • Celebrating learning champions
  • Specific skill campaigns

The template will help you to implement strategies for reaching learning personas directly. I believe it's essential to shift out of the typical comfort zone of just talking about the product and service offerings for employees and instead focus on the needs of your learners.

For example, if you were to say to me, “I want to start a blog,” I would point you to the template and have you start asking the following questions:

  • Who (which learning personas) are you trying to reach with the blog?
  • Is a blog the best tool? Or might another form of information like a video channel be better?
  • What problems can you help solve for your leaners?
  • What value do you bring as creator of this information?
  • How will people find the blog?
  • What do you want people to do after they have read some blog posts?

The strategy planning template is built on the same principle I use throughout this guide: Understanding learners and publishing information especially for them drives action. We also want to remember that the information people find will drive them to action and help you achieve your goals.

Moreover, you can monitor your own effectiveness: You can measure how many people follow you and your team on social media, sign up for your email newsletter, or subscribe to learning content.

You can also measure how your internal marketing strategies are helping your organization reach its most important goals, such as new sales and revenue growth.

“I'm a measurement guy,” says Ben Sieke, Director, Talent Development and Learning at Delta Dental of California. “I believe, you can't manage what you don't measure. And that what gets measured tends to improve. We work in close partnership with both our client in this case, which is our customer operations group, as well as our customer experience COE, to measure the outcomes of training from a business impact standpoint. We look at customer satisfaction in post call scores. We look at NPS from post call surveys as well. We do cohort analysis to make sure that we're seeing the business results that we want. I's been fantastic to watch those numbers go up as people go through training or coached or building those skills.”

SOURCE: Panel: Winning the Hearts and Minds of Your Learners and Your Customers Perspectives 2021

To make the new ways of marketing part of your personal world, you may have to change your mind-set. You'll need to understand your buyers, rather than just talk about the products and services you provide to employees. You'll need to be aware of what's going on in the real-time news and on social networks. You'll need to develop a web-based publishing program, and sometimes you'll need to do it urgently to be successful.

These habits and techniques do not come naturally to learning professionals steeped in more traditional ways. However, this approach works. Millions of marketers have adopted these techniques to great effect. They’ve built fans of their organization, grown business, and been promoted within their company.

I've talked with people all over the world who are struggling to adapt to these new rules. The process often starts with your coming to understand just how severely conventional methods can handicap your business and your career. But if you've read this 2-part blog series, you know that already.

Now it’s your turn to turn your learners into fans of you and your work!