Archivo del September, 2013

Universities lost in marketing

Are you embarrassed about using marketing to achieve your objectives? We see this embarrassment in many students in our Executive Education programmes for the non-profit, healthcare and professional-services sectors. They know marketing is useful but prefer not to be seen doing it. The same thing happens with university education: do we have students, participants, users, consumers or clients?

I want to share three examples that illustrate this anxiety: 1) One business school bragged in its advertisements that it had “participants”, not students. 2) After the University of Málaga, a public school, explored a private sponsorship agreement to cover the needs of students with limited resources, it was accused of considering an outrageous, Francoist proposition. 3) The director of a leading university who urged his organisation to adopt a stronger market orientation was described as pushing “aggressive sales”. All three examples reflect the debate over how marketing should be applied to university education: value, stakeholders, market or sales orientation.

Researchers (Redding, Zell)have analysed the key parameters: Who is the decision-maker in the education process (public sector, parents, companies, users or faculty members)? What is the role of students in the service, in the evaluation process and in satisfaction surveys? How are educational and, later, career goals achieved?

We want to shed some light on this debate by making a couple of points. Students are clients (individuals for whom professional services are rendered), not customers (a clearly distinct concept). Furthermore, university education is a service with a high degree of professionalism, a strict code of ethics and self-regulation, wherein the rights and obligations of both parties are clearly established in a relationship based on trust, interdependence, active client participation and a high degree of mutual respect. The only valid alternative to this view is that university education is a product or a cash cow.

Shapiro memorably defined the complexity of marketing thusly: “What the hell is market-oriented?” Now we know that this process is poorly understood not just by society, but also by some of the business schools that teach it.

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“Betcha Can’t Read Just One”

Jeff Bezos, who recently purchased The Washington Post, is on a quest for a new golden era based on the philosophy that guided him in building Amazon.com: “Put the customer first. Invent. Be patient.” Mr. Bezos concludes: “If you replace ‘customer’ with ‘reader,’ that approach, that point of view, can be successful at the Post, too.” What do customers  and readers value? What kinds of value? How can we innovate to increase our value?

Let us interweave the Post’s marketing challenge with professor Jean-Jacques Lambin’s reflection about the challenges facing marketing: Should the marketing process satisfy short-term or long-term needs? Should it be more concerned about a person’s well-being than the person herself? And should it foster social or individual value?

Let’s expand this reflection using a global example: the snack-food industry, as described by Michael Moss. In his latest book, Moss describes how the food industry uses innovation to maximise the addictive effect of snack foods: salt and fat go straight to the brain, glucose levels in the blood shoot up, and crunchy textures leave us always wanting more. The food industry executive Indra Nooyi has admitted as much: reducing fat content and making snack foods healthier would be better for consumers’ health, but it would also make the products less addictive, cause immediate sales to drop, and lead to a loss of value for shareholders. The historic result: “Betcha Can’t Eat Just One.”

I love the story about Jeffrey Dunn, former chief operating officer at Coca-Cola. Dunn was fired after suggesting that consumers in Brazil’s favelas needed many things but that sodas were not one of them, and for trying to eliminate vending machines from public schools. In his book, he shares the marketing pitch he used some years later to sell baby carrots: consumers who are regular snackers make up a segment of 146 million people, let’s position baby carrots as simple as “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food”.

Why not transfer the snacking slogan to a newspaper, even when it represents not just a business but a “public trust”?

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