Summary: L&D departments worldwide are realizing the importance of creating a brand for themselves. Branding helps bring in consistency in all L&D initiatives, ‘pull’ employees towards training programs and ultimately achieve business goals.
Every time you drink a cup of coffee, wear a pair of sneakers or grab a burger from your favourite brands, you contribute in some way to reaffirm the importance of branding. A brand is what sets companies apart from competitors, helps them create their own footprint and provides the right direction to their workforce.
Branding has spread its influence over today’s learning functions as well with Learning & Development (L&D) departments worldwide realizing the importance of creating a significant brand for themselves. But, what exactly is a brand? In the words of Scott Bedbury, former worldwide advertising Director for Nike and SVP of Marketing and Branding at Starbucks, “A great brand raises the bar-it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it’s the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness, or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you’re drinking really matters.”
In other words, branding is about sending out a consistent message to everyone related to the company (employees, management, consumers) about a common goal and emotion. When it comes to L&D, branding is about establishing a strong connect between your learner and the organization’s training programs and learning initiatives.
Importance of a branding strategy for L&D
The core purpose of any L&D vertical is to enhance the skills and competencies of the employees and, in turn, meet the ultimate business goal of the organization. A successful branding strategy for L&D is a must to reiterate the importance of learning and to generate the right image about the intervention(s) in the minds of employees. However, L&D branding is not just about creating fancy posters or fliers or eye catchy campaigns for the latest training program. It is about going the whole nine yards of attracting, influencing, reinforcing and connecting the dots between your learners’ expectations about the training and the (perceived) benefits to them by using the training/ learning tools, systems and content as the vehicles to drive this change.
For a leader in the global health and fitness industry with more than 370 clubs across 16 countries and a total of 1 million members, creating a highly interactive learning environment to reinforce brand values along with facilitating knowledge retention and employee engagement for its 8,000+ strong staff is critical to the success of its L&D interventions. The fitness provider uses a Learning Management System (LMS) that’s custom branded to reflect its branding throughout so as to become an extension of its website rather than a separate entity, thereby delivering a consistent and a high-end user experience. While the LMS’ Social Learning tools along with a badge-and point-based Gamification module helps in connecting the dots between the learners’ expectations (wholesome learning) and the L&D's training objectives.
The paybacks of an L&D brand
Just like a good brand that paints an image of the product/ service in the consumer's mind and makes positive memory- and value-associations,a positive brand for the L&D does the same, leading to the end goal of exciting learners to do – be it completing the assigned training, taking up an assessment, or staying compliant. Speaking of compliance, Compliance Training has earned itself a rather ill reputation due to its "mandatory" nature. If not tackled by effective brand management, there is a good chance of learners establishing connect between such mandatory compliance training and the overall training, making it synonymous with the L&D brand. This is exactly what you, as an L&D leader, need to avoid if you want to create a conducive environment for training programs. Building a positive brand for L&D projects makes it easier to get employees excited about new learning initiatives.
Building an L&D brand brings several benefits. The biggest of them being:
- Building trust and credibility in L&D interventions: People often run to Google to find just about every answer they need, sometimes even choosing it over in-house resources for work related queries. That is because they use resources they know and trust and Google has worked hard at consistently building that image for itself. That is what you have to provide through your L&D function too. People need to understand what to expect from your L&D brand irrespective of the channel of communication. There has to be enough consistency across all communication to build an image and trust in the minds of learners.
For a leading global provider of facility services with operations across 70 countries and a 500,000 strong, diverse workforce consisting both white-and blue-collared employees, providing a learning experience to its learners (employees) that’s tailored to the company's brand values and consistent with their brand image is key. This has been brought about by leveraging a cloud-based LMS that is custom-branded to emulate the global brand – color palette, font typeface, and the works! Further, for each of the facility services provider’s regional offices, a separate portal with individual access, a dedicated URL, and, above all, a learning environment that mirrors the values and the identity of the parent brand has been ensured through the LMS’ multi-tenant support with easy custom branding functionality. Further, the LMS’ mobility, through the multi-device responsive learner side and mobile apps for iOS and Android, enables learners to access the learning materials and resources through their mobile devices anytime and anywhere (much like how Google helps us with every problem!).
- Putting learners in the driver seat: The time has gone when L&D could rely on the 'push' approach for training. Learners, now, are more informed, more selective and have multiple resources available at their fingertips to find answers/ solutions. An L&D brand, as part of the overall learning experience, is then crucial to creating long-term relationships with learners that meet their expectations while allowing them to be in charge of their learning through the 'pull' approach. Your brand actually helps in building the context, the credibility and the connect, and your learners know they can depend on your programs for impactful and functional solutions.
For an established player in the Indian Lubricants Industry with presence across 120 countries, creating and managing a custom-branded learning academy for its employees is only half its objective met. The ~1000-employee company uses a SaaS learning platform that replicates its competency framework, which not only empowers the company’s L&D team to map the proficiency levels of Functional and Leadership competencies to the job roles designed for its employees, but, to its employees, it provides easy access to specific modules on the LMS, mapped to their identified development need(s). All in all, this helps the employees in clearly understanding their own competency requirements, learning and development needs, while being in control of their career growth.
Plan of action for branding
The learning function can take a leaf or two out of the books of marketing. By joining hands with marketing, L&D can understand how to create a brand for themselves and, in turn, help the organization meet its business goals. Marketers do a great job in attracting the attention of busy and distracted customers. In the same way, L&D too can learn from them and command the attention of employees by providing them great value for their time in terms of learning.
With rapid changes being a constant in the learning space, versatility in branding for the learning function is a must. While you may or may not have realized, your learning department already has a brand. Now, it is upto you how you make the most of it, improve it and ensure it isbest leveraged to enhance the productivity and skills of employees. The learning function has to be relevant to the employee and must have the ability to adapt itself to the changing trends in the workplace.
By efficiently promoting the value of L&D and creating a brand for it, you can more readily attract and engage learners. Branding is a great way to facilitate a stronger working relationship with the organisation’s workforce and ultimately improve the business value.