Let’s say you were recently browsing a website looking for a new desk. Whether you bought the desk or not, you can rest assured that everything from your social media feeds to your news feeds will feature an endless stream of photos of desks — ads, compelling you to swipe and buy.

That’s the power of digital marketing. You may ask, “What does that have to do with my new training program?” The answer might surprise you.

If there’s one thing that learning and marketing have in common, it is attention. As Adam Grant wrote in a 2019 New York Times article, “Productivity isn’t about time management. It’s about attention management.” He cites E.B. White’s research that found that productive people don’t agonize about which goal to pursue; rather, they naturally “[gravitate] toward projects that are personally interesting and socially meaningful.”

Our society is full of indications that our attention spans are shrinking, yet according to research cited in a Forbes article, 8.4 million Netflix users try to complete a series within 24 hours of starting it. Clearly, people will spend time on the things that interest them, even if they come from recommendations, as Netflix shows often do. In fact, according to marketing agency Omnicore, “more than 70% of what people watch on YouTube is determined by its recommendation algorithm.”

How can you apply the same principles of marketing and engagement to drive learners to complete your new training program? Here are five ways.

1. Build Hype

Marketers know that it’s important to start early. If you are going to roll out that mandatory compliance training program in one month, start promoting it now. Of course, promotion doesn’t mean a boring “save the date” email or, even worse, a message that says, “Complete this training by the end of the month — or else …”

You can generate interest in even the most tedious training programs by adding a theme or even using a meme or video that sparks laughter. If there’s one thing your employees don’t need, it is boring email reminders to complete a training program that they already perceive as boring, as important as it may be to your organizational goals.

2. Make It Show up Everywhere

Seasoned marketers follow an omnichannel marketing strategy: They don’t restrict themselves to one medium of communication. If encouraging learners to enroll in training is a challenge, make sure they see it everywhere. While most of us are working remotely these days, great strategies for in-person training include displaying posters, scheduling lunch and learn sessions, and crowning some learning champions on the office floor.

Even if your learners are confined to a screen these days, you can make your training program pop up every once in a while without being too intrusive or annoying. You can even use social media; consider adding a postcard to your company’s internal Facebook group, a learning champion badge on LinkedIn, or a lunch and learn livestream on Twitter.

3. Make Your Learner the Hero

All advertisers will tell you that the hero of their story is the buyer. Similarly, it is important to celebrate people who learn and who make learning a habit. One tool that many leading learning organizations are using is social badges, also known as open badges. These digital credentials can be verified and proudly displayed as badges of accomplishment on employees’ social profiles.

While some learning organizations distribute social badges as proofs of certification, you can also use similar strategies to celebrate the culture of learning within your organization. LinkedIn, for example, regularly reminds you to recognize colleagues for a job well done, and Novartis issues “Curiosity Champion” badges to employees to celebrate their love of learning.

4. Treat the Learner as a Consumer

Remember that your learners are also consumers. They are everyday people who are used to elevated digital experiences like buying products online on Amazon, ordering their favorite takeout on DoorDash or finding a ride on Uber. Just as these platforms spend an enormous amount of time and energy elevating the customer experience, learning and development (L&D) organizations must step up to the plate and offer equally invigorating learning experiences.

People consume copious amounts of digital content every day, and it’s not all restricted to personal areas of interest or entertainment. According to Omnicore, content on LinkedIn receives 15 times more impressions than job postings do. Whether it is learning in the flow of work with a learning experience platform (LXP) or ultra-personalized learning journeys for everyone from new hires to leaders, it’s important to keep learning interesting and relevant.

5. Nurture Your Learners

Lead nurturing is an effective marketing strategy for prospects who don’t have an immediate interest in an offering. If a lead needs to be nurtured, marketers will often hold off on communicating for a while and then reach out in slow “drip” marketing campaigns designed to spark interest without tuning the person out. You can apply the same strategy to learning. If you find that employees are not spending enough time learning, the right strategy may be to offer them bite-sized chunks of microlearning.

In these challenging times, it is important for all of us to remember that we are all human. Sometimes, nurturing is as easy as giving people some time off to enjoy what they do. Unilever’s Day of Thanks to acknowledge the hard work of employees around the world is a great example of how a simple gesture can help employees refresh.

Now, more than ever, we need to humanize experiences and interactions within our business ecosystem, whether it is in the context of marketing or learning.

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