Lessons from our online Brand Thinking Trainers Program / by Anne Miltenburg

Since the launch of our toolkit in early 2016, we’ve been inundated with requests of brand experts to train them to use the tools in their own professional practices. To answer this demand, and to increase our impact by helping to create a global network of brand experts, we ran two Train the Trainer pilots over the course of 18 months, with trainers from all corners of the world. Taking a cue from the lean startup development method, I decided to run several tests to check demand, test assumptions, and get lots of input and feedback on needs and challenges of users. This is what we learned.

[If you are a fan of tracking progressive insights, this is what I wrote about what we learned from the first pilot in 2017]

brand experts all over the world are looking to elevate their practice to a more strategic and purposeful level

Huge insight here. Though our participants were wildly different in expertise, age, gender, location and expertise, they shared very similar challenges in running an independent branding practice. Is it better to specialise in a certain niche, or to have a more general practice? How can you make a living while making a difference? How do you elevate your design practice to a more strategic level, and get a seat at the board room table? How can you help to change your client’s perception of branding as just a logo or visual identity? How can you create a different type of practice that eliminates some of the ebb and flow of consultancy work?


I realised our tools offer participants a way to restructure their professional practice and elevate their relationship with clients to a point of peers and advisors. It was also amazing to see during the second program, how participants opened up their own lessons learned and were able to share insights and tips together, forming a real community of support.

there is no such thing as a ‘finished’ trainers course

One of my assumptions before the two pilots was that this course would need a big upfront investment in production costs once we had developed all the final content. After a trial with video lectures in 2017, in 2018 we switched to delivery of module content per simple readable pdf. Though it is less sexy and fashionable than video courses, it makes for easier scanning of content, and is far less costly to adjust when the course content develops. I thought we needed to invest in hours and hours of video production, but if we chose that route we would have become extremely inflexible and unable to address the real needs of the participants in the group.

So while we won’t have a huge upfront cost, I do now realise that building this program, like the book itself, is a continuous investment. As times change, content needs and online teaching methods change. The needs of participants in a first group might be slightly different than the second. By keeping delivery methods lean, we can guarantee up to date information. For this second pilot, every single module from the first pilot was re-structured, sharpened and updated, and still new topics come up, and new formats and examples need to be integrated. Keeping the delivery method as simple as possible allows for the best fit for content.

online facilitation is an art all on its own

Though I have run workshops with over 1400 clients and participants in person, facilitating online is a whole other beast. It is not just opening a group call and starting a conversation, but inserting just as much role play, interaction, exercises as offline events. I am grateful that the second group of trainers allowed me to fumble my way through experiments on this topic. We were able to recreate some of my most fun ice breakers from live workshops to work with 15 people on video.

Ice breakers that work well in person can actually create more frost in an online environment: ice breakers that don’t work in person are great for the screen.

Ice breakers that work well in person can actually create more frost in an online environment: ice breakers that don’t work in person are great for the screen.


Where it is harder to ensure you answer the questions most valued by a group during an online Q&A session, we ended up harvesting questions beforehand and upvoting them through Slido. Flipping the classroom continues to be an important element of the program, which ensures that the majority of the time online together is spent interacting, instead of merely listening to materials.

the participants themselves are the highest valued part of the program

Our pilot program consisted of a group of highly motivated first trainers that had approached me over the course of two years. For the second group, we opened up the program to the world, but still selected participants to craft a great group. In the process you don’t just create excellence by matching a diverse group of ages, cultural backgrounds, genders and professional expertise, but you also select a community of like minded people that is highly complementary. Because the participants complemented each other in so many ways, the amount of experience and wisdom on one hand, and questions and shared challenges on the other, that they contributed to the group, was perhaps the most valuable part of the program. I also realised that in a way, I had selected the best set of my own ‘teachers’ that I could have ever imagined. The participants of the pilot group and Class Zero all taught me so much in their own way. When they were not engaged, they taught me something. When they showed up time and time again, they taught me something else. When they disobeyed the rules of an exercise, they showed me how it could be done better. The big take away: when you do a rigorous selection at the gate, you can then walk through it together, and make it a true party.

As a result of the second program, I feel like we’ve made another giant leap in the content and delivery of the trainers program, in ways that I could not have predicted. With much gratitude to Class Zero, we are opening up a third class, the official Class One, this March!

Will you be a part of the next cohort of trainers?

  • Check out the new trainers program that launches in March.

  • Join our online information session on Jan 24th!

  • If you are all booked for the first half of 2019, consider joining the 4th cohort in fall of 2019! Stay up to date on the next classes through our Trainers Newsletter.