Differential Effects of Marketing Messages in Online Advertising for an MBA Program

Differential Effects of Marketing Messages in Online Advertising for an MBA Program

Michael L. Harris (School of Business, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN, USA), Carolyn Findley Musgrove (School of Business, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN, USA), Kathryn W. Ernstberger (School of Business, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN, USA), K. Christopher Cox (School of Business, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN, USA) and Pilsik Choi (School of Business, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/IJTEM.2017010102


As Business programs compete for prospective MBA students, they need to understand what messages capture the attention of these students, prompting them to seek additional information about the program. In light of new program options and the changing competitive environment, the messages that are effective today may be quite different from those that resonated just a few years ago. Since different messages may be relevant to different target markets, this study focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of certain messages in reaching working professionals who are seeking a flexible MBA program. The results show that a message indicating national ranking is more effective than messages of value or convenience.
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What factors influence prospective students when choosing an MBA program? The answer to this question has likely changed in recent years due to the emergence of new program options and the changing competitive environment.

Numerous studies exploring decision factors for MBA students have been conducted in the past (e.g. Punj & Staelin, 1978; Montgomery, 2002; Drewes & Michael, 2006). However, the current environment may have reshaped the relevance of various decision attributes and introduced new concerns for present day prospective MBA students. As an illustration of the former point, consider the term “convenience.” This word might evoke a different meaning for a traditional prospect seeking a face-to-face learning experience versus a prospect considering an online learning option.

In today’s competitive academic environment, there are many new options available for those seeking a graduate business degree, including: online degrees, specialist graduate business degrees, accelerated programs, and massive open online courses (MOOCs). Online degrees are becoming increasingly popular. Almost a third of AACSB accredited programs offer at least one online (graduate or undergraduate) degree (Nelson, 2013) and U.S. News lists 229 universities offering online MBAs (U.S. News, 2016). Nine percent of U.S. graduate business students would prefer an online degree (Schoenfeld, 2015). According to Davis (2015), a survey indicated that there were 20% more graduate specialist business degree programs than MBA programs, while four years earlier there were roughly the same number of specialty and MBA programs. Numerous business schools offer accelerated graduate degrees that have fewer prerequisite courses, fewer credit hours, and faster completion time that in the past (Damast, 2009). About 8% of higher education institutions provided MOOCs in 2014 (Allen and Seaman, 2015) and by 2015, approximately 700 Business and Management, undergraduate and graduate MOOC courses were being offered (Shah, 2015).

In addition to MBA program innovations, other changes have altered the competitive environment including: for-profit programs, international competition, the race for rankings, and the proliferation of degree alternatives. The for-profit share of graduate business students grew to 20.8% in 2008-2009. This has likely fallen substantially, but it is still a significant option (Nelson, 2011). Domestic MBA programs that have long relied on demand from international students now face increased competition from MBA programs in the students’ home countries. Two of these growing markets are in China and India (Alon & Van Fleet, 2008; Damast, 2008). While applications to MBA programs were up in the United States, Asia, and Europe in 2012, the percentage increase in Asia was almost 2.5 times that of the United States and the percentage increase in Europe was over 4.5 times that of the United States (BizEd, 2013).

Accreditation has long been regarded as an indicator of program quality. However, in recent years, prospective students have also started relying on rankings in publications such as BusinessWeek, U.S. News, the Financial Times, The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes Magazine as evidence of quality. The criteria and ranking process used by each outlet can differ substantially, as can the results. Business schools who seek to be ranked must commit considerable time and resources to provide the information required for evaluation. Further, they must be willing to make program modifications to be properly aligned with the priorities of the ranking system(s) (Naudé, Henneberg, & Jiang, 2010). The rankings pressure can be especially burdensome for smaller schools that have fewer ranking opportunities and often have less staff support to assist with the reporting process.

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