Last week, one of the most venerable and established newspapers in the country, the 136-year-old Washington Post, created headlines of its own when it announced that it was being sold after 80 years of Graham family control to the ultimate business disrupter, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
It quickly became a case study on new business models for old media. In fact, Harvard Business School (HBS) asked Facebook readers to predict the impact of new ownership:
Whether or not Bezos can turn around a 44% decrease in operating revenue over the past 6 years is subject to debate in business school classrooms. Meanwhile, the acquisition is a case study of its own for business school marketers. Here are five takeaways:
1) Advertise Wisely
How could a legendary newspaper with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting arrive at this precarious financial position? The graph below says it all. Check out the changing advertising landscape in our digital age:
How is your business school marketing plan adapting to changing reader preferences? Consider your print and digital ad placement and make sure you are going in the right direction. How much are you allocating to Facebook ads? LinkedIn ads? Google AdWords? Which is most effective?
One of the benefits of digital ad placement is the ability to target your audience with greater precision - and it's getting better all the time. According to Ryan Holmes, HootSuite CEO:
"...a new breed of native ads - those "Sponsored Posts" and "Promoted Tweets" that look a lot like ordinary updates from friends are popping up in news streams more and more. While they may seem gimmicky, native ads have shown to be up to 15 times as effective as traditional banner advertising."
2) Be a Disrupter
It has been argued that newspapers, like The Washington Post, have been slow to transform to modern needs. Expect Bezos to apply the same imagination and creativity to the newspaper business as he did first to book publishing and then to the broader world of retail.
How much of your business school marketing plan is based on old ways of doing things?
Disrupt the status quo. As one Forbes blogger wrote:
"By not doing what everyone else did, breaking all the rules of traditional retail, Mr. Bezos built Amazon.com into a $61B general merchandise retailer in 20 years."
What can you do to experiment with your business school marketing strategy this year? It could be as simple as adding virtual information sessions to the mix. Or, try online recruitment fairs. Consider partnering with organizations such as Ivey Exec or Ruby Red, strategic partner to Percept Research, for lead generation.
Change things up. Experiment. What new ways can you reach out to MBA prospects and influence a call-to-action? Be imaginative.
3) Innovate Around Experiences
A former managing editor of The Washington Post told Knowledge@Wharton:
"The only way for newspapers to be competitive and build engagement and loyalty is to take great journalism and create an amazing experience around it."
How is your business school taking a great curriculum and creating an amazing experience around it? One of the drawbacks of business school for candidates (especially part-time and EMBA) is the perception that it will decrease their quality of life with the extra workload. Don't forget to show the "fun" parts of your MBA program as well as the serious side. Compile a video of amazing experiences (international field study, team-building exercises, extracurricular activities, even students enjoying a glass of wine together apres-class) that's entertaining and engaging. Add it to your website. Embed it in a lead nurturing campaign. Post on social media. Another thought. Gather your faculty and dean for a flash mob video to humanize your business school. Here's a fun example created for a retiring middle school principal.
4) Create Immediacy
Another reason for the decline in revenues at The Washington Post?
According to HootSuite CEO, Ryan Holmes:
"Big newspapers, in particular, have proven startlingly inept at delivering timely, relevant news to the people they serve. So, naturally, readers have gone elsewhere, to myriad online sources that better cater to their interests."
But the Bezos acquisition brings hope. Holmes adds:
"With a digital veteran at the helm of the Post - one who has made a $25 billion foturne by getting millions of customers the stuff they want, when they want it - the paper has a golden opportunity to serve as a new model for the traditional press."
Are you giving MBA candidates what they want, when they need it? How can you expedite the admissions process, for example? The University of Iowa Tippie MBA knows how -- they offer candidates a 24-hour decision on their application. How can your business school offer a competitive advantage in the marketplace through immediacy?
5) Customize the User Experience
Bezos has transformed the book-selling industry through customization and personalization -including recommendations on Amazon based on browsing history. Imagine what he can do for The Washington Post.
As HootSuite's CEO opined:
"..a robust digital edition - whether viewed online, on a tablet or on an e-reader - can be endlessly and automatically customized to the needs and interest of individual users. It can evolve and improve over time to better accommodate each reader's taste."
As your business school launches a marketing strategy for the next recruitment season, think of how you can better accomodate individual preferences. Prospective students are not all the same. They may share the same goal - the MBA degree - but their backgrounds and motivations are different.
A one-size-fits-all marketing approach no longer works in today's world of personalization. Instead, think of organizing your website (and other marketing collateral) into distinct buyer personas such as:
Create content from the “outside” in rather than the “inside” out. More broadly, all of your marketing messages should be targeted toward buyer personas and mapped according to their stage in the decision-making process.
What other ideas do you have to Amazon-ize your business school marketing?