How to Design an Effective Digital Marketing Training Program

Digital marketing training is critical for organizations today, and it is sorely lacking. Studies show that only 48% of digital marketers feel proficient in digital marketing, and a mere 18% actually take in-person courses (vs. 82% who learn on the job).   Forward-thinking organizations recognize this need, and invest in training to enable and grow their marketing teams accordingly.

One such organization is Loblaw.  Over the past year, I have had the pleasure of providing in-house digital marketing training for Canada’s largest and most successful retailer.  This training program covered a number of topics over multiple sessions and involved all 150+ members of the Loblaw Marketing Department.  I partnered closely with the brilliant Sr. Director of Digital Marketing at Loblaw, Michelle Read-Kulig to design and facilitate the program (which meant that I learned plenty, too).

Given the importance of understanding digital marketing today, I thought I would share some tips based on my Loblaw experience that you may consider when planning digital marketing training within your organizations.


1. Identify The Desired Learning Outcome(s)

Before launching into any training initiative, understand the change you want to actually make within the organization.  Take the time to identify this clearly, as you can then (and only then) determine (a) if training is the most effective way to accomplish it, (b) what type of training may best support it, (c) how training may fit within the context of overall learning and performance development, and (d) who needs to participate.  

For Loblaw, the desired outcome was to establish a baseline understanding of digital across the marketing organization—which is why all Loblaw marketers participated.  And even though many marketers within LCL had deep digital experience, it was important for everyone to participate to establish this common foundation as a basis for effective communication and integrated planning across teams.


2. Establish Clear Senior-Level Sponsorship

Senior-level sponsorship is a must for any digital marketing training initiative.  Securing a Sponsor demonstrates commitment from the organization to digital while reinforcing the connection that the training has to the future of the business (and to people’s jobs within it).  Without the right Sponsor, training may be considered interesting rather than essential.

Michelle is the head of the Digital Marketing Center of Excellence (DMCOE) for Loblaw and reports directly to the SVP of Marketing.  Having Michelle as the Sponsor and the co-facilitator for the training program was a key part of its success.  Her active involvement demonstrated to participants that the training was an organizational priority and that the training content aligned to the strategic thinking of the DMCOE.


3. Start with Principles, then Tactics

When beginning with a digital marketing training initiative, start with principles before discussing tactics.  While it may (and will) seem basic for some, spending time discussing the foundational differences, advantages, and challenges relating to digital media and technology provides a necessary baseline to build on.  Doing this effectively up-front can eliminate distracting digital buzzwords, broaden perspective, and build confidence within the group.

For LCL, we began the program with a session called Digital Foundations.  It was a level-set for the group on the state of digital marketing today and introduced a number of principles to be applied across all aspects of digital marketing strategy.  This session effectively set the table for subsequent sessions focused on specific tactical areas, such as social, mobile, and search.


4. Make it Interactive Across Disciplines

Group exercises are a critical part of adult learning, and in digital marketing training it is particularly important.  Using the right mix of exercises allow participants to apply concepts and learn from each other—particularly those with deeper digital experience (also providing them with an opportunity to share and shine).  Establishing a more interactive style for training also reinforces the multi-disciplinary and highly collaborative nature required for digital marketing today.

After Michelle and I ran a pilot course with a single Loblaw department, we decided to mix up the groups for the following courses.  Each of the 20+ participants within each session came from different groups, including Promotions, Customer Service, Brand, Content, and more. The result was a richer dialogue among participants, more interesting application of the concepts in the group exercises, and new connections.

5. Provide Support to Make Learning Actionable

How participants transfer learning to job responsibilities is a fundamental consideration for program design, and is particularly important at the end of digital training (along with assessment).  Carefully consider how you would like participants to start to behave differently after completing the program.  Develop the necessary supporting material and job aids that may be used to support direct day-to-day application.

Upon completion of the final session for the Loblaw training, we distributed Loblaw Digital Marketing Playbooks to all participants.  These books included the key points from all of the sessions, templates for digital marketing planning, as well as an FAQ guide for ‘doing digital’ at Loblaw written by the DMCOE.  This proved to be a useful takeaway and resource for those who completed the course. 

A special thank you again to Michelle for the opportunity to collaborate with her and the awesome Loblaw team.  I hope that you learn as much from these tips as I did from working with her on this training program.