Training Plagued by Low Attendance? Marketing 101 for HR and L&D Teams

Organizational HR and Learning and Development teams are in a tough position these days.

Marketing Training EventsOn one hand, training has never been more essential. Companies are looking to their personnel teams to solve skills gap challenges, ensure consistency as organizations expand, cope with growing turnover and increasing regulatory requirements, and take advantage of new trends in employee education like social learning, MOOCs, and microlearning.

On the other hand, it seems literally no one has resources for employee development. HR budgets have not recovered from the Great Recession, and most organizations are asking their teams to “do more with less.” If lagging support from above weren’t enough, the overbooked schedules of today’s employees are leaving less and less time for training in the first place.

Training is critical to organizational success. All those classes, conferences, town halls, eLearning videos, memos, and handbooks help make workplaces happier, safer, and more productive — but in today’s world, simply providing excellent training isn’t enough.

When the curriculum is complete, learning and development teams now need to turn their attention to a new job requirement — marketing.

Marketing: The Next Must-Have Skill for Talent Development Teams

It doesn’t matter if it’s a product, a service, a cause, an idea, or anything else — look at any successful offering in any market today and you’ll see two things:

  • First, an offering that (at least, mostly) lives up to its potential. Poor products are seldom on the market for long.
  • Second, a communication strategy that helped users find it, understand it, embrace it, and share it. Just as poor products tend to have a short shelf life, poorly promoted products (even the great ones) seldom find enough success to survive.

So what does that mean for corporate learning and development teams?

First, of course, it means your training sessions must be valuable, informative, and hopefully, a little fun. Second, it means HR and L&D teams need to begin planning how they’ll promote each training session a standard part of planning how they’ll produce each session.

Today’s employees are busy, and many often need a nudge to complete training goals — even those essential or required for their positions. Organizational development teams need to communicate proactively to engage employees, remind team members to complete mandatory courses, and persuade those who would benefit most to make time for additional sessions.

Crafting and delivering those messages will take some thought and effort, but as any good marketer will tell you, done well they can increase engagement, boost attendance, and enhance the ROI of your organization’s talent development activities.

Marketing Training to an Internal Audience: What Works

While the task of promoting training activities may be a relatively unfamiliar one, HR and L&D teams can take heart in knowing they may just have an inside edge. Employees want to hear from their organizations, and most will be keen to learn about opportunities for growth, development, and transparency being made available.

There’s just one catch – you can’t expect them to come to you. You have to communicate where they’re already likely to be listening.

Fortunately, for most organizations, there are a host of channels you can leverage. For best results, you should plan to lean on all of them. The onus is on you to make your message heard, and different people will be paying attention in different places. Look for ways you can promote your training options with the following outlets:

Internal Email – Most organizations have a regular newsletter for all team members and/or specific groups of employees. These emails are often well-read, so work with the teams that own them to promote new and evergreen relevant training options.

To go a little further, partner with these teams to create a series of emails encouraging targeted employees to take one or a set of related courses (marketers call this kind of communication a “drip campaign”). These communications can be especially useful for supporting structured training like onboarding or regulatory compliance.

Banner Ads on Internal Websites – Generally online, most people don’t click on banner ads, but that isn’t always true on corporate intranets. A small banner on a familiar enterprise portal can be an effective way to remind employees about training goals – and give them an easy, one-click option to visit your registration site while it’s top of mind.

Social Promotion on Internal Networks – In the past few years, tools like Jive, Yammer, and Salesforce Chatter have succeeded in bringing an element of the social web inside the corporate firewall. These portals are, in many organizations, now well-trafficked hubs of social learning and idea sharing – and an ideal place to post a quick note about a relevant training option.

Especially when you can target your posts to specific groups or user communities — say, channels dedicated to sales team members or supporting regional offices — sharing a link or an entire video on Jive or Chatter may be the fastest way to make development materials available right away to those who will value them most.

Promote Training at Other Internal Events — In every organization, some events never struggle to find attendance. Town halls, annual conferences, and other high-profile sessions are great places to get a sense of the size of your potential local audience — and to connect with that audience directly.

Work with the owners of these activities to find ways to promote internal training offerings. Often, traditional marketing efforts like flyers or a quick slide that can be shown on-screen before and after the main event can be effective ways to get your message out.

Recommendations on Training Registration & Completion Pages — Finally, take a page from and look to your existing audience as a source of potential growth. It’s a fairly safe bet that employees already signing up for and completing training are interested in continuing their professional development — offering recommended additional courses and materials (akin to Amazon’s “People who purchased this item also bought…” section) can be an easy way to help employees discover more training opportunities.

The Secret to Marketing that Sticks

However you opt to promote your training events, most good marketing communications all have a few structural elements in common. To help your messages get noticed, keep the following in mind.

Your Headline Matters Most. They work best when they are short, and when address the user (just like we did with the bolded text in this paragraph).

Descriptions should be short (target 150 characters, or about 2 sentences, which is the length of the descriptions Google shows for each of its search results listings).

  • If your description includes a list, use bullets. They get noticed. See?

If at all possible, a visual element (picture, graphic, video — anything). Images help catch the viewer’s attention, and used well, can help the viewer “see themselves” making use of your offer.

And throughout all the above, always answer this key question: What’s In It For Me? People want to know how taking their time to pay attention (and then even more time to attend your session) will benefit them — you want to address those benefits in your promotions.

Simply stating that a new offering is available doesn’t ensure an employee will understand why the new class might be valuable. Be sure your marketing helps those employees recognize that your new class is an easy way to stay in compliance with regulatory requirements, a quick way to learn a new system or strategy, a means to advance in one’s career path, or will have another desirable outcome.

Customer Experience — The New Marketing Mantra

While traditional marketing communications can be an effective means to generate demand for training programs, there’s another somewhat newer marketing discipline today’s HR and learning and development teams should keep in mind as they finalize curricula.

Customer Experience Management (often abbreviated simply to “CX”) has become a full-fledged marketing practice in recent years, placing renewed focus on ensuring every product or service is delivered well enough to ensure repeat interest and increased word-of-mouth referrals.

The logic behind the growth in CX is simple: while advertisements and promotions have long proven effective means to persuade a person to try something new, the experience that person has with that offering is virtually 100% predictive of whether they’ll try it again. One bad experience and almost no amount of cajoling will convince them to go back again (or, in the case of required training, any more than is absolutely essential).

For training and events, CX means weaving the narrative thread of “What’s In It For Me?” in alongside the other narratives used to deliver information in training.

As you develop and refine training offerings and programs, keep the following mantras in mind to help ensure you’ll develop great experiences that not only help students learn — but also make them feel good about recommending the class to others and looking for other opportunities in the future:

Respect Your Users’ Knowledge — And Their Motivations
Informational content of almost every stripe usually starts at the basics and works up from there. Sometimes, starting with the foundational information can’t be avoided — requirements are requirements.

Most often, however, an audience of tenured professionals won’t need to hear the basics — indeed, will likely tune out when presented with things they’ve known for 20 years or more. They’re attending training for the chance to polish well-used skills or pick up a new pointer or concept or two. Time spent on the fundamentals will often be perceived as time that could have been better spent at their desks.

This is where the concepts of CX and microlearning may help you deliver a better training experience for all. By sectioning training curricula into small component activities and permitting employees to review just those that speak to their interests, you create a learning environment that respects existing knowledge and makes it possible to cherry-pick the most valuable (and thus, most desirable) information first.

Connect with Your Learners with a Dose of Personality
If every employee could pick up the skills they need for success just by reading the handbook, organizations may have never developed training programs at all. But we all know that most people simply don’t have the time or the patience to parse dense textbooks — and that even if they did, they’d still learn more information more quickly with the benefit of an instructor.

Too many organizations, however, attempt to scale learning programs by cutting the most effective part: the teacher. Rather than pay the expense to have someone onsite who can provide consistent information and answer questions, they shoot to minimize costs by simply providing the materials in PowerPoint or PDF. It’s a tradeoff that hopes to drive budgets down and ROI up — but just as often leaves employees unengaged and under-informed. Though it may be a tempting savings, in the long run, practicing CX means that the best training organizations find a way to keep their people included front and center in their programs.

Pull, Don’t Push, Your Learners
As technology continues to condition all of us to expect anything and everything to be available on-demand, many HR and L&D teams are finding that the standard model of scheduled training simply doesn’t meet the modern learner’s desire for instant gratification. That’s a dilemma when most information can be gleaned instead with a quick web search — and a serious problem in all those moments where an employee desperately needs training information can can’t wait for the scheduled session.

Scheduling more and more frequent training activities is no solution to these needs — even daily sessions don’t provide employees with truly instant access. Rather, the CX-driven option is to recognize that some learners’ needs need a different solution: courses that can serve not as a comprehensive guide to an entire subject, but as a granular reference to each individual detail. Structuring your training materials to available for these learners is essential to ensuring a learning experience they’ll return to.

Likewise, in an era of double-booked schedules and last-minute conflicts, most trainers now already plan for significant no-show rates in classroom settings. Today’s employees are expected to drop everything for top-priority projects, and skipping a scheduled training activity is a common means to find time when fires flare up. Rather than penalizing those individuals for their dedication to their jobs, however, a more CX-friendly option is to find new ways to make training sessions available whenever employees are — even if that means delivering content off hours or remotely. After all, you don’t want to have gone through the effort to get someone interested in a training option only to lose them to the fact that Tuesday at 2:30 just didn’t work for their schedule.

Using Technology to Support Marketing, Customer Experience, and Training Overall

As flexibility and accessibility become central requirements of modern training programs, technology has increasingly been given a strong supporting role. eLearning is today experiencing rapid adoption in most every industry, having proven both to increase knowledge retention by 25% to 60%, as well as to reduce the costs associated with training activities by 50% to 70%.

Video in particular offers organizations a powerful tool for supplementing and scaling traditional events and training initiatives. Secure enterprise video platforms like Panopto offer an end-to-end solution for video, making it easy to record video anywhere with any device, then to manage and share recordings online from a central library. With a video platform, HR and L&D teams need only a laptop and a webcam to webcast a live event or training activity, simultaneously record the event in full, and automatically upload the recording to a Corporate YouTube upon completion.

Siemens PLM Case Study - Panopto Video PlatformFor training organizations, video is a simple way to bolster customer experience of training activities through technology.

For Panopto customers, once a video is uploaded to the Panopto library (whether or not it was recorded with Panopto), every word spoken or shown on-screen during the recording will be indexed for search. That means recorded training sessions instantly become on-demand references that employees can keyword search.

Likewise, because every video uploaded to your video platform will be transcoded for optimal playback on any device, recorded events and activities become watchable anytime anywhere with a mobile connection. That means your training sessions become infinitely available to every employee — even those who wanted to but couldn’t make the regular session.

In addition, when it comes to supporting microlearning, video-enabled eLearning also provides a smart safety net. Should an employee opt only for advanced sessions then realize mid-course they really needed the basics too, all they need to do is pause their current video and hit play on another.

And along with improving CX, adding video to your training suite may help improve your traditional marketing as well. On-demand video makes word-of-mouth more actionable, making it easier for employees to repeat training and share it with others. And video captured in training events and activities can be reused to add imagery and visual interest to promotional materials — Forrester Research has noted that employees are 75 percent more likely to watch a video than to read documents, emails or web articles.

There is No Silver Bullet to Marketing — And There is No Finish Line

When it comes to promoting training activities, there is no sure-fire marketing strategy that will result in your classrooms packed and your audience hanging on every word.

The best marketing work is iterative — you try to communicate your message, then you test and adapt it over time. Sometimes marketers are lucky and ideas go viral. Most often, the work of marketing a service is simply dutifully taking each step, working on each medium and each channel, thoughtfully targeting relevant messages in order to share a message with a wider and wider audience. It’s work that’s never done — new offerings will require new support, and even proven messages lose their punch over time. Part of the work of marketing a training program is simply watching to see which messages are still powerful and persuasive, and which need to be retired for something new.

Yet marketing your training offerings shouldn’t be solely understood as some new pre-requisite to ensuring attendance and support to training programs. Especially as HR and L&D teams come to include the marketing practice of customer experience management into their regular curriculum planning, marketing may well lead to new innovations in producing, delivering, and managing your organization’s knowledge base.

If your organization is searching for a new way to support and scale your learning and development initiatives, be sure to investigate how modern video technology can improve learning, reduce costs, and help make development activities more flexible. And if you’d like to give Panopto’s video platform for sharing knowledge a try of your own, contact us today to schedule a demo or sign up for a free trial.

Published: July 08, 2015

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