Why should you bother with marketing? If you’ve ever created a non-mandatory course and then sighed in disappointment when registration was low, marketing your offering may be the solution. With the influx of curated content platforms and content libraries, encouraging learners to manage their own learning journey and take non-mandatory training is a growing challenge.

If you need people to take your courses (and who doesn’t?), promoting your learning solutions is an essential component. In order to successfully promote your program and make sure it reaches the learners who can truly benefit from it, here are six marketing steps to take before releasing the training:

1. Know Your Learner

It’s essential to understand your target audience, your desired learners. An effective way to do this is by creating a learner persona. Like a buyer persona, a learner persona is an archetypical representation of your learners that helps you understand their needs and learning preferences. It also enables you to understand their work and media habits and, thus, which marketing messages will resonate with them. The learner persona is also important for the tone of your content and the story you are trying to tell. Everything should be geared toward connecting with your learners.

In your learner persona analysis, paint a picture of their learning needs and daily habits by asking questions like these:

  • What are their goals and motivations?
  • Why are they interested in your topic?
  • What are their pain points? (What do they struggle with, and what does your training need to address)
  • What are their demographics (i.e., age, gender, etc.)?
  • What is their workday routine? (e.g., Do they start their day scanning email on their phone during their commute? Do they take scheduled breaks? Do they have any downtime during the day?)
  • Where do they work (i.e., remote offices, one central office, etc.)?
  • Are they frequently online? If so, what sites do they visit?

You can use this data to position your offerings and market them in the channels that will actually reach your learners. For example, well-positioned banner ad with a relevant message on the corporate intranet page may be more effective than mentioning your training offering in daily e-letters — or it might not. The trick is to choose your execution strategy based on actual learner insights. Give people what they actually need instead of what you think they want.

2. Let Your Learners Know the Value of Your Course

In purchasing any product or service, customers want to be guaranteed a return on investment (ROI). In the case of a learning solution, the ROI is the skills they are going to master or the questions they are going to have answered after the program. Your learners want to know your program’s unique value proposition — what makes your offering different from other courses they could take.

Clearly communicate how the program addresses learners’ needs, and convince them of the relevance of the training. Whoever benefits from your course, be it the participants or their managers, let them know the value they will receive in exchange for their money and time.

3. Give Previews and Sneak Peaks to Your Course

One marketing technique that’s worked over and over again is the use of teasers. We see it all the time in the trailers that make us wants to see our favorite movies or excerpts from the books we want to read. When I was in marketing management at Procter & Gamble, we created product launch teasers to generate anticipation. Giving people a “taste” and leaving them wanting more is a guaranteed way of capturing your audience.

Use sneak peaks to enable learners to see what they can expect from your course and to make them curious. Be cautious, however: The information in those sneak peeks should be just enough to generate interest and highlight the value of your course without eliminating the need for an investment in it.

Effective methods include launch videos, providing a few interesting “did you know?” multiple-choice questions from the course, or offering a high-impact activity from a classroom course delivered at a lunch and learn. This type of preview provides a peak while encouraging people to invest the time in the full program.

4. Nurture Your Learners

At certain points in time, it’s important to remind your learners of your offering to keep your programs and their value fresh in their minds. This stage is where email marketing and automation come into play. You can use these tools to nurture and follow up with your learners.

Start when they show interest, such as clicking on a training link in your corporate e-letters or signing up for a related program, and then send regular emails that add value. Ensure your frequency is in line with your corporate policy, and be regular but not so frequent that your messages become annoying. Occasional learning-specific newsletters that let them in on some freebies and call their attention to new learning modules or new learning events can do the trick. You can even send follow-ups to learners who have dropped off along the way and encourage them to go back on track.

One important note: Always offer avenues for your learners to directly contact you through email, your internal social network or other method. Let them know you are readily available to them.

5. Put A/B Testing to Work

Use A/B testing as often as you can in marketing your course. Divide your email list into two segments, and send each one a different version of your marketing message. Test your subject lines, calls-to-action, buttons and even content. Marketers use A/B testing to find out which elements perform better and what might be hurting their campaigns.

A/B testing can also be instrumental in finding out which elements of your course your learners connect with more, which topics your learners are more interested in and which content structure works best.

6. Ask for Feedback and Endorsements

Few people are comfortable being the first to sign up for a brand-new learning solution, as a tried and true product is more appealing. Ask for testimonials that you can feed into your courses to boost credibility. You can even go out on a limb and share pictures and videos of your satisfied learners in your emails and communication channels. Your target audience will be more likely to commit if they know your course has made a difference in someone else’s work life.

Some programs are particularly challenging to market, like generating regular use of your company’s online course library or curated content platform. However, even if you’re not immediately successful, organize a focus group and ask it for feedback. The group can also help you fill in the gaps of your learner personas with constructive criticism to improve your training content, positioning and marketing efforts.

As learning professionals, we have to wear many hats. Marketing is one of them. Our job doesn’t begin and end with creating an e-learning course and hitting “publish.” We are also tasked with letting our audience know about our course, keeping them engaged and seeing them through successful completion. Employ these steps in your next learning campaign, and maximize your reach.