When the marketplace gets cloudy or uncertain, I go back to MKTG 301: Intro to Marketing at Auburn. I want to remember the basics and how they are applicable today. I thought a lot about the 4 Ps over the weekend. We all remember them – product, price, place, promotion. These are as relevant in higher ed marketing today as ever, but a new "P" is more vital to the mix — packaging. Outside of the health of their students, faculty, and staff, there may be no more critical a task for colleges and universities than getting the package of product, price, and place correct. And not just getting the packaging right for the 2020-2021 school year, but forever.
The product and place combination has been completely upended and will be for a long time. The product will take place remotely at some level this fall, no matter what. The first publicized instances of students returning to campus, football teams returning for "voluntary" workouts, have yielded small outbreaks of COVID. Your school may have decided it will operate fully remote, or it may be one fully intent on the traditional residential experience unless an outbreak of cases forces a shutdown. Either way, institutions need to speak to remote learning proactively and positively. And the only way to do that is to understand how their product maintains a high value, regardless of place.
Price is even more complex. The value of the degree for its price has long been under scrutiny. Now, place — specifically where these classes are delivered — has added even more negative sentiment into the mix. Parents and students will continue to press on the perception that a virtual learning environment is not worth as much as one that happens on campus until that is proven otherwise, which may take years. But institutions can't wait that long to address this. Many already have in creative, strategic ways. Others have done so with offers so big they feel desperate. Striking the right balance between creative and desperate will come down to how well you can package the product.
Ultimately, this is all about what marketers can control. Place used to be the hallmark for all university promotion. It used to be the single best differentiator against an online degree. It also used to be controllable. It's not anymore. Product and price, on the other hand, have long been out of marketing's control. Colleges and universities may not give marketing a strong voice on product and price in the near future, but the schools that succeed will be the ones that give marketing the time and resources to focus on the packaging.