They are instead marketed as extensions to existing graduate courses of study.
Defining an e-Marketing Plan for MGSM
From the competitive analysis, MGSM has significant competition regionally and nationally in the area of certificates. There are several lessons learned from this competitive analysis however which can make MGSM's Certificate program more competitive. First, MGSM needs to realize that there is a continuum of pragmatism vs. prestige that certificate programs align to, as is seen in the competitive analysis completed. The use of accreditation is the foundational element of all successful educational marketing programs (Cornuel, 2007) and MGSM needs to use this as the foundation of their e-marketing planning efforts. Accreditation is a measure of credibility in academic markets (Cornuel, 2007). MGSM needs to define accreditation levels for each of its certificate programs to attain the highest level of credibility possible. Second, MGSM needs to develop a specific, defensible niche of thought leadership and become the trusted advisor in this area (Radin, Calkins, Predmore, 2007). Third, MGSM needs to define a more flexible class structure to attract more students. The use of in-class, online and hybrid course structures will also differentiate MGSM from the standpoint of being able to align certificate programs to the individual use of students. This is a teaching technique called scaffolding (Najjar, 2008) that MGSM could also use to show their commitment to students' long-term learning. Fourth, MGSM needs to recruit thought leaders from the community and follow the model of UCI Extension in terms of pragmatism. Following the four recommendations of communicating accreditation for each certificate program, developing thought leadership in a specific niche, adopting in-class, online and hybrid class formats and having local thought leaders whose pragmatism is very valuable in the classroom, MGSM can then launch an exceptionally effective e-marketing plan.
Core Components of the MGSM e-Marketing Plan Strategy
Adopting the design principles and precepts of Web 2.0 technologies (O'Reilly, 2006) into an e-Marketing plan will provide MGSM with the ability to create greater levels of interactive communication and collaboration with prospective students. The rapid growth of social networking applications and their effects of creating trusted relationships and enhancing the credibility of brands (Bernoff, Li, 2008) is a dynamic MGSM needs to fully take advantage of in their e-marketing plans if they are to be successful.
The overarching goal of the e-marketing plan then is to create as many successful collaborative and supportive relationships to students so that MGSM attains the role of trusted advisor for business education (Radin, Calkins, Predmore, 2007). The concept of having conversations with customers is one Bernoff & Li (2008) speak often of in their research as being very effective as a marketing strategy. MGSM's e-marketing plan needs to concentrate on how to build conversations with customers to create testimonials that can be used online and in print, and also to understand how the program's certificates and programs can be more aligned to their needs. By concentrating on creating a conversation with customers, organizations have been successful in creating word-of-mouth and recommendations by customers (Cheung, Lee, Rabjohn, 2008).
Blogs and Voice of the Student Programs
MGSM today has a blog yet it is not well managed from the standpoint of comments not being replied to for in some cases weeks. It also does not have the depth of content that other competing universities have. Blogs can serve multiple purposes in an e-marketing strategy, with the first being that of an information portal to prospective students. MGSM could do a significantly better job of using their existing blog to do this. The ancillary benefit of this is that word-of-mouth can be created over time when students see relevant and interesting posts on blogs (Gruen, Talai Osmonbekov, & Andrew J. Czaplewski. (2006). The second major benefit of an active blogging strategy is to create higher organic search results for MGSM certificates in search engines including Bing, Google, Yahoo and others. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is very important as this technique will put MGSM into the first several entries in any search engine results in the certificate areas being offered. Blogs are a must-have to drive word-of-mouth and SEO in search engines as well. Asking students for their feedback on programs can also be exceptionally effective and also serves as a catalyst for word-of-mouth as well.
The use of events throughout the markets that MGSM offers courses in is also critically important to any e-marketing plan as well. These could include free information sessions, seminars on how to get to your career goals and free seminars on marketing and Web 2.0 as it relates to businesses would also serve the purpose of strengthening the MGSM certificates from a branding and credibility standpoint. Event branding will give MGSM to make concrete the abstract concepts and discussions made in marketing programs, and it will also serve to show the pragmatic approach to certificates as well.
Microsites for each Certificate
UCI Extension and USSC excel in this aspect of e-marketing their certificates, and MGSM needs to do the same with regard to creating highly focused and targeted microsites. The use of the microsite as the foundation for e-marketing has replaced the monolithic, all-things-to-all-people website of the past (El-Ansary, 2006). For MGSM the microsite needs to contain lead generation applications and landing pages that give prospective students the opportunity to opt-in and have additional information sent to them, subscribe to newsletters and also have an RSS feed so information can be send via this technology to their readers. MGSM in fact can differentiate itself by offering RSS feeds across all Certificate Programs by offering this approach to updating the status of each program automatically. The use of RSS feeds is considered one of the best approaches to keeping connected with prospects and customers as it costs nothing and is now pervasive due to Google offering an RSS Reader for free (Raab, 2009). A microsite for each certificate with RSS feeds enabled would be a major competitive advantage for MGSM.
Social Networking Multichannel Management
Only Pepperdine had a multichannel approach to managing social networking, with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accessible directly from the Certificate websites. The use of social networking from a multichannel standpoint is highly effective as an e-marketing strategy in that it concentrates the messages that marketers have to the specific channels that prospects prefer to use in learning more about the companies of interest (Zhang, Daugherty, 2009). MGSM therefore needs to create a LinkedIn account and group and keep them updates continually and the same holds true for Facebook, Twitter and their blogs. MGSM needs to continually stay at it however and not waiver from keeping these social networking channels current with content. Too often companies will create a social networking multichannel strategy and not keep them updated enough, as is the case with the MGSM blog today. With the secondary goal of driving greater SEO results in search engines, its is clear that continually updating each social networking channel is critically important to staying higher up in organic search results.
Market Positioning and Segmentation Strategy
For MGSM, the market position needs to concentrate on the pragmatic value of their certificate programs anchored in theoretical concepts. The stressing of accreditation, thought leadership in a specific niche, flexibility in class formats (on-class, online and hybrid) and recruiting real-world leaders from the business community to teach will together create credibility and trust for MGSM certificate programs. The overarching goal of these four strategies is to become the trusted advisor for higher education certifications in the chosen areas of certificate focus. Based on the legacy of MGSM this could easily be international leadership and management for example.
Using the core components of the e-marketing plan including blogs, microsites, event marketing and social networking multichannel management, MGSM can effectively promote the certificate programs and attract prospective students. Unifying all of these strategies there needs to be the unique value proposition of stressing the pragmatic and real- world value of the knowledge gained as a result of participating in the Certificate programs. There also needs to be a reference program in place to capture quotes and success stories so that student success stories can also be part of the marketing messaging communicated throughout each of these channels. The use of customer testimonials is very effective as a marketing strategy for generating word-of-mouth (Zhang, Daugherty, 2009). Potentially calling this voice-of-the-student program would be very effective as credibility and trust would be further strengthened as a result of using this strategy.
The Return on Investment (ROI) of e-marketing plans can be measured through the use of Web analytics, and it is highly recommended MGSM use the free analytics application from Google for accomplishing this. Digitally-based marketing plans are exceptional in their precision of measurement and Return on Investment (ROI) as each aspect is measurable and quantifiable (Fisher, 2009). Taken together, the integrated e-marketing plan for MGSM needs to concentrate…