Imagine stepping into a coffee shop one day to get a coffee and a muffin. As you give your order, the assistant looks approvingly and says:
“Black Americano? Oh I can see exactly why you’ve picked that. All our Americanos are made from 100% Arabica coffee beans, and we use exactly 3oz in each cup, topped up with water at 95 degrees.”
Somewhat puzzled you start trying to explain that this wasn’t exactly the reason why you ordered the Americano, but she continues:
“And I know exactly why you’ve chosen to come here for an apple and cinnamon muffin. If you buy ten of those muffins, and get your card stamped, you’ll be eligible for an extra one free of charge. Oh, and of course we play great music, don’t we? So your choice to come here and have an Americano and muffin makes perfect sense.”
Further attempts to explain your real reason seem pointless, and so you wander off to find a seat, muttering to yourself that yes it’s great that they make their Americanos at just the right temperature and give you an 11th muffin free, but actually the real reason you chose to go there and order a coffee and an apple muffin was because … well because you really fancied a strong coffee and you love apple muffins.
Why People Buy This and not That
What these scenarios represent is the difference between the Actual Product, the Augmented Product and the Core product. The Actual Product — as the name gives away — is the thing itself. Or to put it another way, “What it is.” So in the case of a cup of coffee it is the coffee, the water and even the cup.
Then there is the Augmented Product. These are add-ons. So it might be a free muffin for every ten you buy. Or it could be that they play jazz in the café. Or that they have good WiFi. These are great additional benefits (assuming you like jazz that is), but they are not necessarily the ultimate reason why someone goes to get a coffee and a muffin.
Finally, but most importantly, you have the Core Product. This is basically the real need the customer has in buying the product or service, and the main benefit they get from it. Or to put it another way, it is the “why” of the purchase, and the ultimate reason they choose this and not that.
Why People go to University or College
This threefold principle can be applied to any product or service, including education. For universities and colleges, the Actual Products are their courses, which includes details such as the area of study, the duration of the course, and the qualification the student gets at the end of it. The Augmented Product is the additional benefits that the institution offers. For example, the social life that comes with attending or more generally the student experience.
But what about the Core Product — the overarching reason students attend a college or a university? There is of course a case to be made for “education as an end in itself,” and learning is always a good thing. However, most students do not have the luxury of going to university or college simply for “education’s sake,” but ultimately they go there in order to come out with the knowledge, the skills and the qualifications they believe will give them the best opportunity to gain a route into the career of their aspirations. In other words, the Core Product of the university or the college — from the perspective of the student — is that the education they will receive should hopefully give them greater opportunities after graduation.
A random search of university and college websites shows that both tend to have a big focus on their Actual Products, with a lot of information about courses. It also shows that universities especially tend to place a big emphasis on their Augmented Product, such as student experience, and all the many extracurricular activities that go on at the university or in the local area.
But what about the Core Product? This is undoubtedly the weakest of the three, for both universities and colleges. It is not that providers say nothing about careers – many do position themselves as careers universities or colleges. However, there are two main problems with the approach that is generally taken. The first is that the link between courses and careers is often presented as if it were an added benefit of attending the institution rather than the main benefit (i.e. the Core Product is presented as an Augmented Product). Then secondly, there is often little connectivity between courses (the Actual Product) and how they relate to what students ultimately see as the Core Product – what can I do and where can I end up by doing this course?
But what if an institution could demonstrate this link more clearly, showcasing its Core Product by effectively demonstrating the sustainable career options it could lead to after graduation? Wouldn’t this be a huge benefit, not only for prospective students wondering where to go and what to do, but also for the university or college in terms of being able to attract people to study there?
In the second part of this piece, we’ll be walking through some new ideas that will enable both universities and colleges to rectify this disconnect, and to showcase their Core Product in ways that will be of benefit to both provider and students.
To discuss how we can help your institution promote its Core Product to prospective students, contact Doug Heckman at firstname.lastname@example.org