Although many certification sponsors would agree with the title above, it’s not at all unusual for marketing to become a priority only when a new or re-engineered exam approaches a launch date.
But without a well-planned marketing campaign—both before and after the launch—many new certification programs post low volumes during the first year or two as they struggle to gain visibility and relevance. It takes time, money and marketing for the sponsor to generate awareness of the certification, create buzz and earn acceptance.
Credentialing candidates themselves need time to internalize marketing messages, identify best options and then plan, budget and prepare for taking a certification exam. So, even though the certification sponsor is ready and anxious to test, the target market may not feel the same urgency.
From the candidate’s perspective, certification is just one of several options for professional development. The other options, which could include classroom training, certificates, digital badges or micro-credentials, all compete for the prospect’s attention and pocketbook.
Enter the conversation
At any given moment, your prospects are telling themselves a story about where their careers are heading. Your certification tells a story, too. How much more effective would your marketing be if your story paralleled that of your prospect? When the message of your certification enters the conversation already taking place in your prospect’s head, you win. Competition be damned.
Certification marketing should be a fluid, ongoing process that’s endlessly curious about the conversation(s) in your prospect’s head. Ongoing is the operative word. Your prospects are growing in their careers. Their professional development needs are changing. Your marketing message needs to keep pace.
Know your market
Certification sponsors should survey prospects and certificants on a regular basis to stay current with their desires, beliefs and behaviors. Free tools like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms are perfect for this. So are webinars, live video, live events (conferences), blogs and social media. Any platform or modality that invites interaction is helpful in illuminating a prospect’s evolving, internal conversation(s).
Gaining insight into the world of your prospect will boost the quality of your content marketing—that’s all of the text, images and videos that you post online that offer value to prospects (and establish your authority). Your content will hit the bullseye on an enviably consistent basis when it resonates with their beliefs—the powerful ones that motivate behavior, like applying for a certification exam.
Just say no to Afterthought Marketing
The most successful certification marketing efforts are both anticipatory and reactive in order to spot future opportunities and correct past strategies that are no longer working.
Afterthought marketing attempts the impossible: making up for lost time (or poor planning) in an attempt to hurry market response.
The better solution is to incorporate marketing into the earliest possible phases of test development. For example, data collected from a job task analysis—an initial stage in the test-development process—could reveal new information about the job role and, by extension, the targeted test candidate. This kind of valuable, welcome marketing data can never arrive too soon. The best certification marketing starts early and keeps pace with prospects as their professional development needs change and grow.
Have any thoughts to share on your experiences with certification marketing? Let us know in the comments below! Oh, and feel free to like or share this article.