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Boost MBA Enrollment with the Science of Touch this Holiday Season

The economic recovery may still be sluggish, but if retail sales from the beginning of this holiday shopping season are any indication, consumers are feeling a bit more confident about the future even with looming concerns about the “fiscal cliff”.

Black Friday weekend sales are estimated at $59 billion, up 12.8 percent from last year.

Still, for those of us who are looking to reign in expenses this holiday season, you may want to keep your hands firmly on the credit card for more than the obvious reason.

According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers are more likely to purchase a product if they hold an object and imagine it as their own.  It all has to do with what behavioral economists call haptics, the science of touch.

“When you touch something, you instantly feel more of a connection to it,” says Suzanne Shu, a marketing professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and co-author of the study.”

“That connection stirs up an emotional reaction — ‘Yeah, I like the feel of it.  This can be mine.’  And that emotion can cause you to buy something you never would have bought if you hadn’t touched it.”

If this science works at the mall, could it be applied to the MBA marketplace as well?

True, you can’t physically touch an education like an iPhone or a cashmere sweater.  However, candidates can “touch” an MBA through experiencing the program in person and hearing about it from students and alumni.

Here are some ways to optimize admissions yields through this intriguing science.

The New Door-busters

blog macy“Once you get a candidate in a class, you’ve got an applicant.”  An associate dean of EMBA programs (an industry veteran and associate professor of marketing) shared these wise words with me several years ago at an EMBA Council Conference and they still ring true today.

There’s something about the interactive experience of being physically in a classroom that brings the program to life.  All the senses are engaged.  The candidate is immersed in the discussion, can feel the seats, touch the desk, raise a hand and converse with the professor, participate in a case study and team exercises, even smell the coffee.

Bottom line, it’s critical to get candidates in the door for a class visit.

For larger full-time MBA programs and part-time MBA programs it can be more challenging to organize class visits with the larger volume of applicants, so consider selecting a couple of classes with your “star” faculty who will engage the candidate in the discussion.  Invite prospects for a pizza and preview evening a couple times during the semester.

Cyber MBA-day

blog cyber mondayIt’s no wonder that retailers are also incorporating the science of touch in their websites given the dramatic growth in online sales.  In fact, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported that online sales on Black Friday 2012 surpassed $1 billion, up 26 percent from the same day last year.

But, how can the science of touch be applied to online shopping?  The researchers found that retailers have to do the closest thing possible to getting consumers to touch something – imagine that they are touching something.  For example, the home page of The Gap’s website include sensory descriptions of baby Sherpa outerwear that is “supremely plush in heathery grays, blues, and wintry whites.”

Ownership imagery increases a feeling of ownership and influences purchasing decisions, the researchers concluded.

For business schools, this means including video testimonials of students and alumni on MBA program home pages.  Embed clips of the classroom experience.  Show videos of EMBA students studying at home with their families.  Include messaging that invites prospective students to picture themselves in the classroom, on campus.  Consider innovative opportunities to present your business school in the online world with resources such as MBA Podcaster which produces podcasts and videos for business schools across distribution platforms such as iTunes and YouTube.

Many initial searches for MBA programs begin on the internet, so it’s critical to help candidates envision themselves at your school.

MBA Living

blog subscriptionsAnother interesting finding in the study is that offers of “free trials” are likely to increase perceived ownership and product valuation.  For those of us with stacks of Cosmopolitan or Southern Living on our coffee tables, we know how well it works with magazine subscriptions.  But how can it be applied to MBA programs?

Imagine you are investing time with an excellent prospect who has strong potential, exemplary academic credentials and impressive professional accomplishments.  One of the best this recruitment cycle.  The candidate is offered admission, accepts a place on the program, but later withdraws their admission due to concerns about the time commitment or workload.  Instead of wallowing in disappointment, maybe there is a way to retain this top-notch candidate.  Why not allow the admitted student to a “free trial” for the first couple days of a Residency or the first week of classes?  It will lower risk for the candidate and potentially strengthen admissions yields.  Sure, there are established policies and procedures that are always a challenge to overcome, but isn’t it the season for some Christmas magic?

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