Building the brand and market value of a new certification program

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What does it take to successfully build up the value of a new certification program?An industry colleague recently reached out for my thoughts on acceptable metrics for a new IT certification program, particularly for a program that was launched just over a year ago. As a bonus question, I was asked what two things I would do if my goal was to increase the program’s value — assuming I had budget for marketing purposes.

I think that coming up with metrics for a new program will differ depending on the company. That is, the metrics could take into account several factors such as company brand, or standing in the marketplace. For example, how many people might get certified simply because they value a particular company’s certification and not because of any specific employer or client requirement?

Other considerations might include whether certification is auto-attached with the sale of training, or the total number of customers versus the percentage of those customers who you would expect to get certified. That is to say, some products might have less demand, and so a program owner might only forecast that 20 percent of the customer base will get certified. A program owner can also create a measurement based on total education revenue — if, say, the annual education margin is 60 percent, would you then expect the certification margin to also be 60 percent?

Just like forecasting for customers, the metrics should also take into account the partner and employee volumes. For example, are all partners required to get certified in order to be authorized to sell and support products and services? Are all technical support engineers and/or other roles within the company required to get certified? If so, then what is the prescribed timeframe?

What does it take to successfully build up the value of a new certification program?The metrics for a new program should also take into account the level of marketing efforts. If a program owner has a lot of marketing funding and a consistent go-to-market plan for 12 months, then perhaps they can forecast staggered growth quarter-over-quarter (e.g., Q1 = 10 percent, Q2 = 15 percent, Q3 = 20 percent, Q4 = 30 percent).

Note that without knowing the total volume of all audience types (customers, partners, employees, etc.) that a certification program would expect to get certified, and given a program in its early stages, it might be more effective to forecast a percentage of growth.

Metrics could also be forecast based on exam release dates and product demand. As I mentioned in an example above, some products would naturally have more or less demand in the marketplace than other products. You might also expect increased metrics if tied to a product marketing launch plan or a special certification promotion.

Recalling that my industry colleague’s program launched just over a year ago, I would recommend evaluating the past year’s train-to-test ratio. To calculate that ratio — and determine a baseline percent of individuals expected to get certified — I recommend the following formula:

Evaluate the total number of people who participated in training that would prepare a user to become certified against the total number of people who actually went on to attempt an exam. A program owner could use that ratio as a benchmark, combined with the monthly benchmark of total exam attempts during that same time period.

Now let’s discuss the two things I would do to increase a program’s value if I had budget for marketing. This is a loaded question because a program owner would have to first determine what their customers value in certification. Does it help certified individuals identify and resolve issues quickly? Does it optimize use of products? Is it beneficial to career advancement, or promoting customer recognition? Does it help to identify qualified experts?

What does it take to successfully build up the value of a new certification program?Regardless, I would probably spend that money on doing a certification promotion targeting existing customers. For example, host a certification preparation webinar with a product subject matter expert and offer a limited number of free exam vouchers that must be redeemed within a reasonable amount of time.

Secondly, I would promote a contest with a cash award to develop an industry-recognized certification whitepaper that aligns to a particular certification topic (e.g., a solution-based scenario). Once a successful whitepaper is selected, I would publish it on social media, publish it on the company website, and attach it in product marketing materials.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a fun fact: I’ve had $10,000 in total certification marketing over the past 10 years! So you don’t necessarily need a lot of marketing funding in order to be creative and promote the value of a certification program.

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Beverly van de Velde

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beverly van de Velde is a sailor, snow skier, and Head of IT Certification at Symantec, specializing for 14-plus years in high stakes certification testing program management. She also serves on the board for the Performance Testing Council (PTC) and regularly presents or consults to industry peers through associations, such as the PTC, Computer Education Management Association (CEdMA), Association of Test Publishers (ATP), and Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA).

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