What we learned from our train-the-trainer pilot / by Anne Miltenburg

We are on a mission to democratize branding knowledge by creating great branding tools and resources that are available to all, to build stronger brands. But building a brand is not something anyone can do purely in isolation: having a trainer or coach, and local talent to execute creative work is just as important, whether you live in Atlanta or Athens, Nairobi or Nijmegen. So we went on a quest to develop a trainers program. This is what we learnt running our pilot in 2017.

Anne training at GrowthAfrica in Nairobi, one of the most successful accelerators in Africa today.

Anne training at GrowthAfrica in Nairobi, one of the most successful accelerators in Africa today.

With a dream to build brand thinking skills across the world, building local training capacity became the big item on our wish list. However, training and occupying trainers all over the world is not achievable through our current business model.

About one year into our journey, we realised independent brand strategists are the allies we need to achieve our mission. Together we can create a real movement at scale. Our dream is to see a movement of trainers across the world who provide a local, permanent source of expertise for changemakers at a price suitable to the market. The Brandling supplies a tried and tested method, tools and facilitation best practices, the trainers have the local expertise and experience and work with the clients of their choice. We'd love to see trainers build relevant case studies and exchange knowledge and experiences amongst each other, locally and globally, creating a database of best practices. And last but not least, we want our method to support these trainers to thrive in their practice, personally, professionally and financially!

The challenges to training trainers


To realize this dream of a network of independent trainers, we knew we had to overcome quite a few challenges. We want to build training capacity all over the world, but few people can fly in for a training in person, so an online solution is obvious. However, without physical interaction, it is hard to check the level of quality of trainer’s delivery. We want trainers to be able to reach people from different backgrounds and with different budgets, therefore the cost of getting trained needs to be relative to these budgets, and the licenses for using the tools affordable. Training people one on one, or even in small groups, would become too costly, so a program at scale seems the only route. Another challenge was how to design a program for an extremely diverse group of aspiring trainers. The experience level and expertise of the applicants for the train the trainer program varies widely: from brand strategy experts with a dozen years of experience in the field of fast moving consumables, to coaches who believe the Brand the Change method is a great addition to their professional toolbox to help people design their lives and careers.

2017: The pilot

To get a better understanding of how we can tackle these challenges, we organized a pilot with 12 participants with a wide variety of expertises and backgrounds, located all over the world. Through the pilot, we wanted to learn:

  • Can we train trainers without physically being in the same space?
  • What type of trainer is most suited to the program?
  • What is the best format for the program?
  • What should the content of the program be?
  • How do we guard delivery of quality?

We ran the pilot from early 2017 to October. We set up a kickoff session where we made an inventory of trainees learning needs. Based on this session, we identified 7 major learning areas and developed a trainers manual with a chapter on each area.

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We developed the content for the chapters each month, and delivered each in a module via a few different formats: live online, through video or as a reading format (pdf trainers manual). We discussed the modules, assignments and questions in live online hangouts twice a month.

What we learned

Besides a lot of learnings around the logistics of running an online program, we are really excited about some of the lessons we can take forward from the pilot.

trainers need to Walk the talk

The value of the program of course lies in gaining mastery of the method, but we were surprised to learn that the creation of the trainer’s own brand was a huge learning leap for the participants. Going through the process of developing your own brand through the tools gives you real insight into how they can be used in the most effective way, and builds a deeper understanding of the questions your participants will have. Building your own brand, defining your purpose, your offer, your audience and what you commit to deliver to them is not easy. It will take time, reflection and a lot of trial and error. The peer to peer work with other trainers helped the participants make their brand blueprints stronger and get practice in the training process at the same time. We closed this work with a live online pitch event where trainers presented their own brand. 

diversity elevates the group

The diversity of the participants was a blessing rather than a challenge: independent of their experience, each participant brought their own talents to the table, and this made the quality of the exchanges much more interesting than a more homogenous group would have been. Therefore, we will select participants on diversity of geographical location, expertise, experience, gender and cultural background in the future, to actively enhance the quality of the tribe.

design for different levels of commitment

At the last session, 8 hardcore committed participants remained, with four having dropped out due to over commitment in life or work, pregnancy or trouble with the time zones (for 2 participants in East-Asia and the West Coast of the USA, live sessions were hard to commit to). Making time for any learning program besides a busy professional practice and family life can be hard, which makes it all the more important to offer the learning in a way that participants can self pace the activities. 

Blended learning is effective, video is not per definition engaging

The blended format of reading materials, home work assignments and live hangouts worked well. The rudimentary video lectures that we created proved that if video is used, it needs to be really of added value, with engaging visuals that add to how quick you internalize the lessons in the material. To do this, we would need to add a considerable amount of production time and cost to the development of the course, in order to create 9 hours of engaging video content. As the person running the pilot and creating the video modules, I also learned that my voice is very unsuited for voice overs, so a voice actor would need to be hired to avoid people falling asleep or tearing their hair out at having to listen to me for an hour at a time.

Let the trainer's own participants asses the quality of their training skills

Regarding our challenge of assessing quality of training delivery by the aspiring trainers, we realized we should not do the assessment, the trainer’s own participants should. We can check if a participant completes the course and assignments at a professional level. Instead, we will provide participants with a certificate of completion. Within the program, aspiring trainees are required to organize their own pilot sessions, for which they can use review forms to test results with their participants. We encourage long term use of the review forms, to hone your practice.

building this program will require a big upfront investment

We have developed about 75% of the beta content of the program, and now need to finish the content, proofread it and design for publication in a trainings manual and online course. We will also need to hire a program manager to do the administrative tasks and run support during the course. Our experience with developing the toolkit tells us that this next phase will require more than double the first investment of funds and time, and therefore we will need to raise funds for its development.

We don't have to have all the answers

Most of all, the pilot again gave us confirmation that instead of having to create and fix everything ourselves, that co-creation is the best way of making our products better. We owe a huge thanks to all our 13 pilot participants, for their energy, commitment, feedback and ideas. 

Next steps

Based on the detailled pilot feedback and financing needs, we are finetuning the TTT plans in the next three weeks. We will announce our next steps in January 2018.

Interested in joining the Train the Trainer program? Sign up to our trainers mailing list to receive the next announcement!