It makes sense that L&D is often compared to marketing. After all, both functions try to change people’s behaviors. Marketing tries to get people to buy products. L&D tries to get people to improve their job performance. It’s not the same thing, but it’s close enough to warrant the comparison.
Therefore, the idea that L&D professionals can learn from marketing tactics makes sense in real life. Why recreate the wheel when someone else has already figured out how to get people focused on timely, actionable messages?
Modern marketing practices have inspired some L&D pros to develop learning campaigns, which are designed to reach employees through a variety of tactics over a period of time to improve engagement and retention. If you want to learn more about this concept, connect with the two industry experts who have really elevated this idea: Bianca Baumann and Mike Taylor.
However, there’s another chapter from the “Official Guide to the Modern Marketing Mindset” that L&D pros need to read. This chapter comes before the campaign idea. In fact, it may be chapter 1 of the latest edition because it sets the stage for the rest of the story and shows just how much L&D and marketing really have in common.
Do you remember a time before the internet? You know, that time when “I don’t know” was a permissible answer. Back then, marketing applied an informed spray-and-pray strategy. Billboards. Print ads. Television and radio commercials. Marketing pros made a living by pushing engaging messages in front of as many people that fit a buyer profile as they could. But they couldn’t really nail down the effectiveness of these messages. They knew how many cars drove past a billboard and how many households received a newspaper, but they couldn’t connect this exposure to actual buying decisions. So, they conducted piles of surveys asking people why they made purchases and backed in generalized correlations about marketing impact.
The struggles of pre-internet marketing are very similar to those facing L&D right now. We’ve never been able to establish a firm connection between learning activities and business results. This has pushed many L&D pros to adopt our own version of “informed spray-and-pray,” also known as the “Netflix mentality.” L&D ends up shoving as much content as they can into their LMSs and LXPs. Of course, if more people can access more content, they’ll definitely learn more, right? Well, as marketing figured out almost 20 years ago, getting more content in front of more people doesn’t mean they’ll buy more products.
Today, marketing can establish definitive connections between their activities and consumer decisions. I’m talking about causation, not just correlation. So how did they figure out a better way to capture data from a billboard? They didn’t. Rather than keep spinning their wheels trying to measure their traditional methods, they adopted new tactics. And these tactics, specifically digital online advertising, were consumer-friendly and data-rich.
This is the most important lesson L&D can learn from marketing. If we continue to rely on place-and-time training, we will never get better at measurement. Our existing, industry-standard measurement models cannot fix this problem, regardless of how many levels they include.Traditional L&D tactics just do not generate enough high-quality data to determine the real impact of training. If we want to connect our solutions to business results, we have to take inspiration from marketing and evolve our tactics first.
Improved measurement will help L&D ask better questions and make more informed, proactive decisions. However, before we can develop new, data-rich tactics, we have to consider the questions we want to answer. How can improved measurement help us connect learning to business results? What data do we need in order to make this connection?
Once again, marketing has the answer. To figure out how an online ad leads to a purchase, they use data to … for lack of a better term … stalk you around the internet. Along the way, they pick up small data points that show subtle changes in your behavior over time. When this granular data is collected at scale across thousands of consumers, marketing can find patterns and determine the role a single digital ad played in the overall purchase process. It also helps them push the right messages to you at the right time throughout the buying process.
No, L&D should not digitally stalk employees. But we should employ tactics that can help us measure iterative changes in key indicators, including employee knowledge, behavior and performance, at scale. The good news is that a big chunk of this measurement is being done for us. Most organizations already track employee performance and on-the-job behaviors related to key business priorities. L&D must partner with internal experts to access this data. Then, we can introduce tactics that measure changes in training consumption and knowledge over time, such as reinforcement and practice activities. When all of this data is analyzed, we can see patterns and find connections between learning and performance.
I don’t hear people question the value of marketing much nowadays. Sure, they make mistakes like any other function, but their overall value to business is clear. I can’t say the same for L&D. This is why the marketing measurement story is the best lesson we can take from our peers that sit down the metaphorical office hallway.
Marketing was struggling to determine the impact of their solutions—just like L&D.
Marketing knew their value was starting to be questioned—just like L&D.
Marketing needed to get better data to improve their practices—just like L&D.
Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities end right now. Over the past 20 years, marketing has taken advantage of the latest technology (internet, social media, video, mobile), transformed their practices through data, and restored their business value. On the other hand, L&D has yet to figure out many of those same tactics while continuing to struggle with measurement.
I know cheating is frowned upon in training. However, if you want to “borrow” the answers from your friends in marketing this time, I will totally let it slide.