5 considerations before starting a program

PHOTO: Digital Element5

The decision to launch a certified program is not one to be taken lightly by brands. Although certifications can provide many benefits for both brands and their customers, they involve a considerable amount of effort and resources. But for some brands, this evolution of B2B content marketing is a clear path forward. If this sounds like your business, let’s take a closer look at how you can get started and what the future holds for this trend.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind before starting a certified apprenticeship program:

1. Why do you want to offer certified programs to your customers?

Brands’ online educational courses/certifications can have multiple purposes, depending on the business purpose and the audience’s needs and goals, said Anne Gynneditor of The Tilt and founder of G Force Communication.

  • If the brand uses it as lead generation tool, a simpler and faster route may suffice. For example, after reviewing informative content, the prospect takes a quiz and gets some recognition that they could share on social media. It’s simply adding a low-stakes certification layer to the standard way of mining content for lead generation, and can be gamified for a more fun experience.
  • If the goal is to use the course/certification to position the brand as a thought leader and cultivate an engaged community, then a well-structured educational program with the best experts and educators in the field is essential. The Tilt takes the latter approach. For example, the director of online education, a trained educator who has spent years in the classroom, takes an “I do, we do, you do” approach, where learning is at three levels: from instructor, with the community and in their own journey at their own pace.
  • If the goal is to monetize online courses and certificationsthen it’s a whole other set of considerations, including pricing, certification market value, and ownership.

Drift VP of Content and Community Marc Kilens said that ultimately the decision should be integrated into your larger marketing strategy. An investment in community and certified education is a long-term commitment that impacts credibility and trust. recommended.

Related article: So you think you have a go-to-market strategy?

2. Find the model that suits you

To test the waters of certified courses, choose a template based on your purpose, business context, and budget.

The experts I spoke to all said that B2B product education is mostly niche, and that can be a strength: focus on one or a few certifications and go deep, rather than starting broad in a space. crowded. There are also several possible deployment models: short courses on your own website, microlearning courses on Coursera or a Slack community before setting up a full-fledged learning experience platform. You don’t have to go it alone either. Consider sponsoring courses on learning aggregator sites, co-creating a course with an educational institution, or working with complementary industry peers to create a more comprehensive curriculum on a shared platform. Many freelance experts – from SEO experts to accountants – are turning into content creators and sharing their expertise directly with the public. Brands could also create a form of collaboration with them.

3. Attach a “value” to your certification

While these types of programs are a fantastic means of value and a differentiator for content marketing, it’s important to be clear about the “value” you want your certification to have in the minds of the public and the industry. . Like Robert Rose, Founder of The Content Advisory and Chief Strategy Advisor of the Content Marketing Institute, the certification is only as good as what the brand puts into it.

“The overwhelming majority of brand certifications are simply certificates of completion, which means other than having a ‘badge’ or something you can put on your resume, it doesn’t mean much. thing. So the value of the certification is, literally, as valuable as the brand is widespread or recognized,” he said. “For example, outside of an inbound marketing role, HubSpot certification doesn’t mean much for a career in marketing. However, in the context of inbound marketing work, HubSpot certification can be a differentiator for a candidate.

Related Article: The Importance of Consumer Education in Today’s Data-Driven Buyer’s Journey

4. Decisions regarding certification pricing

B2B events, which are also seen as an investment in one’s own learning, have long paid off, including several hosted by brands. The same rules apply: it depends on your objective. HubSpot and Drift chose to stay free, Kilens said, because their goal is to grow the brand and create a value-added experience that maximizes reach and impact with minimal upfront friction.

Free, freemium, and paid are all options depending on the demand and exclusivity of your content. Access to certifications can also be part of community privileges, membership fees, or a great way to extend engagement after a paid event. If you have revolutionary but unfamiliar technology, offering free certifications to early adopters could be a great way to build a community of educated champions.

5. Program Management and Ownership

Anecdotally, most brands that run certification programs do so under a separate name (usually the word “Academy” appended to the brand name): SEM Academy, HubSpot Academy, etc. This approach separates the more transactional and commercial part of the business from the learning and growth elements of community and education. Whether the initiative is skewed towards the customer acquisition side or the customer success side, the trick, Kilens said, is to ensure the overall brand experience is cohesive. This can be done by “organizing all three types of content (brand building, engagement, conversion) under one team and direction, so we can align these content experiences across the business lifecycle.”

Ultimately, like any owned media exercise, the key is to look at an e-learning platform through the same lens as products and services. “This is a business strategy, not a marketing campaign. It can and should be a marketing-led initiative – but it will fail if not taken with the same level of budgeting, resources and continuous effort than a product or service,” says Rosé.

Related Article: Are B2B Brand Certifications Marking an Evolution in Content Marketing?

What does the future hold for certifications and branded courses?

It’s an exciting time in the lifelong learning space. The idea of ​​owning your own lifelong learning journey, with personalized, self-paced learning at the heart of a diverse “learning portfolio,” is gaining traction at all levels of the workforce.

As newer members of the workforce question the idea of ​​spending thousands of dollars on entry-level qualifications, and some large companies are no longer asking applicants for college degrees, directed certifications by practitioners can be much more effective in meeting industry needs. The opportunity is very real.

Kilens also tracks the impact of technologies such as NFT, blockchain, and gamification on learning, as they can make education and the outcomes of that education very transparent. Certifications can be a hugely immersive and engaging content experience, he says, and Web 3.0 has the potential to change and transform that space even more. He argues that this will enable new types of decentralized learning communities where members instruct and educate each other. “As brands, we need to find far more and better ways to engage with the educational content experience and help audiences unlock value through these certifications. Not just jobs, but even harnessing the growing creator economy, for example,” Kilens said.

The real differentiator, Rose agreed, is when B2B product companies take the time to not just build their educational platforms, but put some real “meat” on their certification bones, sharing that CMI University works on this exact thing. He cited the example of Schneider Electric’s University of Energy, which not only certified thousands of professionals, but also gave meaning to the certificates by partnering with educational institutions and associations. professionals to transform these certificates into genuine accreditation certificates.

A Growing Opportunity in a Transformative Space

It’s tempting to imagine the marketing industry collaborating to facilitate the new-age learning ecosystem. Professionals will build their own learning portfolio based on dynamic career needs, while brands will do their part by offering practitioner-focused certifications that have real market value. This is where community investments can really pay off, as members bring a wealth of experience, resources, feedback, and opportunities for collaborative peer-to-peer learning.

This is just the beginning, but the real challenge for brands will be finding their place and purpose in the autonomous and decentralized learning ecosystem that is sure to come.

Ryan H. Bowman