Marketing a learning solution uses an inside-out approach. Internal teams will dictate what works and what doesn’t. Marketing always begins by formulating a strategic plan that focuses on the WHO and WHAT before jumping to the HOW. In other words, define the strategy before implementing the execution stages of the plan.

Moving immediately into the execution phase is the top cause of a failed marketing plan. What worsens the situation is that every “guru” on the internet teaches execution but very few ever mention true, in-depth strategy. For instance, when doing a Google search on marketing you’ll be confronted with numerous tactics like “social media marketing” or “blogging”. While both are potential elements of a marketing strategy, they are also worthless if not contributing to the ultimate goals. As an example, putting a banner ad about your new leadership training on the LMS is irrelevant if the core learners are senior leaders that don’t access the LMS. That’s where a sound marketing strategy for internal training comes in.

The learning program will ultimately benefit employees, so use them to define the best overall marketing strategy. Your strategy ultimately guides your internal marketing efforts to target specific audiences for your specific fit-for-purpose course.

I learned these secret strategies from my time in senior marketing roles at leading Fortune 100 companies—these steps provide the hidden formula to ignite action. Otherwise, just because there’s a learning solution, doesn’t mean employees will use it.

Step 1: Take note of your organization’s situation

The first step is to examine learners’ daily activities to determine what else might be vying for their attention. Examine all business processes and management tasks within each department. Build a precise roadmap that tackles learners’ particular needs.

Today’s business world is in a constant state of flux where outside influences constantly impact a company’s environment. Social movements or consumer feedback could lead to policy changes. How would these factors impact the way the learning solution reaches learners?

Identify all these potential factors and make a list; the items will be vague initially, but its use will become clear later. These insights and background knowledge will guide you to making informed decisions in the next stages.

Step 2: Set clear objectives

Define goals by using clear objectives—these are the key performance indicators to ensure your marketing strategy is moving in the right direction. Setting the right goals is an essential step to success with any strategy.

Think of it as planning a trip. You would lay out a planned path on a map, pinpoint any stops along the way, and then determine how long each stretch of the journey would take. Additionally, you would discuss this with everyone going on the trip (internal employees) to see if they have ideas you might not have considered.

Bringing this analogy back to business, the overall goal serves as the destination. The steps needed to reach that destination are all defined and used to measure the progress towards that goal. For example, a learning objective may be to have 10% of newly promoted senior leaders enroll in a leadership development program each quarter, resulting in 40% enrollment for the entire fiscal year. By setting specific objectives, refined through steps 3 (WHO) and 4 (WHAT), you’ll be able to focus the execution tactics strategically.

Step 3: Define your target learners (WHO)

A major part of marketing strategy is defining the target audience. Once the objective is clear, it’s time to define the audience. Assess the internal teams and find those who will benefit the most from the specific learning solution being provided. What are their pain points? How will this learning solution solve those problems? Your course has been designed to meet the specific needs of a specific learner group so promote this benefit to that narrow group. Don’t waste your priority efforts on communication on a one-size-fits-all campaign.

Identify that audience and use it to build a learner persona. To gain insights on learner direct surveys are a great approach, but should be mixed with focus groups to bring further context and insights to the data. Ideally you would already have your learner persona from your course creation stage to leverage for marketing your course. The learner persona helps you identify their goals, motivations, pain points, and online habits. Building a marketing strategy for this specific learner ensures that the learning solution aligns with the ideal target learner, and this helps you make better decisions in the next stages (WHAT and HOW).

Practically speaking, identifying target audiences is important to avoid wasted efforts communicating to groups that are irrelevant for your particular learning experience. Organizations often try to reach their entire employee base, including hard-to-reach segments when most segments can’t access the that specific training anyhow. Or worse, messages to all employees about certain training courses inadvertently lead to disenchantment when they make discoveries like the leadership training isn’t available at their level.

Instead, focus efforts on the prime targets of those who can participate in the solution. The more focus placed on the prime prospect group, the more strategic and effective marketing tactics will be.

Step 4: Define the message (WHAT)

Based on the target learners’ pain points, the learning solution being introduced should solve a specific problem. That problem can be anything from lack of communication to a need to develop more skills. Whatever the case, a learning solution should be created to solve this problem in a way that’s different from anything else. This will be the unique selling point (USP). The course message should emphasize this point since it’s what makes it unique.

Focusing on the features (i.e., the attributes or technical specifications) too much is the one major mistake that most course creators make. Chances are that this course provides the same key features as others. What you’re offering isn’t just features but benefits which are a unique and innovative way to present those features. An example of a feature is that your course is on a microlearning platform. But consider if employees even care? Instead, the benefit you would tell them is that the training fits easily into their schedule because it’s small and practical. Remember the adage, “features tell, and benefits sell.”

Sometimes the messages (WHAT) are focused on internal learning & development (L&D) needs due to losing site of the learner (WHO). For example, I’ve seen internal marketing messages that communicate how the training propels the L&D department’s vision for employee development. However, learners aren’t interested in that feature. Instead, it’s better to promote unique features of the actual training program that result in tangible, practical benefits to learners.

Allowing the overall marketing message to focus on what makes this solution unique will draw attention and solicit enrollment. Just remember that the unique selling point must solve a pain point that is shared amongst target learners.

Step 5: Plan your marketing tactics (HOW)

Now that the learner persona has been identified (HOW) and a clear message created (WHAT), the focus must turn to getting that message delivered to the right people (HOW). You’ll have gathered sufficient information about the ideal learner so it’s time to put that into practice.

By now, the ideas you generate should be grounded in the audience and the core message. The flashy but ineffective ideas that generate excitement (beautiful posters! elevator ads!) are automatically culled when the brainstorming team realizes that the core prime prospect won’t see them.

The information from the WHO and WHAT phase provides the avenue for thoughtful, strategic executions. There are hundreds of avenues from which to choose, so it’s important to choose only the ones that will have the greatest impact with the least amount of effort. To hone ideas, hold a structured brainstorming session creating a matrix evaluating effort and impact. For instance, if employees spend a lot of time on Yammer or Facebook (high impact) and it’s easy to promote in that channel (low effort), then that would be a good platform to choose. The result is marketing tactics that deliver enrollment of target learners.

Step 6: Continuously monitor and adjust your marketing plan

All plans must be monitored consistently, evaluated, and adjusted accordingly. Never overlook this vital step. This requires tapping into analytics and using key performance indicators to determine how the strategy is performing. Small tweaks may be required in the beginning stages in most cases.

Furthermore, proper analysis of this marketing strategy will help develop new ones in the future. Develop a way for learners to provide feedback so that the performance of the learning solution can be evaluated effectively. Quick surveys are an easy and widely accepted option.

Final thoughts

You are in a unique position to access valuable information about the learning solution so don’t waste this opportunity. Use internal resources to define the right audience and understand their pain points. Then provide solutions to those pain points in a unique way that sets the learning solution apart from the rest.