E-LEARNING: Marketing Smart Employees

It was the late ‘90s. The Internet was hot, e-learning was steaming, and my new learning management systems employer was struggling with lots of ambition but little industry recognition.

The pressure to attract customers and capital was intensifying. The competition was spending heavily on branding and gaining traction with prospects and investors. Institutional and venture investors were scouring for bargains in what some believed was the last Internet arena for substantial and quick returns.


  • The e-learning market was littered with glitz, gimmicks, and specious claims.
  • The company had committed to a 12-page insert in Training magazine and exhibit space at a major online learning show without respectable marketing literature, a first-class exhibit, or a clear brand.
  • The time-frame was intimidating.

As the new vice president for marketing, I had to work quickly to produce a marketing strategy, but branding was my first priority. The second-tier company needed a brand that would separate it from the fast-growing crowd of online learning startups and, equally important, would reflect credibility to prospective customers and funders.

Though I had a highly skilled creative director on staff, she and I agreed we needed the resources of a well-known communication firm. We would rely on them for visual expertise; they would depend on us to define the message and approach. They would imagine and implement; we would drive and deliver.

Fortunately, the company’s logo and color scheme, created internally, need some modifications but were eye-catching. Moreover, the existing tagline, “Competitive Advantage through People,” fit the theme I wanted to portray in the branding. Besides, both the logo and slogan had gained at least partial recognition in the market.

Having been a customer of the company for several years, I knew its character. What shaped that character were employees – entrepreneurial, energetic, customer-focused, smart employees.

I decided to use them as the inspiration for the brand and as participants in the marketing program. I wanted their images and testimonies to present the company as bold and believable. They could communicate the visually edgy attitude I wanted to snag attention, hold interest, and imprint the brand on audiences’ memories.

Putting all the pieces together — smart people working for a learning company with ‘knowledge” in its name and creating solutions for customers — we zeroed in on two simple, powerful words as the branding theme — “We Know” — and on the logo’s bold green color as the visual tag.

The communications consultants liked the brand concept, but were not in favor of using employees instead of professional models. We thrashed it out, won them over, and soon their creative juices flowed into some brilliant work.

The first “We Know” branding product was a positioning, flagship booklet for inserting in Training magazine. I created the booklet’s structure and wrote or edited all copy to ensure a consistently energetic and conversational style. The agency shot high-impact employee photos using intriguing props that featured the green brand color, and produced a clean, expansive, and imaginative layout.

Additionally, they organized a visual branding toolkit that would guide future communication pieces, both print and electronic. The firm also produced two prototype “We Know” ads, as well as graphics for revamping the company’s exhibit, and recommended a strategy for integrating the new branding into the company’s website.

The booklet was delivered on time to meet the deadline for the magazine’s insert. It was well received by prospective customers, and generated pride and purpose among employees. The exhibit was updated with new graphics, and a timetable for recasting the website and other communication was set.