MBA students develop a marketing plan for a real-life client in Duluth
What was supposed to be a class on developing and marketing a new product took a twist last semester, morphing into a real-time management consulting project for a client—Aftenro, a licensed boarding care home that offers care and daily living assistance to an array of individuals.
Aftenro was looking for a marketing plan to increase consumer awareness, according to Assistant Professor of Marketing Marat Bakpayev. But the students, who were taking the class as part of the 4+1 Integrated MBA, discovered that the facility had greater issues and more assistance was needed beyond a marketing plan.
Jonathan Biddick (double major in Marketing and Professional Sales), Carter Blondel (Accounting major), Eli Drexler (triple major in Entrepreneurship, Finance, and Management), and Brooke Lillie (Marketing and Graphic Design major) worked on the project as a team, each using specific skills learned from their majors. Some of the steps in their process were interviewing staff; analyzing data; conducting a SWOT analysis; benchmarking goals objectives and milestones; writing a paper on the analysis and results; and
assembling a final presentation.
“The students were able to identify key operational issues,” said Aftenro Administrator Amy Porter. “Perhaps we would have come to identifying the issues on our, own but the understanding would not have been determined so succinctly or rapidly. Losses may have been incurred due to Aftenro's inability to react quickly.
"Although Aftenro may not be able to apply all of the recommendations made by the students, we immediately instituted three. First, a plan and procedure are in place that is improving our internal communications. Second, we have broadened our use of social media, and third, we have implemented an employee retention program. The students also recommended surveying our staff about their satisfaction. In April, that will be done.”
The team dynamic of the students was key in providing such exemplary results for the client. “This was the hardest working group I have ever worked with,” said Biddick. “The long nights of writing, researching, and developing done for this project was only possible because we knew that we were in it together and that we could all lean on each other when needed.”
“Having group members with different majors and backgrounds made the project go smoother and also offered different ways to approach the project,” said Drexler. “This ultimately allowed us to develop our best version of the project.”
“In past classes, practicing certain situations was fun, but it was all hypothetical,” said Blondel. “Here, we were collecting real data and doing outside research over a three-month period on an actual organization. Having our results be used for more than a grade, but to better Aftenro was the most rewarding part of this project.”
"I enjoyed the challenge of it,” said Drexler. “This was the first time a project like ours was undertaken for this specific class, so there was no roadmap for us. We had to figure out how to match class expectations along with Aftenro's needs."
“This was a challenging project, full of ups and downs,” said Lillie. “But I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all our ideas come together. We had moments when we were absolutely stuck, but through the consistency and ambition of our team, we found some real, practical solutions for Aftenro. It was fun to witness the little breakthroughs we had along the way, and it felt surreal to finally present everything.”
“I have worked with professional consultants in the past,” said Porter. “The students presented as industry professionals from the beginning of the project to the end of the project. They were confident in their approach and in their interactions with me and my staff. The root problem that they identified was not what I thought our issue was. The implementation of their recommendations has already been Instrumental to the health and viability of our small not for profit organization. We thank the students and the faculty for giving Aftenro this incredible opportunity.”