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What is Instructional Design and Why Should Marketing Care

What is Instructional Design and Why Should Marketing Care

What’s the deal with instructional design? It’s a question that marketing departments are increasingly asking, and you should be too.

Formerly, companies and institutions applied instructional design models to everything from higher education to employee training. In recent years, however, intelligent marketing departments have started asking an important question:

How can we offer highly tailored learning experiences using instructional materials that make our prospects want to become customers … and our customers want to stick around?

It’s becoming A Whole Thing, and there’s good reason for this. Research by Forrester shows that “An average formalized customer education program drives a 6.2% increase in organizational bottom-line revenue, a 7.4% increase in customer retention, and a 6.1% decrease in support costs based on Forrester’s risk-adjusted estimates.”

But the results get even more stunning if you believe it: “Examining impact per trainee, the most successful organizations see a 40x higher increase in revenue, a 16x higher increase in customer satisfaction, and 36x greater reduction in support costs compared with the least successful organizations.”

Plus, “High-success organizations achieve 52% greater education utilization rates and are 70% more likely to have a moderate to significantly positive ROI than low-success organizations.”

This is why so many companies have turned to e-learning for customers in recent years. It’s not enough to offer practical learning experiences once people have bought a product. They need to know how to use it before they spend a dime, or chances are good they’ll leave.

Today’s post delves into the whats, whys, and hows of instructional design for marketing. That way, you can make the best possible impression on prospects and keep customers around as long as possible. Let’s get started.

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What Is Instructional Design?

In a simple sense, instructional design – also known as instructional systems design (ISD) – is any practice that intentionally supports the sometimes in-person but mostly online learning process.

More specifically, says the Association for Talent Development, it is “a systems approach to analyzing, designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating any instructional experience based on the belief that training is most effective when it gives learners a clear statement of what they must be able to do after training and how their performance will be evaluated.”

Instructional design is used in higher education, training programs, and employee education. It is also used in the customer learning environment to increase retention and achieve learning goals. It often involves multimedia, simulations, or other educational technology and uses a storyboard to plot out different stages in the user experience.

Exactly what instructional designers do differs from organization to organization, but most types of experience design use an iterative process whereby learning materials are developed, tested, and refined with each successive cycle. This prototyping allows them to deliver a system much sooner yet keep making it better over time. The design and development process never really has to end.

When ready, content is delivered to users through some kind of learning management system. Training materials are often made available via a content academy, online course, or another microlearning environment for customers of SaaS or other online services.

So that’s the what. Now for the why …

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Why Do Businesses Use Instructional Design?

The two main reasons businesses turn to instructional design are:

  1. They want to make sure their employees have the tools needed via training software to serve their client or customer base well, or

  2. They’re eager to get customers up to speed on the product as quickly as possible to increase their chances of success and loyalty.

Let’s take a look.

Employee Training

The one-to-one education model is not a very productive one for large organizations. Although it’s good for new employees to have a go-to, they need a source of educational materials that don’t require hours of another human’s time.

That’s where instructional design comes in, helping to create intentional experiences that guide new employees from novices to subject matter experts in a matter of days. They're ready to get started once they’ve achieved the essential competencies required for their job through these instructional experiences.

Customer Success

When it comes to complex products, such as SaaS and B2B services online, many skills are often involved. How does the dashboard work? Where do you find the integrations? How can you upload and download documents or track progress?

A company can dramatically increase the odds of customer success by designing real-world, practical learning experiences that teach them what they need to know ASAP. If you’re smart about it, you’ll provide this education in the marketing stage. That way, when the customer plunks down a credit card number, they already trust your learning technologies and want to stay a while.

Churn Reduction

This leads us directly to churn reduction. The main reason people bounce, after all, is because they’re not getting what they came for. Naturally, you know your product can provide it, but they don’t. So, besides a great product, you need to give people the tools to use it and see the benefits quickly.

The difference between SaaS companies that succeed and those that don’t often come down to the first few weeks or months. Does your product feel like just another chore? Or does it feel like precisely the answer they’ve been seeking? The latter feeling with reduce churn; the former will only increase it.

Now let’s turn our attention to which learning design models you can choose from.

Instructional Design

The more your company grows, the more out of balance this ratio becomes, with current users becoming ever-more-shorted as you continue to prioritize growth over customer satisfaction.

The negative reviews grow. Churn seems endless. Occasionally, you consider simply buggering off and taking up chicken farming in Majorca.

Before you do, though, might we suggest you read our eBook to get some answers?

Instructional Design Models

There’s a whole world of online courses and methodologies operating on various design principles and offering multiple ways to impart new knowledge. These are just a few of the most popular instructional design theories.


“ADDIE” stands for “Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate.” In a nutshell, this model offers a learning theory that allows designers to develop training programs quickly and efficiently without getting hung up on small details or bogged down by endless reviews.

From analyzing the problem and designing the solution, developing the training programs and putting them into practice with teachers and learners, and seeing what works and what doesn’t, ADDIE offers a loose framework of endlessly iterative potential.

Agile Model

Agile builds on ADDIE, enforcing short periods called “sprints” for each stage before implementing the results. That way, you’re efficient with your time and don’t spend much of it working on outdated goals. Also, by constantly testing the instructional design process with real people, you can make constant tweaks for better results.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

First developed in the 1950s, Bloom’s Taxonomy guides the instructional design process – and pedagogy in general – by stratifying levels of learning. The bottom three levels of the famous pyramid are Remember, Understand, and Apply. On top of that sit the more complex Analyze, Evaluate, and Create.

People not only enjoy the more complex skills more, but they are also more helpful to them. Therefore, the goal when using Bloom’s Taxonomy is to determine what types of tools you’re giving your learners, with a preference for those that engender creativity, evaluation, and analysis.

Other Models

There are a number of other instructional design approaches. For instance, David Merrill invented his Principles of Instruction to describe how courses must Activate knowledge for learners, Demonstrate how it works, allow them to Apply it, and help them Integrate new learning outcomes into their existing knowledge base.

Robert Gagne, on the other hand, created an overall framework comprising nine events of instruction. These cover everything from gaining student attention to providing learner guidance to assessing their performance after receiving instruction.

No matter what instruction design approach you choose, you’ll see a number of benefits from taking such an intentional approach to your training programs – especially in the marketing realm.

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How Marketing Can Benefit From Educating Prospects Through Instructional Design

So let’s return to the question we discussed at the top: why should marketers care about instructional design? Isn’t the goal of marketing to get customers to come to your business? Do we really have to teach them as well? Isn’t that what customer success is for, or maybe sales?

Yes, and no. Sales and customer success should also integrate a teaching approach. That way, prospects become customers more often, and those customers are more highly qualified to stay customers. Similarly, customer success will have an easier time helping those who are already trained on the product, reserving their ticketing and training efforts for more complex or higher-level questions.

However, instructional design should start in marketing for several reasons.

Brand Awareness

Firstly, a dedicated customer training platform is an excellent way to build brand awareness. You can use lessons and modules as marketing collateral, for one thing. Building on simple templates and initiatives, you can help leads and prospects achieve essential learning outcomes before they ever even sign up for your product.

If you’re worried about giving the milk away for free, don’t be. Sure, when you train non-customers on essential skills, you won’t always convert that person into a customer. But if they have a positive experience, they might name-drop you to someone else. Or they might move to another company, one that has a severe need for your offerings, and onboard you to a hundred users then.

You never know. Either way, you’ll build a great brand along the way.

Brand Loyalty

For those leads and prospects that do become customers, you’ll see an uptick in brand loyalty coming from the learning activities you offer. A customer education academy is a fantastic way to add value to the product you’re charging for, as it’s completely free.

Over time, your learning solutions will not only help customers use the software they’re already using. It will also motivate them to upgrade, bring more team members on board, and buy your cross-sell products.

Pre-Sale Buyer Education

Lastly, if you can achieve a user’s learning objectives for them before they even buy your product, you will see much happier customers long-term. We’re talking about a systematic process for building an e-learning course – with modules and certificates, tests and quizzes, run through an online academy. This teaches them how to be successful with your software so that they hit the ground running.

Otherwise, you face a high potential for churn. When all customers have received before buying your product is a bunch of sales pitches, they’re much likelier to be disappointed when the rubber meets the road. If they already have positive learning experiences through pre-sale buyer education, however, they’re going to stick around longer.

Instructional Design Best Practices for B2B SaaS Companies

Knowing the definitions and benefits isn’t enough, of course. If you want to be successful with instructional design at your B2B SaaS company, remember to:

  • Know precisely what you’re trying to achieve and build to that

  • Make learning an individualized process for each user

  • Use a multimedia, interactive approach, so they stay engaged

  • Make it easy to track progress with certificates, awards, and resume fodder

  • Offer value for learners to their companies and resumes with the above

  • Opt for brevity wherever possible – users aren’t here to have fun

  • Make UX a focus on instructional design so people don’t churn from the pure hassle

  • Don’t be afraid to iterate as long as you’re introducing new content intentionally

  • Clarify who is available for outreach at all times

Do this, and your users will thank you – and your product – well into the future.

Want to learn more about intentional, effective instructional design processes? Raven360 would love to help, so get in touch with us to learn more today!

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