AT ROSS, CONVERTING IDEAS INTO PRODUCTS
Like fintech, entrepreneurship is one of the hottest topics in MBA programs, a fact that a year’s worth of feedback from students, faculty, and alumni from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business only reinforced. The result is this fall’s Mobile Innovation Development, underway in mid-October, which will see students ideate, design, and create a prototype or simulation of a commercially viable mobile phone app.
The idea isn’t to get B-school students some engineering education, says Sanjeev Kumar, who will teach the course. It’s to give students the “a feel for the actual ground realities of developing a business product,” to give them a leg up whether they go into management or marketing or any other field that involves the promotion of a product.
“We are fortunate here at Ross that we get students with diverse backgrounds,” Kumar says. “We have folks who have actually worked in technology, folks who come from the marketing side, of the strategy side, of even the design side, so what we intend to do is build student groups with diverse experiences and visions, have student groups come up with a mobile business idea that they believe in and then throughout the course of the semester actually convert that business idea into a mobile product.”
The course is part and parcel of a direction toward emerging technology the school has embarked on in the last few semesters, Kumar says, including courses on machine learning, big data, and advanced data analytics. “So this is kind of the continuation of expanding our curriculum into more of the business-technology intersection.”
‘A ONE-ON-ONE COMMUNICATION WITH THE CONSUMER’
Mobile Innovation Development will only be seven weeks, limiting the potential marketability of any actual products that emerge from the class. But Kumar says students will get enough exposure to the process that they will have a framework and leverage to build a market for their apps. Among the key concepts they will learn to master, he says, is engagement of the customer through personalization and “gamification,” which is making the customer look forward to coming back to the app through increased interaction with different “levels” — much like a video game rewards repeated play with new in-game abilities and adventures.
“Think of a typical smartphone that a user has, you have upwards of 20-30-40 apps on it,” Kumar says. “The biggest challenge today is to get consumers’ attention, make consumers engaged in your product, and then hold that attention and hold that engagement for a period of time. Because there are so many distractions, challenges — everybody has a busy life. And one way that this can be achieved, especially in a mobile setup, is to make the experience more fun, more engaging, more something that you would want to come back to.
“There are various ways to structure it but the whole idea is that now you have a one-on-one communication with the consumer, and that one-on-one communication should be of quality and engagement and creativity and innovation so that consumers would look forward to coming back, so the consumer will have an experience that stays with the consumer.”
Kumar points to the era when a few large car companies offered 15 or so models of car to the entire market — “an era that I have made a product, you come get my product.” That approach doesn’t work any more, he says. Now, each consumer wants something different, something tailored to their own personal interests. “My experience with a mobile app is going to be very different than your experience because the mobile app will allow for the experience to be personalized to whoever is using it,” Kumar says. “And that becomes part of making a consumer experience more engaged.”
NOT A CLASS ABOUT ‘FANCY HANDBAGS’
Bringing B-school students into worlds they might otherwise overlook or fail to understand is also the goal of another new course, the University of Chicago Booth’s Marketing and Managing Luxury, taught by long-time Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management instructor Steven Fischer, who gave the course something of a trial run over the summer and found it a resounding success.
The first notion Fischer wants to disabuse is that the course is about “fancy handbags, fancy shoes and clothes, and nice cars. There’s services, there’s experiences. But in financial services, if you’re going to be working with high-end clients, you’re in the luxury business.”
Fischer, who joined the Booth faculty this summer after 13 years at Kellogg, explains to Poets&Quants that in the current bifurcation of the good and services market, precious little attention is paid to the premium end. “Now we do spend quite a bit of time talking about income and economic inequality, to understand what that means and the ramifications of that for our entire society. We spend a good chunk of time addressing those challenges as well. But let’s go back now to premium goods and services. Most every business needs to think about what is going to be their approach to luxury. Because you’ve done really well at lowering the prices of your products, you’ve done really well at cutting costs, so the middle market, they’e OK — they get a little less but they also have a little less to spend — but that leaves the premium end. And at the premium end, the luxury end, there’s such a great opportunity.”
SURPRISING TURNS IN THE DISCUSSION
Fischer’s course will give students the fundamentals of the luxury industry. But more than that, he says, it will give them the ability to communicate with people in the industry. “This is something that if you’re in the professional services arena or almost any kind of goods and services, you have an opportunity to apply these same principles to your organization,” he says.
As he points out, a top-five MBA program like Booth is itself a luxury experience. So the 29 enrolled in his course already have at least that connection the world of premium services. Yet what comes as a surprise to most people, he says, is how the luxury industry does not market and communicate and engage with consumers in the same way as other industries. “So most of the concepts we’ve learned about marketing, throw them all out the window because they don’t work. So we need to talk then about notions, and then we have to think about design. Other ways that luxury houses engage with their consumers — through art, and the importance of art in communicating the brand; but also architecture, how they bring in architecture to create these environments for the consumption of luxury. A lot of times they may not even advertise. Do they even need to hire an advertising firm to advertise for them? Heck no, they control it all in-house. So these are all ways we can think about that whole creating an experience for the consumer.”
Energetic discussions around this topic abound, Fischer says. Explorations of luxury lead inevitably to discussions of wealth and status — “and then let’s bring in race and how race plays a role in all of this. It leads to some very engaging exploration, but what the student walks out with is a really diverse toolset that they can bring to any organization and apply.”
(See the chart of all new MBA courses at top-20 schools at the bottom of this story.)