Marketing Your Certification
One of the most crucial factors behind the success of a credentialing program is making sure people know about it. To successfully promote your certification offerings, you have to take on the mindset of a marketing executive. Ask yourself: What are the most appealing aspects of the program? Who is my target audience, and what are their interests, values and concerns? How do I convey program benefits to the people who need to know about them? Here are a few suggestions from some of the top program managers as to how you market your credentials:
Emphasize the Integrity of Your Product
Make sure potential customers know what your program is worth, particularly as indicated by the certification’s reputation in its particular field. Cisco Systems Senior Manager of Certifications Don Field, whose company has issued 600,000 certifications in slightly more than 10 years, posits that when a certification is reputed for substantiating holders’ skills and knowledge, those who have been through the program will have an edge in terms of respect from their fellow colleagues and opportunities for advancement.
“The integrity of the program is absolutely critical from our perspective,” Field said. “People work really hard to get a Cisco certification. Our certification exams require people even in the beginning level to demonstrate some degree of hands-on skill to earn that first-level certification. As people move up through the program, much more is expected of them. We don’t make it easy. Our goal is to not make it easy or hard, but simply to make sure we can separate those who have the requisite knowledge, skills and understanding from those who might still have a way to go. If people were able to pass our exams without having the right skills or understanding, it would undermine the value of the program for those who worked hard to earn those certifications.”
Al Valvano, lead product manager for Microsoft Learning, which has tallied up 1.7 million Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) since the company launched its certification program in 1992, echoed Field’s sentiments. “MCPs generally see a positive impact on their salary, job prospects and career growth,” he said. “Today, the program attracts over 100,000 new entrants every year, and MCPs already in the program continue to update their credentials with the latest changes in technology. Microsoft continues to certify more individuals than any other IT certification sponsor.”
Promote Your Program to Employers
Demonstrate the value of the program to organizations within that particular field, and customers will flock to it. If employers know the credentials you offer are sound, they might include them as prerequisites in job listings. This not only establishes the quality of the certification, but also serves as free advertising for your program.
“We do some direct marketing to the actual employers,” said Kris Rightmire, executive administrator for the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics (BCPE). “One of the things we found that helps in marketing ourselves is not only going to the people who we want to become certified, but also to the people who might employ people who are certified.”
BCPE, which offers programs that ensure professionals can design a safe, usable and adaptable work environment, has certification holders working for Boeing, Liberty Mutual, 3M, General Motors, Ford, IBM, Microsoft and Lockheed Martin. Some of these companies require candidates for ergonomics vocation openings within the organization to have BCPE credentials. These job listings, in turn, are frequently publicized in BCPE’s newsletter, “The Professional Ergonomist.”
“Microsoft promotes its certification credentials to both individuals and organizations,” Valvano said. “For organizations, our program communicates the value proposition of certification to hiring managers and informs them about the types of certifications and new improvements in the program, supported with concrete evidence of value that demonstrate the impact that certified professionals have on efficiency, cost and deployment in the IT infrastructure.”
Use Events to Publicize Your Program
Provide information on certifications, or even program offerings, at events attended exclusively by professionals in the field, such as vendor exhibits or topical conferences. Every person present will be a potential customer, and many will welcome having credentialing opportunities available in such a constructive environment.
“The events that Cisco participates in have proven to be a good venue to get the word out about our certifications,” Field said. “In fact, at our Networkers events, we work with one of our two test delivery partners to provide a testing site right on-site. As you would imagine, it’s a popular option for those who are coming to those events. It’s quite convenient if they’re going to be there anyway.”
Many companies, such as IBM, invite subject-matter experts to workshops to brainstorm on essential tasks in a given job role and develop exam content around their conclusions. “This is the process we use to develop all of our certification exams,” said Susan Farago, manager of the professional certification program around IBM’s Tivoli software. “It’s tried and true. A lot of companies that have technical certification go through this rather robust process, where they have some kind of job-task analysis, which leads them to item writing and some type of technical review process and scoring process. It’s certainly not unique to IBM, although IBM might add its own flavor to it.
“All of the workshops are based on the idea that subject-matter experts come together to collaborate on whatever the scope of the workshop happens to be,” she explained. “The subject-matter experts that participate in these workshops have to have experience in the given product. These aren’t training classes—come with no knowledge and leave with knowledge of the product. They’re very active workshops. We expect a lot of participation, and people should come prepared to participate, not just prepared to absorb.”
Offer Credentialing Benefits
To sweeten the deal, supply your certification holders with fringe benefits. These can include a wide range of products and services, from small symbolic tokens of their certification experience to exclusive forums for networking with their credentialed colleagues.
“We message the value of being a member of an active community of technical peers, with access to an exclusive merit system that recognizes MCPs with tangible benefits,” Valvano said. “Benefits include tools to help MCPs differentiate themselves in the market, such as a certificate, lapel pin, use of logos and an official Web site where employers and colleagues can verify their credentials. Certified professionals obtain discounts in various items from Microsoft and affiliate companies, and gain access to an exclusive member-only Web site.”
Field echoed those sentiments, and said his company had an extensive online community, with features such as forums, webcast seminars and educational simulations and games. “We think the benefits we offer are also a factor in making our program successful,” he said.