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Why not position on customer goals?

Q: We’re a group of professors formed by our dean as a task force to craft the positioning for our school’s BSBA (Bachelor of Science in Business Administration) program.

We agree with your column when it said that the traditional two-step positioning strategy often doesn’t work. These two steps consist of finding out first the customers’ (in our case, students’ and parents’) priority values, and then getting those students and parents to rate our BSBA against other schools’ BSBA program.

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This positioning strategy never worked for us.

Our friend from another school attended last week your School Marketing Success seminar at De La Salle University. She said you told the audience that you had the same experience with the traditional positioning model in helping schools with their positioning search. But we understand you proposed another more helpful “positioning model” based on students’ and parents’ goals.

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When she showed us the page in your seminar manual about this alternative positioning model, her explanation wasn’t that clear. Will you please help us? Please explain even just briefly how to craft our BSBA program to be more effectively positioned according to students’ and parents’ goals.

A: That request for a brief explanation can be better served by example.  We have two contrasting case examples. The first is a success case; the second, a “failure” case. We put the word failure in quote and you’ll see why when we take up that case example.

Success case: AMA Computer School

The first example is the case of AMA Computer School. At the start, AMA decided to position on being “first” on such things like “first to offer courses in Computer Science and Computer Engineering,” “first school in the Philippines to have received ISO 9001 Certification,” and other firsts.

Feedback from its students and their parents did not show that these were the primary reasons for their choice of school. AMA realized that in its campaign that was focused on communicating their “firsts,” they ended up talking too much about themselves, not about what the students and parents wanted.

So AMA then asked students their “goals” while studying in AMA, and parents for their reasons for sending their sons or daughters to study in AMA. The most prevalent answer was about being prepared to get a job abroad.

King Aguiluz, AMA founder and CEO, asked the right and practical question: “If our positioning is to promise that their AMA degree will get them that job abroad, how do we set up to deliver on that promise, that positioning?” Taking advantage of his political capital and connections, he persuaded the Philippine president then to appoint him as ambassador to the Middle East. Right after, he proudly announced to his AMA students and their parents that he could then serve their goal to get a job abroad. That very year saw AMA’s enrollment hitting a hefty double digit growth.

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“Failure” Case: Asian Institute of Management

Our second example is the case of Asian Institute of Management (AIM) during the late ’80s and ’90s. AIM had then disengaged itself from its affiliation with the Harvard Business School and its positioning as “the Harvard of Asia.” Instead, it promoted its concept of the “Asian Manager.”

When the ’90s came, the Asian Manager positioning had a difficult time taking off. AIM decided to commission a survey of its MBM (Master in Business Management) graduates of more than three years.

The survey asked the sampled graduates to write a paragraph recalling how they saw themselves after their MBM. Here are some of the more cogent responses.

“I was looking forward to getting an expat job in the region with a very good expat pay.”

“My MBM did not prepare me to be a topnotch finance manager in Bank of Montreal in Korea.”

“We thought MBM would secure for us at least a VP position in an Indonesian conglomerate.”

“I paid a US dollar tuition for my MBM, but I didn’t get a US dollar paying job after graduating.”

From the quantitative data and from the preceding qualitative responses, the primary student goal was obvious, and so was the implied positioning: “Get your MBA from here if you’re after an expat executive position.”  But AIM was intent on staying with its Asian Manager positioning.

This was notwithstanding the strong note of caution from its marketing faculty that an Asian Manager positioning wouldn’t fit an educational institution that has “already arrived in the eyes of Asia and the world.” This was a legitimate claim of the Japanese graduate business schools for the “Japanese Manager” because there was already a global recognition for Japan Inc. There was none for Philippines Inc.

The consequence was a continuing downward rating of AIM as an MBA school.  But after more than two decades, it finally realized and accepted its strategic error and decided to do something about it. It searched for a new president who has a record and reputation of turning around a business school in Asia. It found what it was searching for in the person of its current new president, Dr. Steve DeKrey.

Dr. DeKrey was responsible for turning around the relatively unknown school of business of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology to become, according to the Financial Times the No. 1 business school in Asia. Now, he has effectively repositioned AIM as providing expat jobs to its graduates when he said in the AIM website that it was producing “graduates who have made their way to the top of the world’s leading companies and organizations.”

At the same time, Dr. DeKrey worked to correct AIM’s strategic error of the late ’80s in disconnecting with HBS and is now bringing back the HBS connection.

Via the above two case examples is our answer to your question on how to position your BSBA program according to students’ and parents’ goals.

Keep your questions coming. Send them to us at MarketingRx@pldtDSL.net or drnedmarketingrx@gmail.com.

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TAGS: AMA, Asian Institute of Management, business management programs, case studies, Marketing, positioning, schools
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