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How to Approach Training Like a Marketer

Do you ever find yourself putting on your marketing hat and trying to “sell” a new process or implementation in your training? In this week’s podcast, we sit down with Mike Taylor of and discuss what instructional designers can learn from the advertising and marketing approach and apply it to training.

If you are a training professional, we suggest you follow Mike on social media. He regularly puts out a wealth of information on training and design. During this podcast you can hear how he lifts inspiration from the advertising industry, a few best practices on things as simple as naming your training, and his recommendations on how to begin thinking like a marketer.

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Mike Taylor

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly podcast of learning and development stuff in bite-sized chunks. Today, we’re here with Mike Taylor, who is the be-all and end-all of training when it comes to incorporating things from advertising and marketing into learning and development. Mike, thank you so much for joining us today.

Mike Taylor: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know that I can live up to that introduction, but I will do my best.

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: Well, in order to maybe craft your own introduction, one of the things that we like to do is to do a short, six-word biography that aligns with who you are and the topic that we’re talking about. So for today, I’m going to introduce myself by saying that my six-word biography is “I want to just do it”.

Mike Taylor: My six-word biography is, “eternally curious and learning out loud”.

Similarities Between the Fields of Learning & Development and Marketing & Advertising

Brian Washburn: Why don’t we go ahead and jump into some of the questions with our topic today? What should learning and development steal from the worlds of advertising and marketing? Mike, when you think of the common ground that may exist between the mission of learning and development and the mission of people in the advertising industry, where is there that overlap?

Mike Taylor: I think if you think about it, it doesn’t take very long to realize both of those fields share some common goals. And I think the two big ones are, first of all, getting people’s attention. I think that’s the biggest thing that marketers get that sometimes us in the L&D world lose track of. And then the second one is, once you’ve got their attention, you’re trying to move them to take some action. And so I think those two things are really clear commonalities between learning or training and marketing and advertising.

Brian Washburn: And actually, one of the other things that reminds me of is the idea that both are in the field of change management and behavior. So needing to grab that attention is a really important piece, and perhaps something that a lot of folks in the learning and development field don’t always think about. They think, well, I have to create this training, and people are going to have to attend it or to take my online course. They don’t always think of the importance of grabbing the attention.

Mike Taylor: Absolutely, that’s a great point. It’s human behavior and psychology, and it’s how human brains work and how humans really operate. We’re both dealing with that, and I would propose that marketers are much further down that learning curve than the training world.

What Should L&D Steal from the World of Marketing & Advertising?

Brian Washburn: So it sounds like there is a field that has blazed this path. What can or what should learning and development folks be borrowing from the folks that are in marketing or in advertising?

Mike Taylor: Yeah, I think there’s so many. And we’d never fit them all into a 10 or 12 minute conversation. But I think the first thing, getting to behavior, is really good marketers understand the art of persuasion. They’re great at tapping into, like I said, how the human brain works. I think that’s one of the reasons where you’ve never seen bullet points on a television commercial or in advertising anywhere, right?

Because they understand. Because, “A”, they have a lot of constraints. So they really have to focus. They’re forced into streamlining their messages. If I could only steal one thing from marketing, it would be this concept of their efficiency of messaging. They can tell an amazing story in 30 seconds, because they have to.

And the competition is so fierce, and they recognize getting people’s attention is so difficult. And the way that they do that are through emotions, and tapping into the emotions is largely tied to our visual, which is why you don’t see text-laden advertising. I think the whole art of persuasion and the techniques they use to reach that are the biggest thing that we should be looking at as learning people.

How Can L&D Use The Same Techniques as Marketing & Advertising Without the Same High Budgets?

Brian Washburn: So one of the resources that I’m hearing you say that folks in advertising and marketing lack is really time, time to get people’s attention. And on the other side of that coin, when you think of Madison Avenue or the Mad Men or Super Bowl ads, these are high-budget campaigns. So they are reinforced in terms of financial resources. How do you think that L&D folks on a shoestring budget can begin to apply some of these ideas?

Mike Taylor: It’s good that we don’t have those constraints, so the flip side of the challenges that are forcing the marketers to be better. The great thing is that all of the principles that they’re using, anybody can use at any budget level. So you could use them if you have zero dollars. To come back to their messaging, I wish I could steal the marketing writers and the people who are coming up with those really super creative ads that– there are certain ads that no matter what generation, you just mention a term or a brand or something, and it evokes really strong memories.

Ways of Grabbing Attention in the Field of Learning & Development

Mike Taylor: I think we can use those techniques of– you know, watch what they’re doing. They’re using humor. They’re using some really strong emotion. Writing is free, even when it comes to just simple things like course titles. Marketers– you’ll never see really dry, boring, compliance-type titles or anything like that in anything they do, because they know it’s going to put people to sleep, and they’ve lost people right off the bat. Things like, you know, I see courses —  It sort of pains me that you open up– your one chance in the beginning of a course, if you’re doing a course, is right up front to capture their attention. And if you waste it…

Brian Washburn: Yeah, isn’t that when you’re supposed to just put course navigation and learning objectives right there?

Mike Taylor: That’s what drives me crazy, right? That’s your chance to hook people, and so often it’s just wasted. I saw somebody was speaking about this, kind of, idea the other day, and they said “start with a body on the floor, and then explain how it got there”, right? That’s the interest right upfront. I’ve also seen people say, “parachute in”. Just get straight to it. When I have to go through three, four, sometimes five or more screens of mission statement and how to navigate, like I’m already done, and I haven’t even started.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, I like what you said in terms of grabbing attention. And that begins just with the course title. “When Disaster Strikes” is a lot better than “Eight Ways to Mitigate Risk” or something like that, right? 

Simple Ways To Use Inspiration from Marketing & Advertising in the Work of L&D

Brian Washburn: So if somebody is inspired by what you’ve just shared here and wants to get started, what do you think are two or three simple things they could do today in order to bring inspiration from marketing and advertising into their own craft?

Mike Taylor: One is a book by– it’s called Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit, What to Do About It and Why. It’s by Steven Pressfield. Super short, quick read. It’s really fantastic. He says, basically, simplify and clarify, streamline your message as much as possible, and then do that to everything.

Brian Washburn: That’s a catchy title.

Mike Taylor: Really, really great. He’s coming from a marketing perspective. He gets it, fantastic resource. The other thing is watch commercials. One of the great examples that I’ve used in sessions is there’s one from Dollar Shave Club. They don’t have the budget of somebody like Procter & Gamble that they’re competing against, so it’s a low-budget– and it comes through in the commercial. But it’s an absolutely fantastic example that concepts are more important than the budget.

And then the last thing I would say is look at the tools that marketers are using. It matters what things look like. So tools like Canva— if you’re not a graphic designer, you can use Canva and you can design amazingly beautiful things. There’s no excuse to have things that look amateurish. And then email platforms are really great to do so many different things with.

So that’s taking things into thinking of a campaign mindset. So never in the history of marketing has somebody just done a commercial and run it once and then said, “OK, well, good, we’ll see what happens”. The one-and-done mentality that we sometimes get stuck in compared to a campaign approach– to me, I think it’s no contest which one’s going to be more effective.

Brian Washburn: Are you thinking of using something like Mailchimp or something like that to set up a series of communications before a course, after a course, then later after the course, things like that?

Mike Taylor: Absolutely, Mailchimp. MailerLite is another one that I really like, a couple of easy things. It’s great for onboarding. You can set these up as autoresponder, auto-running things. So you put somebody in the beginning. They get a sequence no matter when they start. If they start January or July, doesn’t matter. They’re going to get the same sequence. So that, to me, is an obvious use for that sort of thing.

And then the other thing that I think is a no-brainer is, why don’t we take bits and pieces out of the annual compliance courses? We’ve got videos and graphics and audio. We’ve got all this media that we can use. Why don’t we pull those out of those compliance courses and make a campaign and then drip it out across the year? The learning science behind that– it’s a no-brainer to do that. You can get started with this stuff for no cost at all. So I’m always encouraging people, take– it’s really a different mindset, is what’s the key. It’s how you look at things.

Brian Washburn: Absolutely, and we could probably go on about this for a long time. I know that you and I actually did an entire presentation about this at a conference several years ago. But we’re going to wrap this up here with our speed round. Are you ready for people to get to know you just a little bit better?

Get to Know Mike Taylor

Mike Taylor: Sounds good. It might be scary for them, but I’m ready.

Brian Washburn: All right, so when it comes to training sessions, what’s your go-to food before a training session?

Mike Taylor: It’s a Love Granola with dark chocolate.

Brian Washburn: Nice. Do you have that with yogurt, or just straight up? 

Mike Taylor: With milk.

Brian Washburn: Oh, nice. Nice. I know that you mentioned one book earlier. Is there another book that you would recommend that people should be reading right now?

Mike Taylor: There’s a couple. There’s one that’s not out yet that I’m super excited about. Mark Britz and James Tyer are coming out with a book called Social by Design, so using some of the social tools. And then my favorites are some of the old books, I think things that are still really good. There’s a book called Performance Consulting by Jim and Dana Robinson that’s really good. Mager’s Analyzing Performance Problems — there’s a flow chart in that I think is just gold that should be on everybody’s wall. And then E-Learning and the Science of Instruction is another one, research-informed practices.

Brian Washburn: What’s a piece of training tech that you cannot live without?

Mike Taylor: You know, I will probably get some smirks, but PowerPoint is probably my very favorite tool. And I use it for everything.

Brian Washburn: And it’s a powerful tool. And I think that lots of people use it for anything. It’s a question of, are they using it right? So I think that some of the other things that you were just talking about earlier here really go to the heart of, can you not only use PowerPoint, but can you use it right? Can you make it more like a billboard and less like bullet points?

Mike Taylor: Yeah, and I use it for graphic design and print projects and videos and all kinds of stuff. And I’m always in there. And another thing that I’ll repeat from earlier, also, is Canva. Canva’s fantastic. I’m in there about every day also.

Brian Washburn: Nice. Is there anything that you wanted to offer a shameless plug for before we wrap up here?

Mike Taylor: Sure, I have a free email that goes out every Friday that’s completely free on my website. And if anyone listening or their organizations can use any help with learning strategy, or if you’re maybe looking to try some of these out-of-the-box things we’ve been talking about or really anything else related to learning, give me a shout, and I’m pretty easy to find online. So that shouldn’t be difficult.

Brian Washburn: Great. What’s your website?

Mike Taylor:

Brian Washburn: Well, Mike, thank you so much for joining us today. I think that the idea– there’s so much that we can be taking from the advertising and marketing field that we’re just not. And it’s out there, commercials, billboards, internet advertisements, Facebook ads, things like that that can really tip us off. So thank you so much for joining us.

And thank you, everybody else, for spending some time with us, listening to the Train Like You Listen podcast this week. You can download this podcast or you can sign up for these podcasts to come right to your podcasting platform on Spotify, on iTunes, on iHeartRadio or anyplace else that you get your podcasts. Until next week, this is Brian Washburn signing off for Train Like You Listen.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo at

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