How to boost blended learning with a strong brand
As the workplace grows in complexity, it is increasingly difficult to grab the attention of employees and get them to engage with learning initiatives. This can be particularly difficult if employees expecting traditional classroom training are asked to engage for the first time with a blended learning solution. Staff may need convincing to try learning in a new way, so to deliver a smooth transition from the classroom to an effective blend of resources and delivery, marketing techniques can significantly help to encourage engagement with the different aspects of a blended solution.
Simply creating a mix of resources and making them available is not an effective blend. To create a true blend, the contrasting methods and media need to be presented to the learner so they feel part of the same learning journey.
We know from research by organisations like Towards Maturity that learners want a self-directed culture, where they take responsibility for their own development by engaging with opportunities to learn that are clearly signposted and easy to use. In a blend, it’s desirable to guide learners through the various stages of the blended solution, particularly if the majority of the solution is not being formally delivered. When a learner knows a little about what to expect, they are more likely to be curious and interested to learn.
Branding the blend
One way to promote a learning solution is to create a recognisable brand. In the same way businesses use branding to create an identity and connect with consumers, a brand can help learners make sense of a blended solution, particularly if they are not used to exploring some aspects of a topic informally on their own.
In his book, More than blended learning, Clive Shepherd, points out the importance of borrowing marketing techniques, of which branding is one. He writes:
“Blended learning solutions have to be sold, just like any other product or service. This is particularly important when many learners and their managers have had little or no experience of blended learning and may be apprehensive about its benefits. Marketing is important even when the programme is compulsory, as you want employees to participate in your courses in the right frame of mind – not grudgingly.”
AXA, one of the world’s largest insurers experienced first-hand just how effective branding for a blended learning solution can be. AXA introduced a blended learning solution for the first time at its Business Insurance Contact Centre in Scotland. The goal was to educate and empower insurance advisors to deliver personalised and outstanding customer service.
Working with learning experts at Sponge, the blend was custom-built, combining face-to-face sessions, coaching, bite size elearning, a learning game and group embedding sessions. For the company, it was important to ‘win the employees hearts and minds’ for learning in a different way, so the team at Sponge created a strong brand for the whole programme that was instantly recognisable.
Called Inspiring Customer First, the logo and identity of the brand centred on putting customers’ needs first – something that would strike a chord with the insurance advisors. The brand really came into its own in the run up to the launch and during their launch week. With posters, balloons and t-shirts bearing the brand name, nobody in the contact centre could miss what was happening. Learners were encouraged to engage with the brand by making social media pledges about how they intended to put the needs of customers first. There was even a competition where the winning advisors were immortalised as avatars, appearing in an online learning game and on other branded materials.
This proved to be a highly successful first venture into blended learning. The marketing campaign motivated learners to engage and delivered positive results. In a post-learning survey more than 80% of participants rated the programme highly for enjoyment and engagement. In terms of business goals, the programme contributed to a huge increase in positive customer comments (113%) and a significant drop in formal complaints (24%).
Tips for success
There are some key reasons why the use of a branded marketing campaign worked so well to support the AXA blended solution. We call them RIVER campaigns:
Make sure the brand identity fits closely with the overall theme of the learning and makes sense to the learners. If the brand is too removed or vague, it will fall short in its power to engage the audience.
Get learners involved in creating and defining the brand. This helps to generate interest and connect learners to the brand. Competitions are a great way to get the team involved.
Branding will only work to support a blended learning programme if it is visible. All learning touchpoints needs to be branded, whether digital or physical.
The best brands make an emotional connection with the target audience. Make sure your learning brand has personality and tells a story.
Branding works best when people can recognise it, even without words or an explanation. Use visual design to bring the brand to life.
Finally, consider what marketing expert, Lois Geller says about branding. She calls it a “promise to consumers”. So if you’re moving away from traditional classroom learning and moving towards a more blended learning approach, a well-branded programme provides a promise to learners that their blended learning-based development opportunity will help them improve their knowledge or skills and succeed in their job.