The best place for undergraduates

In the United States, leadership in higher education was derived from successful research and discovery which led to increased funding and notoriety. As more money was raised, faculty salaries grew in concert with the college’s endowment. Students with high aspirations applied to these storied institutions confident a great college experience will translate into a better life and more financial rewards. Most research indicates that with the exception of a handful of top ranked business schools, it is difficult to obtain a great education, know your professors well and graduate in four years from most undergraduate business schools. These top schools save the best faculty for MBA and PhD students leaving the undergraduate teaching and grading to graduate assistants. The required classes are crowded or unavailable for all but the upperclassman with the most credits. This means the majority of graduates spent five or more years accumulating the classess they need to graduate. Some programs lure students in with the promise of studying international business or accounting then force 30% of the majors out before their junior year.

Motivated high school graduates  interested in a good education have a choice.

When there is choice, a key marketing principle is brand differentiation and a clear demonstration of superior value. Various management schemes and business tools help hundreds of universities; research oriented, teaching-focused and career-oriented institutions compete on a national basis via niche strategies. Calibrating the relative student success of an undergraduate business program is difficult if not impossible but some standardized metrics are gaining more attention from prospects and alumni. One such metric is percentage employed in the industry of their choice withing six months of graduation. Monmouth College boasts one of the highest percentages in the nation 96% which demonstrates value and the market demand for its graduates.

Colleges should do more than simply prepare graduates for gainful employment. They are challenged to demonstrate how they can improve the quality of their graduates’ lives and give more meaning to their existence. Most graduates will be called on as leaders in their community. Ethical questions will test our moral integrity. Institutions that ignore these “soft” skills face marginalization or extinction since business strategy and tactics change dramatically over time.

Liberal Arts colleges, a uniquely American institution, provide an ideal testing ground for incorporating a more holistic curriculum. Private institutions such as Monmouth College are depended on tuition revenues and alumni donations to financially survive. This is analogous to natural business forces in a competitive marketplace. If you do not meet a need or fill a market gap, your college will struggle to increase its volume of customers and lack the financial strength to invest in quality. Monmouth recently announced a new Center for Science and Business–an investment of $39 million dollars. The business program with over 300 majors is the largest major on campus. The business faculty offer the largest variety of electives of any private school its size.

Excellence in an undergraduate business program is subjective. It depends on the criteria and the judges. However you define excellence, it must be worthy of a price. Since Monmouth is not the least expensive option is is imparative that you make a personal determination what criteria are important to you. Do you value taking classes from faculty who have management experience or passion for teaching the best theory? Do you want to work with faculty and alumni mentors who will help you find internship opportunities and summer employment? Who will be your references and mentors as you search for your first full-time position?

Educational value may be relative, but we all must make judgements. Monmouth combines a great breadth of educational opportunities (as demonstrated by its tradition as one of the Midwest’s finest liberal arts colleges) with the program that will prepare you for success in your business career or in graduate studies. Recently our graduates have been accepted at Northwestern University, University of Chicago, and University of Michigan to name a few. Your opinion is highly dependent on the perceived value of the program or institution. Private undergraduate institutions offering study in business can be some of America’s most expensive colleges; demanding $35,000- $50,000 annually in tuition, room, and board  (much less for the average business major at Monmouth). How well these schools monetize their assets, market their success and drive awareness will determine your perception. The high aspirations of motivated high school graduates that apply to these highly-ranked institutions make a huge difference too. Their success is a self-fullfilling prophecy. Monmouth students are known for hard work, integrity, and strong moral compasses. Our graduates go forward confident that their college experience will translate into a richer life with more financial rewards. The payback is usually before the fifth year reunion. Maybe a celebrated business school is not the best place to study business after all.

Picking up the Pieces

When your business takes a turn for the worse or you lose a key customer, what do you do? As an entrepreneur I have found it difficult to pick myself off the ground. In my discussions with my entrepreneurial comrades I been given some good advice. “You learn more from mistakes and failures than success” or “the ability to rise from the ashes of defeat are the qualities that will ultimately make you successful as an entrepreneur”.

I worked briefly for a company called PocketCard in Chicago. Because I had considerable experience in financial services marketing, I was recruited for the CMO position. I had been successful in a three year stint with start-up Netcentives and PocketCard wanted to own the market American Express calls “PASS” that is focused on a card for teen spenders funded primarily from their parents. Despite some solid marketing efforts we were not able to get enough traction to attract the 5,000 + accounts needed to get to the next round of funding. We made some mistakes including advertising to spenders when the parents were key to acquiring the account. I learned a lot about the challenges to account acquisition that helped me in my work for Visa and PayPal. I learned from my failure at PocketCard what I could do to manage the advertising agency and my marketing personnel during difficult times.

It wasn’t easy but learning something worthwhile and new rarely is. But the day after PocketCard failed I was still able to get up, go for a work-out, and see the sun rise. True, I had lost a year of my career to a failed company. I lost  $22,000 in stock that I purchased and without another career alternative, I had no immediate job prospects or income to rely on. I had invested my heart and soul into PocketCard and come up empty. I can’t say I have no regrets about that experience. I wish I never stepped into the doors of that company or invested a dime with them. But I can’t deny I learned some valuable lessons that I use today. I learned that every entrepreneur must be prepared at any time to pick up the pieces of a lost venture or dream and pick yourself up. Your only benefit might be the experience or skills you gained. You will be fortunate if you can apply those lessons the next go around.

For those of you facing these issues right now, I say pick up the pieces and move on. Your best times are ahead of you

Everybody wants Loyalty-But how do you get it?

Loyalty is the ultimate goal of marketers and it should be on the minds of anyone managing brand or new venture. It is often said that 80% of your company’s profits will likely come from the top 20% of your customer base. Another name for the top of that 20% is loyalists. Loyalists talk up their brand, actively engage in promotions or brand activities and rarely switch or  move even if discounts or incentives are offered. They give back in the form of spending more of their share of wallet and through referrals. In higher education, loyalists are the alums that go to homecoming and give back year after year. They go to the reunions and keep up with their former classmates even when it is years after they graduate.

 Moving prospects from unaware to awareness is an advertising and social media challenge. In marketing Monmouth College, direct mail to prospects is the traditional route for generating awareness among graduating high school seniors, but today most research on college is done online by the prospects themselves.

Once the prospect is aware of your brand, you should consider the best strategies and tactics for getting into the consideration frame. The consideration frame is the “short list” of schools the prospect wants to consider. Another way to describe consideration frame are the the finalists in your wish list.

The next step is generating trial. Trial could be a visit to the college web site to see a virtual tour. At this point you will begin to reap the benfits of your loyalty intiatives. Before you achieve loyalty you need to establish a pattern of brand perference. Many loyalty programs are built on the premise that this phase is the most important link to loyalty.

Repeat might mean coming up with retention staregies if you are an institution of higher learning. The objective is loyalty. Using the example of marketing Monmouth College, loyalty is a current student or alum recommending Monmouth to someone else.

Helping brands plan promotions and incentives for each step in the continuum, let alone planning how to handle challenges is challenging. Each company must distinguish its marketing programs or its methods to get attention. In higher education a common practice is to copy or patterns oneself after an aspirational peer.  

Another proven marketing principle is that a high perceived value translates into brand preference and goodwill in higher education. The brand value equation provides a meaningful model that helps us understand how to build that goodwill. Ultimately the marketing plan, resources available, execution and learning from results determine the success of your marketing program. Marketing criteria and milestones established in a business plan will become your recipe for brand momentum and success. 

 Prior to beginning any marketing plan it is recommended that the institution conduct study and research on the key stakeholders. The problem most institutions face is that marketing is inherently repugnant because it smacks of manipulation. Plus the task of market planning requires colleges to do something that is not natural. Traditional universities were not designed to brand distinctively or address metrics of quality as benefits. Promoting a quality education or faculty is like telling prospects you have good customer service—everyone says the same thing. Large universities have not successfully educated students around their individual and distinct needs, yet their faculty are often quite accomplished. They must be effcient and teach students in very large groups to compensate for their high salaries. This is especially true in the first few years of a student’s education in business. It happens often in general education too. If your customer’s goal is to land their desired job you need to convince prospects to take a closer look at your school, look around its offerings via the website, and convice them to visit campus. If they live far from the college, your job will be tougher. No matter what their incoming academic achievement, you need to convince them that they will be a better job prospect, smarter, and more able to handle leadership opportunities when they graduate or you will fail.

Asking traditional universities to market something distinctive and memorable is challenging. Becoming a “great college” is a process. Focusing on student success represents a seismic shift in how society, broadly speaking, has judged high quality—in higher education. Its a move away from the trational focus on research and knowledge creation. A focus on teaching and smaller classes moves the brand benfits toward a focus on learning and knowledge proliferation (Christensen, 2011).

But at the end of the day, the success of your new company is still depended on getting new customers. But to be truly successful you will need to move new customers down the continuum towards that path to loyalty.