The key is marketing courses effectively. ‘It is easy to be consumed with creating the best possible job aid, or course or presentation,’ advises L&D thought leader Donald H Taylor. ‘But if nobody sees it and wants to use it, all that effort, from creation to production to delivery, all the way down the chain, has been wasted.’
So knowing how to market training courses may be critical to making any one of them a success. But only eight per cent of L&D professionals have a marketing and communications background. No surprise then that over 80 per cent of L&D and HR professionals identify marketing and communications skills as a priority for development within their teams.
How to think like a marketer
So how can you develop these magical marketing skills that will make your courses a runaway success? The key is to bridge the gap between your focus when building a training course and the key concerns of your audience: potential attendees.
You’ve invested time and energy to make sure a course covers all the right things, so it’s only natural to focus on areas like the course’s content and its learning objectives.
But prospective attendees are going to be as concerned about what a course will be like as what they’re going to learn. This means your course marketing needs to cover the experience of going on a course as thoroughly as the content for the course. Prospective attendees might worry that training will be too basic and boring, or that it will make them look silly, or that they’ll be forced to do activities or exercises that make them uncomfortable. So make sure you address concerns like these.
This kind of writing takes you into the realm of copywriting, which is a skill in itself and one that’s probably not your specialism. Don’t worry if that’s the case, though, as you can still do two crucial things:
1) Get external training providers to help you write a page for your course curriculum.
2) Make use of the single most powerful marketing technique available: social proof.
Ask your training providers to help you market training courses
Your training provider will already have sales and marketing materials designed to promote the value of their products. It should be relatively easy for them to adapt that for your internal promotional material. If you mention this as a concern in the procurement process, they will be much more willing to go the extra mile to draft something for you as part of their training deal.
A similar approach is simply to ask them questions like, ‘What is the biggest worry people have about this course?’ and, ‘How do you win over delegates who are initially apathetic about the course?’ Any experienced provider should be able to answer these questions easily – and the way they overcome objections will suggest simple things to add to your copy.
For example, someone’s key fear about a presentation-skills course might be, ‘I’m nervous about presenting and I’ve never liked it.’ But your provider might have ready answers to that problem, such as, ‘We gradually build the confidence of delegates over the course of the day – they won’t be forced to just get up and speak.’ You can then highlight this in your promotional materials. And every potential objection you overcome takes you a step closer to filling the course.
Testimonials from people within the company
From Amazon reviews to case studies, the easiest way to convince someone that something is valuable is to show them that other people think so. This is called ‘social proof’, and you can turn this powerful marketing technique to your advantage.
Social proof can be anything from a brief quote from a colleague to testimonials or videos. As Russ Becker, CEO of AchieveForum, notes, asking the right questions will help you generate the most compelling proof. Try questions like, ‘How will this learning experience change the way you do your job?’, ‘Which new skills will be most valuable to you and why?’ or, ‘What does the company’s investment in your development mean to you?’
Remember that you don’t need to overthink this. Authentic testimonials can be astonishingly persuasive. Even the most basic testimonials can have a huge effect on course attendance.
For example, one of our clients found that the employees they were lining up for our courses often didn’t believe they needed writing training or that they could benefit from it at all. (Learning and leadership consultant Kevin Eikenberry calls such attendees ‘prisoners’.) As a result, the L&D managers had a hard time filling the courses.
This all changed when a widely respected employee posted a testimonial in their company newsletter about their positive experience on our courses. Attendance surged as a result and our courses have been consistently popular ever since.
For larger initiatives, you can go as far as commissioning professionally produced video from senior management or the chief executive. This level of support will be much more persuasive than describing training as ‘fun’ or ‘engaging’, which will ultimately mean very little to potential delegates.
Where to use your promotional material
Take advantage of all your organisation’s communications channels and, if your company has one, work with the communications team to help you. Channels and activities you can use include:
- articles, case studies, videos and other testimonials on your intranet pages
- banner ads on your intranet home page
- posts to Facebook groups and instant messaging channels used by specific teams
- posters on noticeboards
- leaflets in payslips, on desks or in reception/kitchen areas
- articles in staff newsletters
- presentations to management and team meetings
- drop-in sessions during lunch breaks
- taster sessions (bite-size learning to give staff a feel for the training available).
By expanding beyond simply emailing people and using channels that are much less crowded, you’ll increase your chances of reaching potential audiences.
Improving attendance in every way
Donald H Taylor was right – marketing your courses effectively is essential if you want them to succeed. But, by themselves, marketing communications can only do so much. Understanding how to market training courses is crucial, but it’s only one part of the puzzle. Learning how to make courses relevant to an individual’s day-to-day work, figuring out how to effectively overcome the concerns of potential delegates, and making training fit into your wider learning strategy all make a big difference to whether a course fills in a flash or is desperately seeking attendees.