Relationships are everything in the world of customer marketing. And branding is an important step in developing those relationships. For better or for worse, branding can significantly impact the first impression of your company and how the public feels and behaves toward it. When LRN set out to build a community for our customer advocates, we didn't want to dump them into a digital conference room. Instead, we needed to create a well-branded space that demonstrates our company values and encourages our customers—E&C and culture leaders—to open up in ways they might not have considered before. Today, we have LRN co:lab, an award-winning community (which you can apply to!) of more than 300 ethics, compliance, legal, HR, and L&D professionals who can exchange ideas, share best practices, and connect closely in a way that their daily routine doesn’t always permit.
The ask: An online community for compliance professionals
We operate in a specialized space: LRN helps organizations create compliance-aware and ethically inspired workplaces. When I joined LRN as the customer marketing director, the organization wanted help building a community meeting place and improving customer sentiment. At the time, we focused our customer marketing efforts on growth as well as advocacy.
When LRN completed the acquisition of the Compliance Learning business unit at Thomson Reuters in the fall of 2022, the marketing department increased its scale significantly across all operations and I became the global advocacy marketing director. LRN's core business used to be US-focused, but I now get to focus on advocacy activities on a global stage, which is the stuff that gets me really excited to wake up and come to work.
Until about a year ago, LRN didn't have a centralized customer community. We had bits and pieces here and there, but various teams had to track customer activity manually. We had a so-called "community page"—a HubSpot landing page that was more of a newsletter than anything else. People updated it frequently with recent content and stats, but it didn't get much love from its intended audience. It seemed like a lot of tedious work for little reward, and I knew we could do better with a dedicated customer advocacy platform.
E&C leaders are unique, but like everyone, they crave connection
Our customers are professionals who live and breathe ethics and compliance. These folks contribute to the herculean task of writing rules, policies, and procedures that not only meet the latest regulatory guidance, but also reflect the values of their companies. That’s a lot to ask for! So, you can imagine the kinds of conversations we had about rewarding our customers. What rewards are appropriate for the people who write the handbook on accepting gifts?!
On the flip side, ethics and compliance professionals crave connection. Within their organizations, they are often islands by necessity. They are often separate from the rest of their company and other professionals in the field. In talking to these customers, I heard what they really wanted: to turn that island environment into an island resort where ethics professionals can meet peers, have meaningful conversations, and share knowledge. Our customers often ask client success managers for benchmarks because they want to know how they're doing relative to others. These are the kinds of things we could deliver within a digital advocate community.
I was already quite familiar with Influitive, a customer advocacy SaaS company, because I had launched a community with their platform. But that was years earlier, so I reviewed all the leading community platforms on the market. We needed specific features, like discussions and a smart way to push out meaningful content. We also wanted the ability to tailor an individual user’s experience.
Influitive didn't disappoint. It had everything I remembered and more, including advanced audience segmentation capabilities that can't be beat. Everything about the platform aligned with our goals, and I felt confident that Influitve would help us achieve them. After making the selection, I rallied the help of my colleague Carol Lee, who is now the community marketing manager and the glue of LRN’s new community: co:lab.
Flexing our branding muscle in our community with LRN co:lab
When figuring out how to bring our brand into our advocate community, we dove deep into several areas.
The tone: Conversational and engaging
The first thing we did was determine how we wanted it to feel. The ethics and compliance function often deals with serious business realities, so it was important that our community reflect that level of professionalism. But we also wanted to evoke a sense of warmth and engagement in the interactions with users to make it more human-scaled.
We used sliders to determine what we wanted in our written and visual tone, the use of humor, and the audio, animation, and video style. We decided our community should lean toward a more personal feel: light humor, energetic tone, conversational, and story-based. Instead of expert talking heads, we focus on our role trusted advisors: We're knowledgeable, but this community is about building connections and creating open dialogue to explore all aspects of our industry.
The name: Emphasis on collaboration
As with any branded experience, the name is crucial. We knew our clients wanted collaboration and connection. We toyed with several ideas, but as soon as our strategic communications director Jen Üner threw out the phrase "co:lab," we knew it was the perfect fit.
Of course, "collab" is short for "collaboration," but co:lab is rich with other meanings. "Co" is short for "community," a place to come together. "Lab" speaks to innovation and the opportunities to work with our team. And the colon connects two independent clauses—an acknowledgement of our clients' desire for connection.
Visual branding: Warm and personable
The logo came together with the help of our graphic designer, James McCabe. It's funny—I preach continuous improvement all the time, but I hadn't mentioned it to James. When he sent us a logo with conversational bubbles and arrows encircling the co:lab name, I thought, "This is it." It plays on the idea of continuous involvement in a feedback loop, and there is an added element of discussion between people.
That visual tone continues across our hub. While we use the LRN brand colors, we also lean into images that feature people. We use Influitive's “challenges” (targeted asks), and always select images where people are front and center.
Consistent theme and values
A common saying at LRN is “Rules are good, values are better.” It gets at the idea that while rules and procedures are necessary, certain situations sometimes involve conflicting rules—and when that’s the case, acting based on shared values often begets more ethical outcomes. Our values—integrity, humility, passion, and truth—are our North Star, and we have subtly incorporated these values into co:lab.
Integrity: When we talk about the importance of values, we are talking about people. It is only through the integrity of people—our clients—that organizations stick to their values when the going gets tough. Our emphasis on images of people throughout the hub is a nod to this.
Humility: We recognize that there's rarely only one correct answer. We are experts in this field, but our clients have developed specialized knowledge and a wealth of expertise through their diverse experiences. We designed co:lab as a place to share this expertise with one another.
Passion: We are passionate about building ethical workplaces, which is why we want to share our resources with our clients. We celebrate success through LRN’s Principled Podcast, featuring stories of industry leaders and vibrant discussions about what is happening in the world of ethics and compliance around the globe.
Truth: Our foundation rests on honesty, and one facet of honesty is transparency. Co:lab features unique industry reports that provide benchmarks, as well as a forum to discuss drivers of those benchmarks. Additionally, we provide clients with practical resources, like our KPI template, to help them be transparent with the leadership of their own organizations.
Engaging E&C professionals on and offline
Our community is at the center of our advocacy efforts, and after our first year, 89% of our registered advocates are engaged. Co:lab serves as a desired destination for our clients to connect and for our brand to accelerate professional and business growth. Our initial focus was on laying a solid foundation and concentrating on membership and engagement. From here, we can build upon that in many ways. In the coming months, we will spin up an LRN editorial advisory board and some product beta tests from co:lab. We also look forward to welcoming new members in 2023. It will be a big year in scaling up the customer voice in everything LRN does.
Our customers need a break from the rigors of their work, and LRN co:lab makes it easy to offer up some lighter fare.
I'm proud of the internal buy-in on co:lab. It marks the maturity of our community that many LRN employees are members of the hub. And in a recent company-wide meeting, I heard colleagues talk about co:lab as a channel to place content, recognizing it as the place to engage our customers better. That made me happier than any metric.
We've learned a lot about our customers, too. One of the biggest surprises since the launch of co:lab has been the kind of content that receives the highest engagement. Apart from our welcome challenges that target new members, our highest engagement comes from our fun challenges. There's a real benefit to more casual and relaxing challenges, especially for an audience whose work often covers more serious subjects. Our customers need a break from the rigors of their work, and LRN co:lab makes it easy to offer up some lighter fare. We've seen members share more of themselves, be more personable, and engage in great conversations, on and offline.
Branding is much more than just picking colors and images—it's setting the tone for the activity you want to see. It's worth it to put in a lot of work upfront to get that right.
When we hold in-person events now, we describe co:lab as the place for customers to connect with peers between industry conferences. We've also held two client roundtables since launching co:lab. These are smaller events, followed by a group dinner. After two hours of deep discussion, we have to practically push people out the door to get to dinner on time! Carol and I got so much out of those conversations and this information will further inform co:lab.
The key takeaway
Branding is much more than just picking colors and images—it's setting the tone for the activity you want to see and the conversations you want to encourage. You often only get one shot to make an impression, so putting in a lot of work upfront to get that right is worth it. We're beyond thrilled with what we delivered, and we even won a BAMMIE award for Best Branded Hub. The island resort our clients dreamed of has become a reality, a place where ethics and compliance professionals converge to connect with others and with LRN.
If you're interested in joining LRN co:lab, sign up here to learn more about our community.
This article was originally published in longer form at Upshot.