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Lessons in learning design from a former marketing and advertising pro

The professionals in the world of marketing and advertising are very effective at grabbing our attention and moving us to action so that we’ll buy their products.

Danielle Wallace, who led advertising and marketing efforts for some very big brands before launching her own learning and development company about eight years ago, dropped by the Train Like You Listen podcast to share some lessons that she’s successfully applied to training initiatives.

Transcript of the Conversation with Danielle Wallace

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. I’m also the Co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning. And Train Like You Listen is brought to you by Soapbox which is an award-winning, rapid authoring tool for instructor-led training. If you have about 10 minutes and you want to get a lesson plan generated for you quickly, Soapbox can help you out. It was the winner recently of Training Magazine Network Choice Award for Authoring Tools, and you can find more information on

Today, I am joined by Danielle Wallace, who is the Chief Learning Strategist at Beyond the Sky Custom Learning. Danielle and I are going to be talking here in a little bit about the world of marketing and advertising, and lessons we should be adopting in learning and development. Welcome, Danielle.

Danielle Wallace: It’s so great to be here. Thank you, Brian.

6-Word Biography

Brian Washburn: I’m excited to have you. And one of the things that we like to do with all of our guests is have our guests introduce themselves with six-word biographies, kind of in the theme of the topic. So when I think of the topic today, and lessons that we should be adopting from the world of marketing and advertising, I would say, “Sometimes I click on Facebook ads”. How about you, Danielle? How would you introduce yourself in exactly six words?

Danielle Wallace: Ooh, I think I would do it, “From the dark-side marketing to training”.

Brian Washburn: Alright. I want to jump into this because you have come from the dark-side. So when we talk about your career path– and before we get too far into some of these lessons learned – can you tell us a little bit about how you went from the world of marketing and advertising to our world of learning and development?

Transitioning from Marketing / Advertising to the Field of Learning & Development

Danielle Wallace: Right. So I started my career on the dark-side – in marketing at Procter and Gamble, where while I was doing my core role, what I really loved was training and development. Like so many of us, I found those opportunities off the side of my desk. So from there, progressed and I thought that the higher up I could get in the organization, the more I could actually train my team and coach other people. What I was confounded with was the realities that I actually had just more profit and loss pressure, more focus on numbers, and I couldn’t get to the training impact that I wanted. 

Same thing – repeat, rinse, wash at PepsiCo where there I was heading up Doritos and SunChips and some other brands. And again, I thought, “Great! I could train more people, develop this beautiful onboarding program – train it”. No, my core role was marketing. From there, I ended up making the switch. Okay. I went to a training role within a global sales agency where I was doing mostly global sales, and a little bit of training. And then I’m like, “Okay! Forget it. Let’s just pursue what I love. Let’s dive head on in, during a recession! Let’s go right into the world of training and development”. And I’ve loved it. No regrets ever since.

Brian Washburn: How long have you been doing your own thing with Beyond the Sky?

Danielle Wallace: It’s been about nine years now.

Brian Washburn: Nice, nice. Now– so, you know, in a sense, I think that training people is very similar to marketing and advertising. You know, we’re trying to influence behaviors and often we’re trying to get people to take action. And that’s something that I think the world of marketing and advertising do extremely well. They get people’s attention and then they get them to take action. Coming from this world, you know, what do you think the world of advertising and marketing does well that we in the learning and development field should be adopting? Or how do they do it?

What Can Learning & Development Learn From the World of Marketing / Advertising?

 Danielle Wallace: I think there’s three things they do really well. Firstly, it would be using visuals to better depict the message – you see that with arresting billboards or TV advertisements. And then accompanying that is that really concise text – they get their message across pretty clearly. And then thirdly, which a lot of people feel in agreement with, is the idea of emotions. So often we see that in some very engaging advertising that they are somehow playing to our emotions. Those are things that I think, similarly, we could actually bring back into the world of learning and development to adopt.

Brian Washburn: You know– and I’ve had this conversation with lots of people and they will say, “Visuals, visuals, visuals”. They’ll talk about keeping the text concise and not overwhelming your slides. This emotion piece though, I think this is really interesting. Can you talk a little bit more about this? And what is it that you did in advertising and marketing to tap into people’s emotions?

How Does Advertising and Marketing Tap Into People’s Emotions?

Danielle Wallace: Yeah, very specifically, we actually ensure that the whole learning point or the marketing world – the ad idea – was on the learning point. That was the main benefit. That itself was the creative inspiration that the whole execution piece. Whether it’s a training piece or whether it’s a 30 second commercial, it’s all centered around that ad idea or that learning point. And that becomes the model from which the rest of the creative ingenuity that instructional designers or advertising professionals put in to bring it to life. 

So if I am having advertising or even like a training piece on mental health, as an example, I may want to communicate, “Mental health is important in kids. We’ve seen that in the past year”. But that’s pretty unemotional. Maybe a better way of spinning that was first starting with the whole framework, and the idea of “Kids take their mental health issues with them everywhere they go”. Which is both a fact, but it also serves as to create a springboard that us as instructional designers or even advertising people can then ideate upon. “Oh, take your mental health with you everywhere you go”. Suddenly I could think about, let’s say a child going from home to school and they’ve got this baggage of their emotional health– I could dramatize baggage. Or maybe I could have the child in a home environment and just fades away and it becomes a classroom environment. The whole ad idea or the learning point is the secret that makes emotion come through. And it’s very much starting with a different approach than how we do it in learning and development, which is purely just looking at it from facts. “Great! Check, check check”.

Brian Washburn: I’m so fascinated because I totally agree. I think that emotion is something, you know– when I watch a commercial, there are certain characters that I can relate to. And it’s a 20 second spot, right? On TV in between, you know, a show I’m watching or a sporting event or something like that. And you know, I’m rooting for Flo from Progressive. I don’t want her to be so annoyed by these other people and how easy it is to get Progressive Insurance! So it almost sounds like not just emotion, but also the ability to tell a story really quickly is helpful. 

Now, if people can’t retain what they’ve learned in a training, then they can’t put it into practice. What are some things that you used to do, or maybe that you brought into your work from the world of advertising, that helped to make a message sticky?

Tricks from the World of Advertising that Help Increase Learning Retention

Danielle Wallace: So one would be very intentionally dramatizing learning points along the lines of what I shared about dramatizing the video concept or ad idea, the learning point.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Danielle Wallace: All the drama, all the action is centered around that. An easier approach though, for those listening, might be to think about your message and determine what the best way to visually depict that is. If it’s a concept – is there a concept that you can use that shows that as a metaphor, as an example? Or maybe you can transform it into a diagram that better relates it. So those are some things that drive retention that we would use through advertising space, that can very practically be applied to learning and development.

Brian Washburn: Do you have any specific examples? I don’t know if you can go into any specific examples with client work. But any specific examples of things that you’ve done or stumbled upon? You’re like, “Ooh, this really made it sticky here”.

An Example of Using Visual Metaphors in Learning & Development

Danielle Wallace: Yeah. So one example is relating to what I just shared about using a visual to convey your learning point – is we had a visual of a male icon and a female icon – pink and blue. And then we used an eraser to show the blurring of gender lines.

Brian Washburn: Yeah.

Danielle Wallace: So there’s no words. That you could get the message there through that one visual, very clearly.

Brian Washburn: And that– I think that’s a perfect example of how that image is worth a thousand words, right? You don’t need to put tons of text on the screen just with that simple act, and that visual. I think it becomes much more powerful than having text on the screen. 

Now for people who are listening and thinking, “Yeah, we should adopt some of these techniques from the world of advertising and marketing, but where would I even begin?” What might be one or two things that people can do to begin bringing these concepts into their own learning design?

How To Begin Using Marketing Concepts in Learning Design

Danielle Wallace: I’d say the easiest approaches would be to firstly, look at those visuals and see: is there a metaphor, like a simple metaphor I can use to explain that in a different way? Whether it’s using an umbrella to show risk or– you can Google different examples.

Brian Washburn: Staircase – if you’re showing steps. Something like that.

Danielle Wallace: Yeah. So it’s a very easy way to visualize for the learner what it is you’re conveying. The second easy step, I would say, is to ruthlessly cut back on your text. So that’s one that’s fairly accessible for any of us to do. We tend to have texts in our courses or a lot of audio. Try to ruthlessly cut back on that. You’ll notice in the most effective advertising, every word is intentional. Every word is intentional.

Brian Washburn: And when you talk about being ruthless, what does that look like?

Danielle Wallace: So it would be like cutting like 30% of your text – ruthlessly eliminating fillers words like: really, very, and such. Going through with that fine lens to try to dramatically cut back. You know, passive voice. Like, dramatically, cut back and be concise.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, it’s interesting. So, you know, if you’ve ever been in a supervisory role or in charge of a budget, right? And somebody says, “You know what, we need to cut 10% under this budget.” It’s almost like that’s what it sounds like. You have to cut out 30% of your words. So before you can call this final, cut out 30% of the words that are going to be on the text, on this screen here.

Danielle Wallace: Exactly. And it’s intentionally a large amount like 30 because it’s starting to make you forced to make decisions that are actually meaningful. Do I actually need all this information?

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Danielle Wallace: Does this really need this or not?

Get to Know Danielle Wallace

Brian Washburn: Yeah, I love that. Danielle, there’s so much here to talk about and I wish that we had more time, but we don’t. But before we leave, I would love to do a little bit of a speed round so our listeners get to know you just a little bit better. Are you ready for the speed round?

Danielle Wallace: Sounds good.

Brian Washburn: Alright. So, first question here. Do you like to take e-learning or take in-person classes?

Danielle Wallace: In-person.

Brian Washburn: How about participate in a webinar or listen to a podcast?

Danielle Wallace: Podcast.

Brian Washburn: How about read a book or watch a movie?

Danielle Wallace: Book.

Brian Washburn: PowerPoint or flipchart?

Danielle Wallace: PowerPoint.

Brian Washburn: Poll everywhere or voting dots?

Danielle Wallace: Voting dots.

Brian Washburn: What’s the best piece of advice that someone’s ever given to you?

Danielle Wallace: Ooh, think with the end in mind.

Brian Washburn: What should people in the training field be reading or listening to these days?

Danielle Wallace: A classic book is Made To Stick.

Brian Washburn: That is such a fantastic book. And the authors– that’s a Heath brothers’ book, right?

Danielle Wallace: That’s right.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. They come from the world of advertising and marketing.

Danielle Wallace: Right.

Brian Washburn: So when we were talking about sticky learning, I think that– and obviously it’s in the title, right? Made To Stick. I’m gonna stop talking now because the title says it all. Before we leave, Danielle, do you have any shameless plugs for us?

Danielle Wallace: Yes, you can go to my website,, or find me on LinkedIn, Danielle Wallace – where I translate the world of marketing into very practical tips for us in learning and development to apply.

Brian Washburn: You know, and before we leave, you and I had a chance to talk at dinner during ATD ICE recently, and I was fascinated about the name of your company – Beyond The Sky. Can you give people an idea of where that name even came from?

Danielle Wallace: Yeah. So I’ll leave you with the idea of, “Never think the sky’s the limit when there’s footprints on the moon”.

Brian Washburn: Danielle Wallace. This has been a fantastic conversation. I love leaving on that note. So we’re going to end it there. 

For those who are listening, thank you for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen, which can be found on Apple, on iHeartRadio, Spotify – wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you hear, go ahead and give us a share and that’s how other people will find out about us too. Until next time, happy training everyone.This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo below.

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