This article discusses the similarities and differences between the core aspects of marketing and L&D. It then expands on what we in L&D would do well to borrow from marketing, and where we need to draw the line.

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There’s been a growing chorus that L&D should think more like marketing, and that we should borrow principles and approaches from there. This is not surprising. The similarities are all too obvious: L&D and marketing are both trying to change behavior.

But beyond this basic realization, we’d do well to understand the fundamental parallels and differences between the two:

Marketing is all about persuasion + education.

What influences you to choose one particular product or service over another? What is it that convinces you to (finally) take your first step towards the gym? What makes you itch to buy something that you never knew you needed?

The answer is persuasion.

By following effective persuasion techniques, marketers convince you to alter your belief and to start a new behavior (or stop an existing one).

In cases where the product or service is new or not seen before, marketers also effectively educate users on how the product or service works, and its benefits to users.

Marketers do a lot more, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ve whittled it down to these two core elements.

L&D is about capability building + persuasion.

Just like marketing, L&D also focuses on behavior change (via persuasion). This could involve simple behaviors, such as getting employees to sign an online register, or complex ones that also require some capability on the part of the employee. Which leads to my next point…

L&D’s primary responsibility involves building capability in learners. By capability, I’m referring to the combination of knowledge, skills and ability that enables learners to do something that they could not do earlier.

This requires a solid understanding of the principles of learning and teaching methodologies. And calls for a whole set of skills that have nothing to do with marketing or persuasion.

See the overlaps and differences between the two professions?

Traditionally, marketing has been far more effective at persuasion than L&D. And over the past decade or so, the marketing department has undergone a transformation by leveraging data to assess the effectiveness of their strategies and make improvements accordingly.

Here are the things that marketing is absolutely good at:

  • (Really) understanding users and designing for them
  • Sharing targeted messages with no additional fluff
  • Designing for the goal (in most cases, this is a certain behavior)
  • Using data to inform their decisions
  • Following an iterative approach

L&D would do absolutely well to take these ideas and apply them in their work.

However, we need to understand that our job in L&D does not stop with sending targeted messages that invoke desired behaviors from users. As seen above, much of our work involves building complex skills that take effortful practice to master.

Marketing engages with users up to the point of purchase (and to get users to come back for more purchase). In the context of learning, good marketing gets learners to come to the course and check it out. L&D needs to stay with learners through the course and even beyond the completion of the course. We are here to help them succeed in their roles and grow in their careers.

By understanding the overlaps and differences, we know what exactly to borrow from marketing and use in our work. And where to draw the line.

Written by Srividya Kumar, Co-Founder @ Learnnovators

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