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Three lessons about e-learning from the marketing department (really?)

Annie Mariya Sam,    29 Jan 2014
Three lessons about e-learning from the marketing department (really?)

Corporate training professionals often appear puzzled when they discover that Interakt, a digital marketing agency, also offers courseware development services. The connection between marketing and training makes sense once they think about it.

Some already get it. Take Intuit, the personal and business financial software company, for example. There, training is part of the marketing department. Radical as it may sound, Intuit involves its customers in the production of training material and pays them for their efforts.

On organization charts, training and marketing usually appear as functionally separate, but they do have something critical in common. They are both forms of communication. While marketing communicates brand messages to consumers, corporate learning programs communicate brand-relevant messages to internal audiences. Like Intuit, Interakt knows that training and marketing both focus on getting the right message to the right audience using the right channels.

Here are three lessons about learning that we have gained from our marketing experience.

Storytelling works

“Agencies and Brands Need to Embrace True Storytelling,” screamed the headline last September in Adweek. Many took heed. 2013 saw an avalanche of ads that used storytelling to sell products—Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, Volvo’s Epic Split featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Chrysler’s tribute to American farmers to cite just a few. Brands today understand that telling a story can effectively etch their messages into the audience’s minds.

The same philosophy applies to learning. If you want your audience to retain what you teach them, use a story. Stories engage their attention, involve them in the learning process, and help them to retain and ultimately apply their newly acquired knowledge. You can read more about how Interakt uses storytelling in its learning solutions here.

Connect with audience needs or desires

All effective marketing communication begins with a deep understanding of the needs and desires of the target audience. For example, the “Chairs are like Facebook” ad was supposed to celebrate the platform’s one billion active monthly users. The ad showed people reading newspapers and paperbacks; this contrasts starkly with the behaviors of one of Facebook’s most valuable audiences—tech savvy youth who spend a major part of their day on laptops and smartphones. As a consequence, the ad failed to resonate with much of the target audience. This led Lance Ulanoff, editor in chief of Mashable, to label Facebook as an empty chair.  Facebook later withdrew the official version from YouTube. Any learning program that fails to connect learners to how the lessons apply in their day-to-day lives is likely to fall short of its goals. The program must establish an emotional connection with the audience to succeed.

Make a strong call to action

You can’t browse the web for more than a minute or two without encountering a call to action: “Sign Up for Our Newsletter,” “Add to Wishlist,” “Make a Payment.” A well crafted, strategically placed call to action commands the attention of the audience and leads them to respond.

Similarly, digital learning can take a lesson or two from online marketing and include calls to action in courseware. They help guide the learners along, engaging them at critical milestones and reinforcing the ultimate outcomes of the learning experience.

Take a look at the image below. After answering the first quiz, the learner is prompted to take the next question using the “View another dilemma” button. Such calls to action placed in visually prominent spots on the courseware can greatly reduce the risk of the learner going off track in the course.


With informal and collaborative learning methods gaining steam, marketing and training departments can do themselves a favor by working together closely to ensure that both marketing collateral and training programs reinforce the right brand meaning and messaging consistently across all levels of the organization.

Corporate trainers can take a lesson from the marketing folks: engage your audience fully with storytelling and relevant analogies to pique their interest, command their attention, and increase retention and application on the job.

Marketers can provide trainers crucial insights into customer behavior patterns. Marketers can also learn more from the training department, like how to personalize and contextualize external brand communications.

This inter-departmental exchange of knowledge and experience will become vital in the future. After all, marketing is all about learning from your external audiences, and training is all about teaching internal audiences to deliver your brand promise.

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