It’s All About the Brand, ‘Bout the Brand…

Brands are all around us and at a glance we know what they mean and who they represent.


They fit naturally and comfortably into our lexicon, instantly recognizable.

Then sometimes a company will rebrand for a reason only known to the ivory tower and the result becomes this:

bad rebrand

Leaving us all scratching our heads and taking liberty with Photoshop.


ATD is currently going the process of a rebrand, love it or hate it, it’s with us to stay.  


But what about personal branding? More specifically, what about branding your department?

Confused Are we communicating to best of our abilities the role of learning in an organization? Not too long ago I gathered an informal list of L&D titles and was astounded by the outcome. There were 73 different learning/training titles. 73.  Is it any wonder that organizations are confused about what we do, when we can’t even get consistent with something as simple as a job title? We are the only position I can think of that has so many random names for themselves. Shoot, we are still debating between ourselves over whether or not we should be called training, learning, talent, performance… yada, yada, yada. Good grief.

Let’s be clear, this is as much an HR issue as it is an L&D issue.  Mostly we have ourselves to blame, we aren’t going to HR and saying, “Hey look – I don’t know where this crazy title comes from but it ain’t right”. I know, I know – “It’s not what I’m called but what I do.” That’s great, yet delusional, thinking. Do you think the Director of Marketing has the same view? Or the Director of Operations? or the VP of Sales? Of course not! They know who they are and what they do, subsequently they are titled, paid, and treated accordingly. You may do the work of the Director of Training but if your title says “Training Coordinator” do you think you’ll get treated with the same respect, given the same seat at the table? Absolutely not.

Quite simply, we are not branding ourselves well enough. We are not clear in our purpose and subsequently not clear in our value. We try to position ourselves as the “thought-leaders” of an organization. I’m here to tell you – that dog don’t hunt anymore. We need to think like marketers. What is your value proposition?

What’s a value proposition, you may ask? This is when your customer internally asks: “Why should I buy into this concept or idea?” and you must be able to answer this question in a compelling way.  The VP of Finance can tell you in a nano-second what their role is, and where it fits in the big picture – L&D needs to be able to do the same. This is NOT the time to trot out esoteric ideas such as “Performance Ecosytem” or “Wirearchy” or any other fuzzy concept that is only important to other L&D people but no one else.

Branding = Simple. Clean. Relatable.

Branding is about communicating to your customer – and do not for one second let your eye leave the prize. The people within your organization are the customer. But if your customer has no idea who you are and what you do, you (your department) become obsolete and expendable. In creating a good value proposition, the trick is to know your product. You need to be clear about what you do everyday for the organization. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes to find the answers. If you haven’t given thought to creating a value proposition – stop now.  Book mark this page, and start putting one together. Now. How are you reaching the hearts and minds (and therefore loyalty) of your organization – of your customer? You need to be able to answer this question.

Here are some tough realities for you to think about when putting thought to paper about your unique selling position within your organization.

  1.  Leadership does not care about the words “Personal Knowledge Management”, “Performance Ecosystem” or “Content Curation”~ they care about the concept, but not the words. Keep it simple.
  2.  People do not care about your definition of concepts such as “Blended Learning”, “Micro-Learning” or “Distance Learning” they care about their’s. Remember this – it’s all about them, not you.
  3.  Your organization does not care about the pain it took you to get that important course online. They care about getting the information when THEY need it without having to sleep through your boring, tedious elearning course (regardless as to how wonderful you think it is).  Cammy Bean tell us why here. 
  4.  You are only as good as your last training initiative. If performance didn’t change, if productivity didn’t go up; if people were confused, intimidated and frustrated by your last roll-out – people won’t care about the fabulous customer service training workshop you wrote last quarter. Trust me on this.
  5.  Leadership does not want to hear about Kirkpatrick, Mager, Bloom’s, Maslow, Gagne, or other learning processes or methodology.  They want to hear about how you are going to support them. Leadership does not require a vocabulary lesson or a course on learning psychology and methodologies.

In branding your L&D department here are some things to think about.

  1. OWN IT! You are the department, regardless of your position – Own it! Take on an attitude from a key organization attribute. Every service (or department) has specific attributes that are important to the business, like “Fun, Fast, Furious”. Craft a simple message (or logo) to ensure your departments identity aligns with the business.
  2. Dominate. Find a “small” idea that solved a BIG pain point and then talk about it! Dominate the conversation and amplify your positioning. Make small fixes to big issues your “thing”.
  3. Make the department perception = other’s perceptions. What are other people saying about the L&D Department?  No, not the people down the hall – the people in the field, on the warehouse floor, on the sales team. What are they saying? You may uncover a harsh reality about your perception. But that’s good too, use that information to take an opportunity to rethink your methods and overall department strategy.
  4. Market yourself. We do a terrible job of marketing ourselves. You (and your team) have to take responsibility for being your department advocate. No one else will do it. Don’t have newsletter? Get one. No, not some bland training calendar buried in the quarterly report sent out by operations where you will be buried in the small print.  Something big, flashy, outrageous. Be Bold. Dominate. Create your own perception. Brag about that small fix that solved a HUGE problem. Take credit, or share credit. Here are other ways to market your learning

These points become your value proposition. They become your brand. Face it, development will always be a cost center. You know what? I’m okay with that. Lots of good things cost money. What you need to do is “prove value”.  The business is spending money for you and training initiatives – they best be worth the money, doncha think? Don’t procrastinate creating this value statement.  It is such a powerful branding/marketing tool, you are going to want to spend enough time on it to ensure it projects exactly the image you want and need.

One last thought about branding training (or L&D, or Talent Development, or whatever you call yourself)

Have an elevator speech.  

Elevator-Pitch_cr-281x300 Quick, you have 30 seconds in an elevator with the CEO – he asks what L&D has been up to lately. What do you say? What.Do.You.Say? This is not the time to hem & haw. You have to make an impression quickly, for all you know he is on his way to a budget meeting – you want his last thoughts of L&D to be great ones. You need to be able to sum up your department or recent success stories in a few sentences. MAX. Everything you do needs to support your value statement, your elevator speech and your brand.

If nothing else, during this process, you will have the opportunity to think about who you are, what you do and to consider the good work you produce. It’s a sure way to get your department noticed and upfront and center in the minds of the organization. In a good way. Not in “WOW, they spent how much money on training?” way. Create a solid department brand and use it to your advantage.




Please share! What are you doing in your organization now to support your “brand”? Share your tips and ideas.


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Photo credit: Target Corporation, Starbucks, NBC studios, McDonalds Corporation, AT&T, Hershey, Darden Restaurant Group, Pizza Hut Inc, Nike, Association for Talent Development.

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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