senior analyst, Forrester Research

Sometimes, to be heard above the clutter, you have to get smart. That’s what IBM Learning Solutions executives did in an attempt to increase brand awareness and stake out a leadership position in the fragmented e-learning market.

Traditional marketing methods weren’t enough to raise IBM Corp.’s profile in the crowded e-learning space. No vendor controls more than an 11 percent share in the market, which Gartner Inc. predicts will grow from US$287 million in 2003 to $620 million by 2008. To rise above the din, IBM set out to develop a point of view that would position the group as an authority on the future of learning.

To get there, the group first needed to do some learning of its own. A core team of six Learning Solutions members, led by Vice President for Marketing and Strategy Teresa Golden, kicked off a research effort in June 2003 to tap into experts from multiple disciplines across IBM — hardware, software, consulting, research, HR, website development, knowledge management and the like. IBM is certainly at the forefront of the evolution of learning, from the technological aspects, to the general instructor-led training, to how it is integrated into the workplace.Claire Schooley>Text “All the groups had a seat at the table,” says Nancy DeViney, general manager of IBM Learning Solutions. “We wanted to pull together the best thinking on this so we could speak with one voice to the market.”

From there, the team went external, talking to customers, futurists, industry analysts and others to vet the internally developed concepts and incorporate additional perspectives. A combination of surveys, interviews and focus groups gave the group plenty of content to work with as it shaped its point of view.

With the expertise in hand, the team turned to packaging. The group created a mix of marketing materials, including conference presentations, a white paper and multimedia vignettes that offered a futuristic view of learning for potential users, such as business leaders, salespeople, call center personnel and educators. The goal was to give customers something to aspire to and position IBM as the technology provider that could lead them there.

The first materials were launched in November 2003. Since then, IBM has found its star on the rise at learning conferences, where DeViney and other executives have been asked to speak on the future of learning with more frequency. IBM consultants report that the materials are opening more doors for them with clients. To get a more quantifiable view of its progress, Golden’s team recently launched an awareness-tracking study on top of its regular market research.

“IBM is certainly at the forefront of the evolution of learning, from the technological aspects, to the general instructor-led training, to how it is integrated into the workplace,” says Claire Schooley, a senior analyst with Forrester Research Inc.

Time will tell, however, if perception and awareness translate to market share. “There really has not been an uptake in terms of customers,” says Schooley. “Very seldom is IBM’s learning management system on customers’ shortlist.”

Golden acknowledges the challenges that lie ahead. “We’re starting to get on the radar,” she says. “We obviously still have a long way to go.”

Related links:

Aligning e-learning with the enterprise

Company wakes up from e-learning nightmare

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