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Go to College, Win Fabulous Prizes

Efforts to attract students who are willing to pay premium prices for a liberal arts education at a small university are becoming rather competitive. With some price tags well over $50,000 a year for a product whose true value many are now beginning to scrutinize, hundreds of colleges and universities in places most people have never heard of are competing for an ever-dwindling pool of students who have both the ability and the desire to pay for a prestige education.

 Image result for wealthy college students

And so to gain an advantage in the marketplace, small-school marketers are now using merit-based, academic scholarships with wild abandon. These scholarships are basically a value-enhancing "sales promotion" that provide parents with a sense of getting a deal while making the kid feel recognized and valued. Published rates are becoming merely a starting point for many schools, and rather than dilute the perception of value by lowering the list price, marketers have taken a page out of the sports marketing playbook and opt to offer sales promotions instead.

 Image result for car sales

If all of this seems a bit desperate, and a bit too much like buying a car, then it probably is just that. After all, if it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it is probably a duck. Schools argue that merit-based aid allows them to attract high quality candidates, which is certainly true. But the fact that a product (higher education) that has been marketed on the sides of public transportation vehicles for several years is now offering sales promotions to enhance the perception of value, could eventually cheapen the perception of value over the long run. All of this might not stop with merely offering scholarships. The sales promotion war could escalate.

 Image result for sales promotions effective

Sales promotions are most effective when they are short-term, and marketers always run the risk of cheapening their brands when these strategies and tactics are over-used. And prestige products don't often resort to such tactics. But small schools do not have economies of scale and some do face extinction if they cannot maintain an adequate student base at a desirable price. And so the survival of some schools might depend less on the quality of the education and more on who hires the best marketers.


Discussion: Do you think sales promotions cheapen a prestige brand's image? Why or why not?


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