Design to Market First

Famous management guru Peter Drucker was critical of the education industry for the method in which educators developed programs. His observation that educators are program-focused rather than market-focused has always been intriguing to me. Let me define the difference between the two approaches.

Program-focused marketing is the process of developing educational programs that the school or college faculty believe inherently possess value. Of course, this approach often leads to high delivery costs and inflexible delivery approaches, among other things. But, the approach remains true to the educational philosophy of the faculty. This approach focuses on developing their perceived best approach to delivering education and then placing the challenge of finding customers who want it and can pay for it later. And, it often produces extremely high quality programs. But, in some cases, for what audience?

Market-focused marketing is the process of defining the potential audience prior to program development. This approach starts with learning what customers want in their programs, how much they will pay for it, and how they best want it delivered. Used by most business, this approach places the client first in program development, followed by creating the experience they want.

Of course, no one approach is best. It's certainly not an "either-or" situation. They are both essential inputs in program development. We all should work from our competences and reach markets that want them. But, it has always seemed to me that education has it backwards, placing the organization desires before the client needs. And, if strategic planning is finding the intersection between mission and market, then both inputs are needed.

Peter Drucker knew what he was talking about in many areas of marketing and management, but he sure had a lot of insight on program development. In my view, I would start with designing for market first. It saves a lot of headaches down the road.