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Certification: Balancing Brand and Standards

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

The value of certification to an individual is an often-surveyed metric. I'm happy when I see someone’s announcement that they’ve become certified. I understand what it takes to reach such an achievement.

I’m equally happy for the company, because each newly-certified candidate becomes their brand ambassador.

Finding the balance between brand and standards, I think, is unique to certification programs. If a program leans too much on marketing and focuses less on building content to assessment standards, adoption may be strong in the beginning but cracks in the skills and expertise portion may show up in time. If the program leans too much on the standards and less on marketing, exams may be psychometrically perfect but no one knows about them or they reach only a small volume of candidates.

How do I envision this interplay between brand and standards?

  • On standards, the certification program aligns its processes to assessment industry guidelines and uses it consistently. Using standards drives good design and outcomes. The defensibility of certification exams benefits from properly documenting the steps and results of each phase of development, and having exam data analyzed to determine performance and reliability. A reliable exam, determined using statistical analysis, effectively differentiates between individuals who meet the skills defined for a role and those who may need more knowledge or experience. With reliable exams, a company has confidence that certified individuals meet their baseline to effectively perform expected tasks.

  • On branding, the certification program proactively seeks and integrates plans to market to potential and intended audiences. The most popular IT certification in 2022 is an entry-level exam for cloud professionals and its training course reaches thousands of candidates through Coursera. Another popular IT certification crafted a story around its exams and made it easy for interested candidates to take the first step to get certified and move to the next levels.

As an exam developer in the information technology industry, almost all certification programs I worked in originated from a desire to validate the skills of a segment of people who delivered services. The focus was to build exam questions and get it out the door so intended audiences can take the test. Marketing came after development, with newsletter announcements, badges and certificates, awards during conferences, and running special promotions.

When I got invited to sit in program design meetings where stakeholders discussed personas, roles, levels of expertise, and what exams to build for each, I don't remember marketing stakeholders present. Nor do I remember discussions on how to identify, target, and nurture different audiences who might be interested in becoming certified during those meetings.

I see the benefit of including marketing stakeholders during the design of the certification program even if the initial goal is to launch only one exam. And on the other side, I wish marketing understood the rigor and formality required to build and deliver reliable and defensible exams in order to recommend the best market and outreach plans for the program.

Certification presents an opportunity to increase brand awareness through expertise. That’s a plus for our customers.



About the blogger:

Josephine is a seasoned certification professional with over 15 years of experience in professional I.T. certification programs. Educated as an engineer and trained in instructional design, she has held roles as exam developer, course developer, and certification program manager in various technology organizations. Josephine lives and works in Northern California.

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