The recent years have seen a phenomenal rise of cookie cutter B-schools globally that are deploying the latest marketing and communication strategies. However, if they really want to build brand equity for the long term, they have to refocus on where they stand with respect to the essentials

There are undoubtedly quite a few upsides to reporting to Jack Welch, the Professor, as opposed to Jack Welch, the CEO. At the Jack Welch Management Institute (JWMI), he gives a good 15-16 hours of his time weekly towards two-way video conferencing sessions as well as generating seminal videos; giving students his expert analysis on contemporary business events. You get to pick up some invaluable gems from a huge treasure chest of experience that comes with being one of the most successful CEOs in corporate history. More importantly, your chances of exposure to the dreaded ‘Neutron Jack’ effect are comfortably low!

However, the former GE Chairman & CEO is certainly applying some tricks from his GE playbook to implement a brisk-paced growth strategy for his institute. Last year in November, the Jack Welch Management Institute brought itself under Strayer Education Inc. Welch, who is targeting an intake of 5000 students by 2016 and is betting big time on short certification programs and online MBAs, wants to make his the #1 online business school in the world. The question is, how?

While JWMI has the going quite easy on the positioning front – applicants know exactly what (or who) the school stands for – the corresponding challenge, obviously, is that the institute’s brand equity is too dependent on the 76-year old Jack Welch staying on and being able to fulfil his commitments for a very long time to come. What Welch might be betting on could be that due to the online structure of the programme, lesser questions might be asked on infrastructure or even employment support that management programs generically have been expected to provide. But the focus on course contents might be more intensive – especially as some of the courses are named symbolically after his books, philosophies and writings rather than as per traditional B-school nomenclature.

Now compare that to Harvard. A few years ago, you could have bet your King Edward shilling that the ivy legacy of the university would never allow it to offer its pristine management programme through an online mode. Perish both the thought and your shilling – Harvard’s management graduate degree now can be taken up through both an online and offline mode, from its extension school. Would not such a move dilute the elite aura around the Harvard brand? How would the university practise what it preaches in its shift from niche marketing to mass marketing, as a matter of speaking? These are questions that the global leader in management education would have considered quite deeply before entering the online space. In fact, in its 104 year-old history, it was only in 2008 that Harvard Business School got its first Chief Marketing Officer (Brian Kenny).

What these two examples exemplify is the fact that in the cluttered B-school landscape today, building and sustaining a brand is no longer as simple as before, or as niche-oriented as would have been in the past. Target markets have changed, delivery models have been re-engineered, even the course structure has undergone an intense overhaul; issues which had been extremely important earlier – infrastructure, accreditation et al – seem to have been relegated to the lower end of the brand positioning equation.

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Source : IIPM Editorial, 2012

An Initiative of IIPMMalay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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