As the talent pool continues to shrink, companies are looking for any advantage they can find to upskill current employees and keep them engaged in learning and development. Branding has taken hold in recruiting, and it's increasingly appearing in learning, too.
With unemployment so low and skills gaps so high, retention is paramount. But to retain employees, they need advancement opportunities; and to advance them, you need to be sure you're getting the most out of your L&D initiatives. Branding may be one part of that puzzle.
Branding the learning experience enhances the investment in time and resources. The employee is not only learning the technical aspects of the work; they’re learning about the company’s culture, vision and mission. Every communication emphasizes that the material has a larger meaning. The employee is not only trained to do the work — they are trained to be part of a team. That strong message cannot be undervalued.
And branded learning goes beyond popping the company logo on every presentation slide and using the corporate color palette. Branding connects every learning experience with the larger mission and vision of the company. It reinforces that each team member, and the work they perform, contributes to the success of the company, themselves and their peers. The messaging is clear: You can’t find this information online, and you're such a valued member of the team that we're investing in you.
“The goal for branding learning is to deliver a message about the purpose, to establish credibility, and to motivate people to connect,” MJ Hall, content manager at the Association for Talent Development, told HR Dive. You want to associate the learner with the work, as well as what it represents. “Branding is all about belonging to a valued group.”
At ATD, they recommend training go beyond learning to create customer connections, as well.
Branding takes hold
The trend to connect marketing and learning is growing. In a recent survey, AllenComm found 47% of companies are overlapping L&D and marketing functions in their organizations and relying on the mix in their approach to learning strategies.
“We should frame our thinking by the specific cultural anchors of the organization and by the unique needs of employees for success on a role-by-role basis," said Chris Osborn of AllenComm's marketing team. "So, customization should ensure that employees understand how mastery of skills, within a cultural context, leads to success on the job.”
Moritz Kothe, CEO of kununu, knows branding is still evolving in the workplace. One of their recent reports, Employer Branding Resource Book, outlines the changes.
"Creating onboarding and training for staff requires significant time and effort," he told HR Dive. “By implementing one-of-a-kind, customized programs and materials, the department will see a sense of identity forming.” That can lead to employees who are more confident and have more pride about who they work for and what they are working toward.
And corporate values remain at the forefront. “Before the corporate brand can truly take root with employees, the brand has to have tangible real meaning to all stakeholders,” Osborn said. The learning experience must include answers to what the brand does: How does it improve the lives of stakeholders? What does it promote?
"By helping employees understand the 'why' behind the brand,” he says, "you've taken a major step towards creating brand ambassadors out of each employee."
Messaging can translate into the marketplace for talent, Kothe suggests. When asked what they do and for whom, employees who have a positive reaction to their brand could be influencing potential candidates and customers.
“The more a person understands the organization they are working for via resources, materials and customized required trainings, the more consistent the messaging will be that is discussed outside the office," Kothe said.
Virtually and IRL
Branding also can mean a place: a dedicated “university” within an organization illustrates to staff that development and growth for employees is a priority in which business has invested. But branding can take place anywhere. For remote workers or those who cannot get to training centers, the experience can be just as rich. Whether it’s just-in-time learning, short-burst information or larger sessions, each has the opportunity to reinforce company values and the value companies place on their staff.
Kothe says logos and colors are important, but L&D professionals also need to consider the tone of the materials and how they will resonate with employees. “Many teams want resources like this to be fun and lighthearted,” he said, adding that “anything that can be compared to study materials might not be fully read or seen as useful."
Branding also communicates the role that learning plays in the culture of an organization, as well as providing commonality of language and processes, Hall said. “Branding reflects intentionality of purpose," she said. “It indicates myriad details related to what the process or product does and the value it brings to the user – and the company.”
Whether they’re in a classroom setting or in the field, every employee should have access to training that is branded, Osborn said. “But training must be customized or tailored to specific employees and job roles. The days of 'one-size-fits-all' training [are] really over.”
Effective training, he said, is a process — one that can create a culture of continuous learning and improvement, and one that is highly personalized to each participant.