Marketing 2.0

Three business schools have recently launched initiatives that allow them to connect with students online in ways that are fun and creative, yet still reflect each school’s own personality.
Marketing 2.0

Today’s young, tech-savvy college applicants grew up playing video games and now spend much of their lives online. Any business school that wants to reach them needs to create a strong digital presence, and that means going beyond the typical static Web site. A school needs to offer these prospective students an interactive experience that engages and entertains them, while reinforcing the institution’s brand.

Business schools connect with potential students by taking advantage of this generation’s obsession with technology and social media.

Three business schools have recently launched initiatives that allow them to connect with students online in ways that are fun and creative, yet still reflect each school’s own personality. Playing out over smartphones, Facebook pages, and Web sites, these initiatives have worked both as branding and recruiting strategies. And they look very much like the future of marketing for tomorrow’s business schools.

The Branding Game

Any marketing campaign needs two essential ingredients: a define message and a way to deliver it to the intended audience. At IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, those elements were combined in an interactive online contest called “Go Beyond What You Think Is Possible” that ran from October 2010 to February 2011.

Any marketing campaign needs a defined message an a way to deliver it to the intended audience.

Before launching the branding and recruiting initiative, IMD first needed to define the brand it wanted  promote. So it held lengthy discussions with internal and external stakeholders and ultimately identified thee adjectives that described the school’s core values: open, collaborative, and pioneering.

“Being open means being open to the world and developing an understanding of diversity that spans geographic, cultural, and functional boundaries. It also means expanding clients’ horizons to develop a borderless global view,” says Dominique Turpin, president of IMD. “Being collaborative means listening carefully to our clients, then working with them to develop programs and services together. Being pioneering means pushing back the frontiers of executive education to promote more impactful leadership development.”

Those three values were on full display in the online contest, which was developed jointly by the marketing and communications teams. The contest was firs launched with a video, still available at, and played in three stages. Because anyone in the world could participate, the contest fi the “open” concept; the first stage of the game also opened players’ eyes by posing counter-intuitive multiple-choice questions. In the second stage, the game required collaboration, because players needed to leverage their social networks to accumulate points by asking their friends to vote for them. In the pioneering section, players had to match inventors with their creations. After completing each stage, players could see how many points they earned and compare their performances to those of other players.

Once the contest ended in February, nine winners were randomly selected from among the top-scoring players. The grand prize winner received a seat at IMD’s executive education program, “Orchestrating Winning Performance.” The second place winner earned IMD’s World Competitiveness Package, which included the school’s annual World Competitiveness Yearbook that analyzes and ranks the competitiveness of nations. All winners received iPads. The total value of prizes awarded was $20,000.

The game took time to play, which meant many executives spent hours with the contest, engaging with IMD. Turpin acknowledges that the time commitment might have dissuaded the participation of some. However, by early December, nearly 4,000 people had played “Go Beyond,” which can still be accessed at Overall, school officials wee pleased with how the game reinforced IMD’s values, even among those who didn’t play, as well as with how it offered those who did play the chance to experi-ence IMD’s brand in an interactive way.

Other schools that want to try something similar should, first of all, set clear objectives and metrics, says urpin. Second, they should ensure that the contest is fun—not just for the players, but for the staff members who design and implement it. In fact, IMD launched an internal competition similar to the external one, to help create excitement. “This has been very important in building community and reinforcing the spirit of partnership,” says Turpin.

While IMD did not consider the competition a recruiting strategy per se, it did introduce the school to executives who might be interested in its program offerings. But the true goal of the exercise was simple, says Turpin: “Our hope is that more and more people will be aware of IMD, our values, and our program offerings.”

Back to the Future

Last year, Grenoble Ecole de Management in France wanted to create a marketing campaign that simultaneously boosted student recruitment efforts and emphasized the school’s strengths in technology management and innovation. The communications team at Grenoble—Anne Fuynel, Mary Zaccai, and Nathalie Belviso—worked with international digital agency Vanksen to determine ways to reach their target group of applicants: young adults who are highly accustomed to using new media.

Because the school was focused on recruiting applicants to the Master in Management program, it timed the campaign for the months potential applicants took and received results from their business school entrance exams, which began in May 2010 and closed in July. Says Fuynel, “Depending on their results, applicants can be accepted to several schools. It is up to the schools to seduce and attract the best candidates.”  

The school’s “Time to Anticipate” campaign emphasized Grenoble’s technological strengths by drawing on retro-futuristic imagery from 1950s-era science fiction movies an comic books. The images were used in a wide range of print and poster ads and featured heavily in promotional materials—such as T-shirts and welcome packages—created for applicants taking their entrance exams. But the most original and entertaining elements of the campaign were two digital applications designed for use on social media sites.

Says Fuynel, “We wanted not only to be present where students network on the Web, but also to show them that Grenoble Ecole de Management is the school of new technologies. Therefore, communicating through Facebook, a site that potential students use every day, was a natural choice for us.”

In the first digital application Grenoble used its Web site to post clips from five ’50s-era films in their original Russia Hungarian, and Czech languages. Visitors could adapt the films by writing their own subtitles and posting the esults on Facebook. In the second application, visitors could download photos of their own faces and superimpose them over black-and-white pictures of old movie stars. Beneath the photos were names of extravagant and imaginary jobs, such as “submarine salesman” and “psychologist for post- apocalyptic disorders.” These pictures also could be saved and posted to Facebook.

During the three months of the campaign, more than 2,000 people accessed the applications—about half of the number who eventually applied for Grenoble’s Master in Management program. The videos tended to be more popular with users than the photos, Fuynel notes, perhaps because applicants enjoyed the extended interaction with the films as they wote new dialogue. Although the campaign ended in July, says Fuynel, the sites are still open and about 100 users visit every month to view them.

If the school decides to mount a similar event in the future, one thing it will change is the timing. The 2010 campaign ran during exam season, when applicants were more focused on test-taking than amusement. “If we do it again, we’ll run the contest earlier, maybe in March or April when people are more relaxed,” says Fuynel.

Even so, administrators count the 2010 campaign a success. “We didn’t know what to expect from the campaign, so we were quite happy with the number of users,” says Fuynel. Outside experts also liked what they saw: In June, the school won a second-place award for the campaign from EUPRIO (an association of European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers).

“The ‘Time to Anticipate’ campaign is part of our strategy to reinforce our identity with regards to technology management and innovation. “We started out by identifying the values that represent our school,” says Fuynel.

Speaking in Code

A small school with a small budget has to be creative to compete with better-funded institutions, a fact that’s well understood at William & Mary’s Mason School of Business in Williamsburg, Virginia. Recent marketing campaigns have been designed to drive prospects to the Web site so that every cent spent on print materials can be used to reinforce the brand, not to simply list facts and figures about the school.

One way the school has accomplished this is by printing all promotional materials with QR codes, square patterns of dots and shapes that can be scanned by smartphones. The QR codes lead users to YouTube postings or Web sites—in Mason’s case, a series of videos about each of the school’s graduate programs. 

“We’re using the QR codes to bridge the old technology of print and the new technology of digital,” says Andrea Sardone, chief marketing officer of the Mason School. As an added bonus, the digital technology allows the school to measure how many students have accessed the videos, so they can gauge the effectiveness of their promotional pieces.

For the 2010–2011 recruiting season, the school designed a brochure with a code that leads students to an online video called “Revolutionaries Welcome” (, a short inspirational piece that invites students to come to Mason and learn to “Lead, Innovate, Revolutionize.”

“‘Revolutionaries Welcome’ builds on the idea that William & Mary has always been a home for America’s great minds,” says Amy Puff, an account executive at the Fitting Group, a branding and advertising agency based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The agency helped William & Mary develop the campaign, which plays off the school’s historical roots but offers a contemporary twist. “The school focuses on attracting passionate, forward-thinking leaders—modern revolutionaries,” says Puff.

The “Revolutionaries Welcome” campaign also features a full online advertising plan, which includes LinkedIn banners and text ads that are delivered to students based on their profile information. Says Puff, “Because we can target very directly based on title and industry, LinkedIn ad messages tie to MBA tracks in marketing, finance, real estate, and so on. We are also running a pay-per-click campaign using Google AdWords.”

But the current promotion doesn’t simply rely on electronic links to get people talking. The “Revolutionaries Welcome” brochure, which is handed out at MBA Tours and other recruiting events, is made of heavy cardstock paper and features text and photos about Mason’s new home, the Alan B. Miller Hall. It can also be folded into a bank shaped just like the new building—a subtle reminder that an MBA is a great investment.

“We wanted to have a giveaway that would allow us to talk about our building, talk about our program, and make sure prospects keep our school top of mind after the event,” says Sardone. “We wanted to do something different from other schools.”

The bank brochures are also unusual enough to be eye-catching at admissions fairs. “These events have very strict rules about what’s allowed on each school’s table,” says Andrea Fitting, CEO and president of the Fitting Group. “Admissions personnel can’t put up any tall posters that will obstruct the view of the room, so they usually don’t bring more than a stack of viewbooks, maybe an open laptop, and a banner with the school logo. We felt one way we could create some visual interest and buzz around the table was to display something other than a stack of viewbooks.”

Not that the William & Mary team members dislike viewbooks. A few years ago, Sardone worked with The Fitting Group to create a variation on the typical rectangular book that presents basic facts about an MBA program. They took three flip books, stacked them on top of each other, and off-set them to create a single book in a hexagonal shape. Each individual flipbook told a stoy about a different William & Mary student.

“It was our first venture into trying to do something no other school does, to reinforce the idea that we are a different type of business school,” says Sardone. “There was no page in that viewbook about the core courses or prerequisites for the program. The idea was to drive people to the Web site, because they can find all that content online.” The strategy seems to be working: In the past five years, enrollment at the school has doubled.

“The whole concept of ‘revolutionary thinking’ is really baked into the bricks at William & Mary, and we want to make sure its communications reflect that brand,” say Fitting. “We’re always trying to think of ways to do something with the Mason School that’s unusual for higher education marketing.”

That, after all, is the purpose of advertising: to highlight an institution’s strengths in a manner so unusual or so intriguing that potential consumers like it, remember it, and follow up on it. For today’s business schools, that often means coming up with quirky ways to invite applicants online, where they can learn everything they need to know about a school—and decide they would love to attend.