How This Company Used a Marketing Mindset to Build a Learning Culture

May 7, 2018

Valerie North and Robin Bellingham, who both work in Human Resources at HilltopSecurities, are only able to spend roughly 5 percent of their time focused on learning and development (L&D). The rest is spent on their many other HR responsibilities, such as hiring, performance reviews and compensation plans.

And yet, they’ve driven a strong culture of learning at the company.

For evidence, look no further than their associates’ usage of, their main development tool. A Texas-based financial services company, HilltopSecurities invested in from LinkedIn Learning as way to give their associates the chance to develop themselves and expand their skills.

Mission accomplished, according to Dave Geschke, CEO and President of HilltopSecurities Independent Network and Director of Retail for HilltopSecurities. The usage is well above industry norms: HilltopSecurities provided the majority of their associates with access to the platform and 100 percent of eligible users have activated their accounts, with nearly 600 associates watching more than 60,000 videos in the first nine months of having it.

“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and our associates are pleased that the firm took an interest in their education and career advancement,” Geschke said. “By inspiring our associates to use, we have a happier, more engaged workforce who truly appreciate all the benefits of working at our firm.”

North and Bellingham’s key to success? A commitment to marketing.

“You need to get it in front of people,” North said. “We knew we could buy the best learning tool in the world, but if we didn’t market it to our associates, they wouldn’t use it.”

Why HilltopSecurities invested in 

In late 2016, HilltopSecurities surveyed their 950 associates, asking them what they wanted more of. Their response?

“The majority of our associates came back and said they were interested in more learning and development opportunities,” North said.

The company’s HR department was eager to provide that, but they faced a challenge – they are a small team and L&D is just one of their many responsibilities.

So, they began looking for a reasonably priced online learning solution that could provide anytime, anywhere training that allowed employees to learn on their schedule. That led them to

“We were so impressed with the variety of courses on the site,” North said. “I really think you guys are the leader in this space and it shows.”

“But the biggest selling point was that it didn’t require associates to just sit in front of the computer for two hours,” North continued. “You guys have a great concept; breaking courses up into smaller bits associates can watch during the day.”

In the spring of 2017, HilltopSecurities rolled out the platform to 150 associates to pilot It was a success, so the HR team rolled out to a total of 560 associates in August of 2017.

That’s when the marketing of went into high gear.

How HilltopSecurities effectively marketed

North and Bellingham used several smart tactics to market, which led to high usage and ultimately a culture of learning.

Those tactics included:

  • They formed an committee of leaders across the business to maintain alignment and spread the word.

North and Bellingham didn’t want to be the only two people who were promoting, so they formed an L&D committee comprised of leaders across all of their business lines.

“We found our champions in each business line to promote this cause and really spread the word,” North said.

Yes, the group promotes to their collective business units, but there’s a secondary benefit as well. It helps North and Bellingham keep their fingers on the heartbeat of the company.

The committee meets once a month. In those meetings, the group discusses the various L&D needs they collectively have – maybe a new system is being put into place in sales, for example, and people need to train up on it – so North and Bellingham can adequately prepare learning solutions for them.

“It also really helps us know the landscape of what’s going on in the business,” North said. “So, if there’s a specific project going on in one department of the business, we can be aware of that and support it.”

Most companies have product marketing teams that are committed to getting the voice of the customer. That’s basically what North and Bellingham replicated with their L&D committee.

  • They ran clever marketing campaigns, like “Back to School with”

When first launched to HilltopSecurities employees, North and Bellingham advertised it via a campaign called “Back to School with” It was the end of August, so obviously aligned with actual back-to-school time.

For it, they challenged their employees to watch a playlist of courses that related to key skills, like Managing Your Time, Communication Foundations and Personal Effectiveness Tips. Winners could receive prizes, such as a free vacation day or a gift card.

To promote the campaign, they used email, signs and even left apples in each breakroom with branding on it.

They did another campaign for Christmas – “12 Days of Learning.”

And, this March, they rolled out a new marketing campaign called Passport to Learning. For Passport to Learning, if employees complete certain online learning challenges each month, they win travel-related prizes like new luggage or even a stay at the Ritz Carlton.

Why these campaigns? Yes, North and Bellingham want people to take these challenges embedded in them. But, more than that, they use these campaigns to continually keep top-of-mind.

“I’d love for our associates to complete the challenges, of course, but that wasn’t what was most important to me,” North said. “I really just wanted to get them to start using the tool, because that would encourage them to explore the extensive course library which has something for every learner.”

  • They held lunch-and-learns, featuring the C-Suite.

HilltopSecurities employees give CEO Dave Geschke a standing ovation at the company’s first lunch-and-learn.

North and Bellingham wanted to get the C-Suite more involved with They also wanted another creative way to market the program and turn online learning into a social experience.

So, they held a series of lunch-and-learns, all led by members of the C-Suite. Employees would attend the lunch where a member of the HilltopSecurities executive team would play their favorite course for them and then lead a discussion about it afterwards.

This accomplished both goals. Yes, it got more people exposed to and excited about online learning, but it also got the C-Suite more invested in the product as well.

“It brought (our C-Suite) into the system,” North said. “And the minute they got in and watched a training, they seemed to really get excited about it.”

The results

HilltopSecurities’ usage of from LinkedIn Learning has been strong since it launched, thanks to the marketing tactics mentioned. More importantly, it helped the HR team meet HilltopSecurities’ associates desire to learn new skills, leading to a happier and more productive workforce.

A perfect embodiment of that is HilltopSecurities Senior Service Desk Representative Shonda Warren. At her job on the service desk, Warren was seeing a lot of tickets from clients regarding Microsoft Outlook, which the tech team couldn’t keep up with.

“I wanted to go above and beyond, provide outstanding service to my clients and push myself to achieve more,” Warren said.

So, she took the initiative to master Outlook via, which empowered her to close out many of the tickets herself. This ultimately made the company more efficient and made Warren a stronger professional.

“Thanks to the firm and, I was able to achieve two of my ongoing goals: going above and beyond and building my qualifications to be a more valuable asset to the firm,” Warren said.

Talk about a win-win.