Posted by Barbara Opyt ● November 28, 2016

Be Conscientious of Branding and Voice in Instructional Design

happy learning professionals.jpgInstructional designers need to pay attention to organizational branding, and all that goes with it, so that learning deliverables match learners' on-the-job reality and culture.

In the simplest terms, a brand is a promise. It tells audiences what the organization stands for, and the difference it can make in their lives. Brands impact internal audiences through expressions of their essence, like their name, logo, tagline, personality, and voice.

Voice is how you say what you say. It’s a brand’s unique style of writing and speaking—a customized tool to communicate in a consistent, compelling way. Done right, it builds emotional connections with audiences across every touchpoint, every time.

Why does this matter for learning professionals in particular? It's important to talk to stakeholders and learners in their own language—both from a practical standpoint, and as a matter of basic respect. People are people, but it's about using language that fits the learner’s culture and the company’s brand. If speech is not in their language—something as benign as referring to an employee as an "associate" instead of the preferred "team member," for instance—it will sound out of place and inauthentic, and you'll ruffle some feathers.

Every client, business unit, and stakeholder is different, and all are important. By customizing our language, tone, and style, we show that we recognize and value those important differences.

Stop, Look, Listen

To really grasp a given organization’s branding, tone, and language, learning professionals should take a Stop, Look, and Listen approach. Stop coming in with preconceived notions about a client. Look at the available resources. Listen to what the client is saying.

Watch the On-Demand Webinar: Building an L&D Brand People Believe In Cultures can vary dramatically from organization to organization and business unit to business unit. Before engaging a new stakeholder, learning professionals should do their homework—study the organization’s website, existing marketing materials, and social media. Have informal conversations with team members to learn jargon and preferred terminology. And if possible, review past learning deliverables to get a feel for the organization’s tone and style.

Adapting to language and jargon can be a particular challenge. There may be an official terminology that the organization uses for a thing, and a separate term used colloquially by line workers for that same thing; to effectively deliver learning, the instructional designer needs to know both terms. That comes back to listening and having conversations with folks throughout the organization.

And of course, there’s always the issue of Acronym Hell (AH); you not only need to know what the acronyms mean, but also how they are pronounced and to what extent they are used on a day-to-day basis, as that will inform how frequently they show up in the learning.

Establish the Right Tone

Should the learning deliverables be friendly and fun, or serious and terse? A silly, breezy eLearning course featuring animated space aliens might come off as inappropriate for a manufacturer’s life-or-death safety training, but the concept could be perfectly suited to a motivational customer service course. Besides the topical content, company culture is a major influencer around tone. Keep your ears and eyes open during initial stakeholder discussions to get a feel for what they expect the tone to be. The organization may even have a few simple adjectives describing its voice and tone already picked out.

Know the Visual Branding Rules

These are the obvious things—logos, typefaces, colors. If the organization has a dedicated marketing department, chances are good that a branding guide exists that dictates these things, often in extreme detail. Study that branding guide and know the rules inside and out. And if no such guide exists, create your own to ensure consistency between IDs, SMEs, deliverables, and throughout the quality assurance process, as well as to speed development of last-minute training requests.

Head off inconsistency by defining standards around language, aesthetic design, and functionality. Your branding guide should include rules about the following:

  • Bullet lists: Will you capitalize the first word of a bullet, or will it be lowercased? Will you include ending periods? Will you allow sub-bullets, and if so, how many, and what will the bullet style look like?
  • Fonts: What are the correct typefaces? How large should the font be? Are bold and italics to be used, and if so, in what circumstances?
  • Capitalization: Are you going to capitalize job titles? Organizational departments? Industry jargon? Whatever you decide, apply the rule consistently. And if there is a specific word that must always be capitalized, call that out in the style guide.
  • Punctuation: Will you use the Oxford comma? Will you put spaces before and after dashes and slashes?

Finally, be conscious of product branding, particularly if you’re an external consultant. Don’t bring a Starbucks cup into a meeting at Dunkin' Donuts, and don’t use a stock image of a Toyota in an eLearning course for Nissan. These are issues of respect as much as branding, and they have a cumulative effect on the relative respect granted to the learning function.

Watch the On-Demand Webinar: Innovation in L&D: Building a Modern Learning  Culture

Topics: Instructional Design