Essay: Blackboard – improve upon Blackboard Learn

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  • Blackboard - improve upon Blackboard Learn
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Introduction
Rather than proposing an entirely new product, we are proposing that Blackboard improve upon Blackboard Learn by adding new features to improve customer satisfaction, as most people are aware of the complaints that are prevalent among users – professors, students, and companies that use it for training purposes – of Blackboard’s products: a website that is difficult to navigate, poor mobile apps, and features that even professors do not fully understand how to use. We recommend that Blackboard completely rebrand as Whiteboard, which suggests a more modern and versatile platform. Though this would require the company to make changes to all of its products, we have chosen to focus on the learning management system. This does involve risk taking, but the company will continue to suffer if it does not work to embrace the marketing concept by focusing on satisfying the needs of its customers. Whiteboard will benefit the customer by introducing several new features: an integrated conference call and webinar system, online chat rooms and instant messaging (IM) capabilities, study tools, a tutoring portal, and word processing and presentation creation programs, among many others.
External Market Environment
The external market environment encompasses four primary areas: the economic environment, the technological environment, the political and legal environment, and the cultural and social environment. As a learning management system, Whiteboard is most significantly affected by the technological environment. According to out textbook, technology “creates opportunities for new products and for new processes,” (Cannon, Perreault, & McCarthy, 2014, p. 67) and with the technological advances seen in the world over the past few years, it is vital that Whiteboard be a versatile product that can readily adapt to new technologies through innovation.
In addition, the cultural and social environment plays a role in the external market environment in which Whiteboard operates. There has been a transition from a majority of the world’s population living in rural areas to a majority of the world’s population living in urban areas, suggesting that people are more open to new technologies. As a result, this opens up opportunities for Whiteboard to expand to serve more customers outside of the United States, which is its biggest current market. As Baby Boomers and Generation X – often in positions of power at elementary, middle and high schools; colleges and universities; and businesses – who can be less technologically savvy than Generation Y, continue to age, it is important for Whiteboard to provide a product that is easy to understand and use, yet has many useful features that set it apart from its competitors.
Competitors
Another important aspect of the external market environment is the competitive environment, which involves the competitors that threaten a business. Whiteboard already faces competitive rivals, such as Pearson eCollege, Cengage Learning, and Instructure Canvas (Nabi, 2012), that directly compete as learning management systems. Whiteboard seems to be in a monopolistic competition situation, in which “each competitor tries to get control (a monopoly) in its ‘own’ target market. But competition still exists because some customers see the various alternatives as substitutes” (Cannon, Perreault, & McCarthy, 2014, p. 63). Although Whiteboard wants to be the sole provider of learning management systems within its product-market, the reality is that other companies are providing similar products. With its new features, Whiteboard will face even more competition. First, by introducing a conference call and webinar system and IM capabilities, Whiteboard will face resistance from Skype, Google Hangouts, and Cisco, for example. Though these businesses have target markets that encompass a much wider variety of customers, Whiteboard’s entrance into its market, albeit minor, will have an impact. Next, by introducing study tools and a tutoring portal, Whiteboard will directly compete with websites like Quizlet, Course Hero, Study Blue, and Chegg Study. If students can access features like these easily within Whiteboard, they will be less likely to visit other websites, reducing the profits they generate. Finally, word processing and presentation creation programs will directly compete with Microsoft Word and PowerPoint and Google Docs and Slides. As with the study tools and tutoring portal, students will be more likely to use these easily accessible features, especially when they have to work on and submit assignments at the last minute; these programs will save them a few minutes of their time, which can often be invaluable.
Customers
Whiteboard’s customers include K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and businesses. While it is important to note that the administrative, human resources, and information technology staff make purchasing decisions regarding any learning management system, teachers and professors, students, and trainees utilize them extensively. As a result, Whiteboard must provide a product that appeals to both purchasers and users. Users can often influence purchasers’ decisions, so users will demand access to Whiteboard’s product if they are passionate about it.
SWOT Analysis
In 2010, Tanya Carlson conducted a SWOT analysis of Blackboard on The Motley Fool, and although some of the information may be a bit outdated, it is still useful to consider. She noted that its strengths included proprietary intellectual property, tenured leadership, a successful acquisition record (which has continued with its more recent acquisition of MyEdu), and product and service innovation. On the other hand, its weaknesses included an aggressive acquisition strategy as opposed to organic growth, share dilution, and a lack of patent protection on its technology. As for opportunities, Carlson identified its opportunity to increase high retention rates from clients, the opportunity to increase switching costs for clients, up- and cross-sell opportunities from base clients, industry consolidation, and a growing international consumer base. Finally, she highlighted reduced education budgets, high switching costs for possible future clients, and competition from open-source products as threats to Blackboard (Carlson, 2010). Over the past six years, many of the points Carlson made in her SWOT analysis have held true, though innovation may be the one strength that has been recently lacking.
Marketing Strategy
The following sections will address Whiteboard’s overall marketing strategy, including the target market, segmenting, targeting, differentiating, and positioning.
Target Market
As alluded to earlier, Whiteboard caters specifically to the learning management system product-market to improve the learning process for educational institutions and businesses around the globe. Although the company does most of its business in the United States, the new collaborative features of Whiteboard make it a product that is perfectly suited for overseas expansion. These features not only can benefit students and employees by allowing them to work with classmates, but they can provide the added benefit of collaboration with those in other countries. Whiteboard will become a community of learners, leading to a greater global connection among educational institutions, businesses, and nations.
Segmenting
Through market segmentation, Whiteboard can separate its product-market into three primary categories: K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and businesses. Colleges and universities will utilize the most features, requiring the most versatility and customization to foster collaboration and the learning process. K-12 schools will utilize fewer features, as their students will be less advanced in their understanding of technology and participation in collaborative learning. Although they employ some of the brightest minds, businesses will use the fewest features as a result of training programs that are generally more narrow in the topics they cover and short in their timespan.
Targeting
Whiteboard will use the combined target market approach when developing its marketing mix. Because its primary customers are colleges and universities, it is important that Whiteboard market toward those institutions. However, K-12 schools can still use a majority of its features, and businesses can use many for training as well, but neither of these segments\\s compose enough of the consumer base in order to warrant an entirely different marketing mix. Despite not focusing directly on K-12 schools and businesses, those segments will likely learn about Whiteboard through friends and family. In addition, a complete rebranding will probably gain the attention of media, thereby providing publicity for the company and its product. The word-of-mouth and media coverage will be sufficient in attracting initial attention of the other market segments.
Differentiating
Even though other learning management systems have modernized their user interfaces, Whiteboard can differentiate itself by touting its new features. Other systems do not provide an integrated conference call and webinar system, online chat rooms and instant messaging (IM) capabilities, study tools, a tutoring portal, and word processing and presentation creation programs. K-12 schools and colleges and universities will likely show the most interest in these features as they will feel that their students’ productivity can benefit greatly; businesses will show an interest as well, just to a lesser extent. By advertising itself as a one-stop shop for educational and collaborative features, Whiteboard differentiates itself from competitors that provide a limited array of features. Through differentiation, Whiteboard can develop a sustainable competitive advantage.
Positioning
According to the textbook authors, positioning “refers to how customers think about proposed or present brands in a market” (Cannon, Perreault, & McCarthy, 2014, p. 110). As most people know, Blackboard has received many complaints during recent years regarding its user interface, features, and functionality. By rebranding, Whiteboard has the opportunity to reposition itself as the leader in learning management systems and a champion of innovation. The revitalized user experience, complete with a modern design and several new features, serves to enhance this direction of branding. A prime positioning statement for Whiteboard is as follows:
For educational institutions and businesses around the world that embrace the benefits
technology can provide in a learning environment, Whiteboard, of all learning
management systems, delivers countless educational and collaborative features in one
location because Whiteboard is innovative, adaptable, and customer-centric.
Marketing Mix
***
Product
We will make sure our product is better than Blackboard. Our product will satisfy the needs of the customer. The customers, which are typically students, want an all-around great service for their schooling. That’s what we are offering with our product. It is a fast, reliable, well laid out, thoughtful, and perfect system. It includes some amazing features. Such as an integrated conference call and webinar capabilities, app notifications for new assignments and grades, software for working on papers and presentations, and file sharing just to name a few. The problem with blackboard is specifically the quality of it. The system is unreliable and hard to use due to the poor quality of the system. With our product, there will not be this problem. The quality of our product will satisfy the needs of the customer and it will be unmatched by any system. We want our product to be different from the rest. We don’t want to settle with the same old boring system and logos. Blackboard’s logo is a black chalkboard with an uppercase b and a lowercase b written in chalk on it. That logo to me seems very boring and dark. Our logo will be livened up to draw our customers in. We will have a whiteboard that will colorfully have “Whiteboard” written across it. It will definitely catch the customer’s eye when they see it. That’s just one of the things we are going to do to differentiate our product. We are also going to have a different layout than you are used to seeing. It will be easily accessible, organized, and it definitely won’t be as complicated as our competitors’ layouts. Our system will also be different in how fast it runs. We will have the best computers working on updating our systems so efficiency is key. Blackboard is known for having a lot of updates that restrict students from doing their work. That will not be the case with our system.
The branding of our product is important to us. As said above, it is a whiteboard with “Whiteboard” written in various colors. Branding is important to us so that’s why we focused a lot on what our products logo should look like. Most people today recognize what a whiteboard is and they know it is more advanced than a blackboard. We are picking on Blackboard with our logo. We just want everyone to know that Whiteboard is superior to all other brands. Especially our main rival, Blackboard. Our brand name is obviously Whiteboard and it is trademarked. We like knowing that it is only us that have the ownership of this name for a school system business. We want to be different from all other companies. That is one way to do it. We also wanted to focus on brand familiarity. This is a very important subject to us. We discussed the best way to make our product easily recognized by customers. We realized that the logo was vital to our success. Everything in our logo has a purpose. The whiteboard in our logo is the brightest white we could make it so we could catch our customer’s eye when they glanced at it. This will cause them to look at our logo again. When they look again, they will see the colorful arrangement of the word “Whiteboard”. They will then appreciate the way our logo looks and they will realize that is the name of our business. They will be drawn in by our logo and they will become interested. Our customers we already have will definitely be able to tell our logo apart from others. Our system has great brand recognition from our customers. It is very easy to tell what belongs to our product. The logo says “Whiteboard” on it so there is definitely no confusion there. Our advertising campaign will be easily recognizable due to our brand name and logos. Every time a customer logs into our system they will see our logo and system and they will realize that they are in the right place. Brand equity is a big deal to us. We will very quickly be at the top of our market. We are going to boost our sales and take over the whole market.
We are in the market introduction stage of our product. This means that right now we are investing in the future of this business. Our sales are low right now, due to us just now introducing our product. Our product is a follower instead of a pioneer when it comes to our business, but we are pioneering in different ways. Our improved and better system will not be matched, so you could say we are pioneering in our own way. This recent fashion that has been displayed by products in this business needs to be broken. It is popular but extremely flawed. Our product will be the new fad. Once everyone sees the upgrades and all of the great reviews, everyone will come running to Whiteboard. As we are getting bigger we need to make sure we have great management of product quality. That’s why we will have managers to help keep everything up to date and running properly. The cost of poor quality is loss of customers which we can’t let happen. We will train and empower the employees to serve. They will be motivated and they will be there to get the job done. Empowerment is a big deal for our employees. They want to have the training and capability to make decisions on their own. If it is too big of a decision then they will be required to seek the support from a manager. Generally, they will be able to make their own decisions. This will help them feel better about themselves and they will in turn work better for us. We will measure the performance of our employees and give out frequent awards and raises to deserving employees as our company grows.
Place
Making the most out of our distribution for Whiteboard is key for the rebut of the program. We as a company understand that our target market group will be school facilities such as colleges and high schools to help students and staff have better channels of communication and ways to access work materials. Our direct channel of distribution to reach our clientele will be using an online channel. Due to the Whiteboard program being a strictly online program we figured it should only be right to get online. Off of the Whiteboard site companies such as colleges can purchase the soft wear and it will install instantly after purchase on to the computer or computers that have been paid for. Due to it being online we will also set up direct channels with customer services where if a student or professor has any questions they can send an email or a chat in the whiteboards chat box which will have tech services ready to respond as soon as possible to help with the problem. Due to the product being online it will also help with overseas distribution. The best part of our internet distribution channel is that it will take full advantage of the World Wide Web in ways that anyone around the world can access the site to purchase the whiteboard product. With our own site we will be able to display all our goods and services in a one-stop shop that will be multi-cultural friendly for anyone who wants to be part of the Whiteboard community.
Promotion
Whiteboard is total rebranding of the blackboard system. Not only are we reworking the blackboard app but we are seeking to consolidate all of its other side apps to make one cohesive client. Our goal in promoting our new service is to get our consumers to upgrade through personal selling of our product. The biggest part of our promotion strategy is directly selling our new client to campuses and professors, but that doesn’t mean we won’t try advertising to college students as well. Blackboard is a unique product in that we sell our product to campuses who then distribute it to professors who then provide it to students. This makes locking down the final consumer hard. Since we effectively service three entities. While our business is already entrenched in the marketplace we seek to not only further or share while retaining our customer base , but also garner new customers with our upgrades.
We will be employing personal selling to universities, sending our sales managers to help facilitate the transition for new universities and faculties, but also to make returning customers aware of our upgrades. Our sales managers will be tasked with reminding colleges of our strengths while highlighting improvements in software. Sales Managers will also need to travel with IT techs to help professors set up their classes on our site. Having the IT tech there will also combat one of our issues with tech support. We want teachers to take advantage of all the new features we worked hard on, while making sure they are comfortable using the client. Whiteboard has so much to offer in terms of tools enriching the learning experience for both professor and student.
Our mass selling will be geared toward the student body. Most of our advertising managers and public relations efforts will be used in reaching this demographic. We want to make sure our company and product are the first things students think about when they select classes. If possible we want to be the number one student resource if we aren’t already. To this end through our advertising we want to not only build a favorable image but maintain it through a clear record of positive business. We need to spend most of our advertising capital on informing and educating the college student body on our benefits. We offer a better version of the blackboard client. We offer easy accessibility, improved troubleshooting, and an easy to use interface. Once students try out or product they will help attract more customers to our product.
Our aim in advertising is to inform people of our product and get them to register for our service. As a new company we have to strive for visibility in the marketplace. The multifaceted nature of our product easily lends itself to various approaches on reaching our target. As stated before the primary market for our service are college students. To narrow it further we will first target large public colleges and universities, later transitioning to smaller schools. The reason for targeting specific colleges is simply due to numbers, public institutions tend to have larger student bodies and often similarly structured classes. We also think that students at these institutions would be more likely to rely on only two forms of server access whether it be from tablet, computer, or phone.
To further break down our demographic, age is a huge factor in our aim for advertising and mass selling. 17-28-year-olds will be our primary focus, these millennial and younger students won’t mind the online exclusivity of our product. This age group while obviously being college aged is also the most likely to not only want but be able to take advantage of the compatible technology we are touting our product on. The accessibility of our product across platforms is paramount to our success, our vision is tied to students having instant access to their e-textbook in their dorm on their laptop, walking to class and picking up their page on their phone while in class. This age group is more likely to frequently use and switch between phones, tablets, and computers when working on schoolwork and in the classroom.
Our advertising will be mostly done through the internet. Also since we are targeting students of a younger age it’s important to also reach them on platforms they frequently use. Targeted ads on services such as Spotify, Pandora, twitter, and snapchat would be huge in growing our business getting us the exposure we need. The benefit of our business is that our competitors are so entrenched in the marketplace that they rarely if ever advertise. This will help on the visibility aspect as we have free airspace when it comes to ads. They don’t use media channels, and I think if we can have a successful ad campaign we not only improve on their approach but can actually beat them in a competition for visibility.
Our promotion objective is “informing is educating”, like we’ve stressed earlier we seek to show we meet the needs of both professors and students better than Cengage or any other company out there. We are going to consolidate all our extraneous apps into one complete module, which will allow professors to customize their product mix. We need to persuade professors to still use us and also to gain back any followers we may have lost. We need to remind students of our app and convince them the new rebranded and consolidated app is not only worth using but worth telling their friends about. Following the AIDA model, we need to gain the attention of universities to let them know of our rebranding, and as we’ve discussed we will be doing that through personal selling sending our reps to campuses. Once they see our new product and its new features they will be interested, and the tech support we provide and our willingness to send reps to help guide them through adoption process will no doubt spur them to buy or continue buying our product.
We are no doubt pushing our product in our promotion plan. We aim to hopefully sit favorably on the adoption curve. We hope our current clientele will be our innovators and through word of mouth lead other campuses to be early adopters once they hear how good our new product is. Our pushing strategy will be implemented through or already mentioned use of personal selling and advertising, emphasizing the personal selling among campuses with most of our promotion geared toward university employees and advertising towards the student body at large. If our strategy succeeds we will gain a favorable number of campuses as an early majority and with our sending of IT techs and sales managers, we can avoid laggards and non-adopters as we familiarize them with the new client and they see the success on other campuses. As a company rebranding we are in the market introduction stage of our product which is why we are spending most of our promotion budget on informing and encouraging primary demand amongst our customer base.
Price
Price (Ch. 16, pg. 421) plays a key role in the survival of a company. Without the price section of the marketing mix, customers would be unaware of the pricing options made available for any service or product provided by a company. Pricing is a complex component, due to the fact that it must reflect supply and demand, the actual value of the product, and the perceived value of the product in the mind of the consumers. If a price does not take these factors into consideration and the price is either too high or too low the company will experience unsuccessful sales. A few of the pricing objectives are profit oriented, sales oriented, and status quo oriented. Profit-oriented objectives (Ch. 16, pg. 423) focuses on profit maximization (Ch. 16, pg. 424) to get as much profit as possible. Sales oriented objectives (Ch. 16, pg. 424) this is when a company looks for a level of dollar sales, unit sales, or a share of the market without relying on profit. Status quo oriented objectives (Ch. 16, pg. 425) where companies “don’t rock the boat” by changing the prices of products and services based on the prices of competitors. ‘
Due to the massive increase in competition Blackboard has seen a dramatic drop in the market share; in 2006 Blackboard possessed 90% of the market, now they are down to just 44%. When we step back to look at the drop in the market share we see that the reason for the drop is the price of Blackboard. Blackboard can be described as the “Rolls Royce” of LMS; universities looking for the best platform that money can buy are going to turn to Blackboard and make the financial commitment. Blackboard has been criticized for their substantial annual increases in their pricing model, the reason for these increases are due to the fact that Blackboard is continuously adding to the value of their product.
Whiteboard’s goal is to gain the attention of higher education students by offering improvements and features that they want, while still meeting the needs of instructors and administrators. By adding the improvements and features that the students want they will no longer have to use outside mediums, this will add value to Whiteboard making it more appealing and relieve the financial blow; there will be more use of Whiteboard than there was for Blackboard making the cost worth every penny. Unlike our competitor, Moodle, we will be using a proprietary pricing model. Moodle’s freemium plan offers a free product, but charges for proprietary features, functionality, and virtual goods. Whiteboard will be able to include all basic features with the initial cost of the product. Whiteboard will be able to work with individual colleges and universities developing customized pricing plans that will guarantee the financial needs are being met. Cumulative quantity discounts (Ch. 16, pg. 432) will be given if the college or university signs a multi-year agreement; a contract that will secure the usage of Whiteboard for five years, in addition to the five-year settlement the price of Whiteboard will be decreased.
Below we have our Whiteboard pricing plan for five years with the five year signing discount. You can see that the Whiteboard Learning Management System includes: conference calling and webinars, online chatrooms, plagiarism checking software, integration with students’ phone calendars, app notifications from new assignments and grades, assignment feedback system, software for presentation and papers, file sharing, and mobile friendly version of the textbook.

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