Agile learning organizations need to be careful about internal learning brands because external events associated with tools the organization uses could suddenly damage that brand.
For example, thousands of organizations have deployed wiki software for collaboration, providing employees, customers and suppliers with the capability to access and contribute to a continually updated knowledge base. Great benefits have resulted.
But what is the brand of an internal wiki? Some organizations just call it their wiki. Others add a corporate name, such as DelzaCorpWiki, and others create a brand to avoid using the word wiki, such as Delza Knowledge Base. To be honest, most organizations don’t spend a lot of strategic energy naming their internal learning/collaboration tools and systems. So what happens when one of the following occurs?
• External scandal with tool: We all saw the headlines a few months ago that shouted “Secrets Exposed by WikiLeaks!” The next day, I received calls from CLOs around the world considering dropping the word wiki from their wiki deployments. In fact, most organizations did migrate away from the wiki brand while continuing to use the powerful software.
• Vendors change over time: Your LMS, LCMS or webinar system will not last forever. If your workforce refers to learning pages or even online meetings by a commercial brand, what happens when the organization switches systems? You don’t want to hear, “We are having a Centra session on WebEx,” nor do you want to overly affiliate learning system functionality with an external supplier; that will add to the challenge of remixing tech systems.
I advocate that organizations design and manage their internal learning brand. Imagine referring to your learning management, content management, collaboration, video conference, intranet and other systems in one of two ways:
• Multi-vendor brands: Instead, a phrase that talks about capacity. Make it multi-vendor and specific-technology neutral.
• Corporate-specific brands: Build an internal brand with or without your corporate name.
My friends who are vendors will not fully agree with this approach. Clearly, they would love for organizations to adopt their brands along with their solutions. I am not suggesting that you bury brand names, but in a rapidly changing world, why embrace a single supplier brand knowing you are going to expand, evolve, merge and change?
The other more subtle reason to avoid external brands is the extreme differences related to deployment effectiveness. Having several different experiences with a single LMS provider is not unusual. Users often carry external brand images with them as they move from one employer to another.
Managing your learning brands is not just about naming. It is critical for a learning leader to monitor, survey and continually address key issues, including:
• Brand confusion: How clearly do employees refer to specific learning tools and systems?
• Brand and mission alignment: Can we align a learning system brand with the enterprise mission? For example, a manufacturing company that is deploying lean manufacturing might refer to a knowledge system as “JIT Answers” or “Just in Time Knowledge Center.”
• Covert/joke brands: What are users really calling systems? Some great projects have become failures and internal jokes. For example, if e-learning has become overly affiliated with boring compliance training, it might be called a “CYA” module, which loosely stands for covering our corporate rear ends.
• IP issue avoidance: Although it is tempting to create a “Pharma YouTube,” bluntly, you don’t own the YouTube brand. Make sure that you don’t steal a brand. Your legal office will be not happy.
• Borderless tools: Increasingly, our learning and collaboration tools will reach outside of our corporate borders, touching customers, partners and wider industry groups. Make sure the brand has meaning and marketing value to external users.
Finally, we will expand, trim, dump, supercharge and evolve our brands. We will clearly be impacted by external trends such as the use of short video stories or shared wiki-style writing spaces. This is a great time to design, deploy and manage the learning brand to be clear, sustainable and powerful.
Elliott Masie is the chair and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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