Wanted: The brand management MBA
Updated: 2012-04-06 11:03
By Mike Bastin (China Daily)
|Zhang Chengliang / China Daily|
At the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference meetings in Beijing last month there was once again a distinct shift in China's economic policy with a move away from exports of low-end manufactured goods and ingredients such as rare earth metals to the development of domestically produced, high-quality end-user branded products. Essentially, Chinese producers are shifting their attention further up the value chain, well aware of the riches to be realized with production and ownership of premium branded goods and services.
However, if such a revolution is to achieve anything like the success imagined then surely, among other contributory factors, there also needs to be a revolution of similar proportions in the Chinese business education system, especially brand management education.
Even though it is only 21 years ago that nine MBA programs were first piloted at leading Chinese business schools, including Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management, there are now a total of 236 MBA programs across the Chinese mainland. But, despite this rapid increase and apparent maturity of the business education sector across China, there still appears little opportunity for current and future business professionals to specialize in certain aspects such as brand management.
Yet a cursory glance at business education outside China, especially in the United States and Europe, provides a rich array of the traditional MBA and general masters programs and a growing multitude of more narrowly defined, specialist program titles. For example, masters programs with the title "Brand management" and even "Luxury brand management" are more and more commonplace.
Sadly, such fragmentation of the business education market across the Chinese mainland has not taken place, despite increasingly vociferous calls for the emergence of globally competitive Chinese brands.
Stimulating domestic consumption is also a key part of a change in direction for the Chinese economy, and Chinese consumers are stimulated by nothing more than high-quality branded goods and services, and luxury brands at that. The current preference for foreign brands is a result of poorly perceived Chinese brands only, and the typical Chinese consumer would switch in an instant if such a perception were to change. Moreover, Chinese consumers remain fiercely patriotic, nationalistic and nostalgic, so they would probably value high-quality Chinese brands even more than foreign competitors. If only Chinese industry were equipped with sufficient numbers of skilled, knowledgeable brand management professionals.
The burgeoning urban middle class population in China is now estimated to be 250 million (those families with a combined annual income greater than $10,000). Such an increasingly attractive market opportunity requires urgent improvement in the management of Chinese brands that necessitates a parallel improvement in and focus on brand management education.
Not only can Chinese business schools learn from this change in the focus of business education across the developed world, they can also begin to work more closely with Chinese industry and adapt current programs as well as introduce totally new courses, to meet market needs in China.
Chinese business schools could start, for example, by looking at Glasgow Caledonian University's masters program titled Luxury Brand Marketing. While a plethora of apparently similar programs appear at "fashion schools" based (for obvious reason) in Paris and Milan, Glasgow Caledonian University's School of Management can lay claim to one of the first in-house university products with all the quality assurance and control that goes with such a development.
Without going into the minute details of the Glasgow MA in Luxury Brand Marketing, it is clear that it enables in-depth analysis of consumer behavior and consumer communications issues as well as an understanding of the key internal management challenges facing companies in their quest to develop and maintain competitive brands. This program also covers strategic as well as tactical managerial issues.
Not that fragmentation is likely stop here. For brand management programs to be most effective surely they have to focus on one industry sector only, such as brand management in the automotive sector. Universities and other essentially academic institutions are notoriously reluctant to define any of their programs by industry sector, but such are the differences between industries that some separation is inevitable, especially at masters level. Industry segmentation will also resonate with an increasingly career-conscious public. China's aspiring brand managers will also almost certainly appreciate programs at industry level, given the different stages of development of China's domestic industries
Clearly, revolutionary change in China's business education system is highly unlikely, and even less likely to succeed. It is, therefore, a step-wise strategy toward a more market-oriented system that is most likely to lead to permanent change. As a result, the following strategic path presents Chinese business schools with a vision that should contribute significantly to a critical mass of sufficiently knowledgeable and talented brand management professionals, an essential, but by no means sufficient, building block toward the foundation of internationally competitive Chinese branded goods and services.
Establishing brand management masters degree offerings, such as the title of the final award is nothing less than MA in brand management. It should be noted that such a program must incorporate both strategic aspects of brand management, such as segmentation, targeting and positioning strategies, and brand naming, brand extension/stretch and brand association coverage, as well as tactical issues, such as details of the marketing mix. Different methods of intangible brand valuation are also essential. Education on innovation and creative thinking also finds its rightful place as part of a comprehensive brand management offering.
Once firmly established and running smoothly and recruiting well, further refinement of these brand management programs would be needed to reflect the evolving needs of Chinese industry and the demands of Chinese consumers, such as almost certainly the presence of an MA in luxury brand management. Other, probably industry specific, programs could include MA in retail brand management and MA in automotive brand management.
Once step 2 appears to have produced effective, refined brand management programs, a geographic-specific focus should be considered, especially any emerging and very different geographical markets, such as MA in luxury brand management in Asia/China and MA in automotive brand management in Africa or West Africa.
Finally, programs that reflect the different needs of different sized companies may be necessary, such as MA in luxury brand management for multinational enterprises or MA in luxury brand management for small- and medium-sized enterprises.
At a time when the emergence of internationally competitive brands has never been more urgently needed, it is time for equally urgent reform of brand management education at Chinese business schools. When should this start? There's no time like the present.
The author is a researcher at Nottingham University's School of Contemporary Chinese Studies. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.