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Help, Marketing: The Wheels’r Fallin’ Off American Universities

Posted on | September 7, 2010 | No Comments

A couple days ago The Economist published a blog that hit a nerve: Declining by degree:  Will America’s universities go the way of its car companies?” I had just tweeted off some comments referencing a Time Magazine article about how Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Company, is trying to turn his company around – NOT thanks to government subsidies, but to good, solid — pay attention here manufacturersmarketing.  As Mulally says in the Time article: “We are fighting for the soul of American manufacturing. “We are leading the way on ‘What does it take for America to compete in the global economy?’ That’s what this is about. And it starts with making the best products in the world.”

Making the best products in the world means delivering products that customers want to buy.  How do you do that without marketing? Don’t believe me that marketing isn’t a huge part of what’s going on at Ford?  Here’s an excerpt from the article:  “The changes in Ford’s approach to creating cars run so deep that its engineers and designers had to answer the question, What is a Ford? Even if they produce cars specific to the American market, like the Mustang, says Derrick Kuzak (head of global product development), “they need to reflect a global Ford view in terms of how the vehicle drives, how it sounds, how it looks, how it feels. And so we developed a global Ford-brand DNA that encapsulates all of those elements — look, sound and feel — and that’s a really, really big deal.”

A globall Ford-brand DNA!  Wow.  That is a big deal!

Flickr photo by ajschwegler

Which brings me to a question about universities posed in The Economist blog post: “Could America’s universities go the way of its car companies?” (Note: article on Ford, notwithstanding.)

If you read some of the more than 50 comments to The Economist blog post, there are a lot of irate students, parents, professors, and business owners who have strong opinions about the value of American higher education today.  Listening to the reaction to the post, it sounds a lot like how people used to talk about the American auto industry when everyone was buying foreign imports.  Have the American car manufacturers learned from those marketing mistakes or has luck (ala Toyota’s misfortunes) played a big role?

Is it legitimate to suggest that maybe university presidents and marketers should start waking up — along with manufacturers — to what’s going on in their ’supply chains’ that’s diminishing the value of their products?  If marketing can help Ford, it should, also, be able to help universities clarify what they need to do to put out a ‘product’ that better meets the needs of their buyers, right?  In the crazy heirarchy of universities today, I wonder, if marketing is actually being given a chance to do marketing these days.  And I don’t just mean redesigning a brochure or putting out a press release.  I mean redefining  the ‘university-brand DNA!’ 

Maybe it’s time for a revision of the “Hey Manufacturers. Stop Whining. Start Marketing” rallying cry.  Maybe it’s time for a “Hey Manufacturers. Move Over. The Wheels Are Falling Off Our Universities, Too” wake-up call!

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