The Official Blog of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Want to Attract Your Ideal B-School Candidate? First, Let’s Talk About WIIFM

Posted by Yvonne Martin-Kidd
Marketing and communications maestro and former Chief Marketing Officer at Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management

Posted on Mar 20, 2019 11:00:00 AM

Find me on:

Marketing and communications maestro, Yvonne Martin-Kidd breaks down the marketing fundamentals and the need to answer your customer’s one and only question: “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?"


Snail mail. Email. Banner ads. Paid search. LinkedIn. Landing pages. Lead gen forms.  These, and lots more, are tools and tactics of the modern marketer’s trade.

However, when I talk to those who are relatively new to marketing, I temporarily set aside tools and tactics and focus instead on the basics of marketing: identifying the needs and wants of our target audience and the ways in which our products and services will satisfy those. We need to answer the customer’s one and only question: “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?” 

When I started out in packaged-goods marketing as an assistant product manager many years ago, the VP of marketing gave me an assignment: make a list of the features of our our flagship product, which was a seasoned salt sold in 3-, 8- and 16-ounce jars. The first item on my list was “an expert blend of salt, herbs and spices.”

I can still still hear his voice after all of these years: “Don’t stop there. Nobody cares how many spices are in our jar or if it’s blended by experts. Don’t just tell them what the product is; describe how it can benefit them personally.”

It so happened that a large segment of the audience for our seasoned salt was low- and moderate-income homemakers in the South.  And, my boss was right! These people—almost exclusively women—did not give a flip about the number or complexity of spices in our product. Rather, they knew that when they added this seasoning to flour in preparing chicken—a very affordable cut of meat at the time—our product provided all the flavors they needed to make the fried chicken that their family craved for Sunday dinner. In short, it was not at all about the features of the product; it was about the benefits they received from it: great flavor and the praise one gets for serving a wonderful and very affordable family meal.

I’ve never forgotten that lesson about positioning my product or service in a way that conveys its benefits from the user’s perspective. It’s a lesson that is extremely relevant in today’s world of b-school marketing. 

We often tout features such as world-class faculties, scholarships, quality cohorts, collaborative communities, career center support and solid outcomes.  But, let’s not stop there. Let’s make sure we answer our audience’s question: “What’s in it for me?” And, in discussing benefits, let’s remember that one size does not fit all. The WIIFM benefit might change depending on the person you’re speaking to. For example, a veteran with a family who is seeking an MBA will have very different needs and desires from a part-time MBA candidate or a new grad considering a one-year masters program.

The moral of the story? Let’s always start by knowing the WIIFM of our target audiences, so we can address them in a compelling manner. Then, and only then, can we happily turn to the question of tools and tactics: what do we use, when, where and why?

GMAC is presenting a new workshop about successfully marketing GME programs.  Join us for Targeting Prospective GME Candidates Through Effective Digital Marketing, a new training opportunity centered around providing business school admission professionals an interactive, engaging workshop that focuses on digital marketing and recruitment strategies, branding, segmenting and targeting the best candidates, ways to nurture potential candidates through the admissions and enrollment process, and developing metrics for success.

Register Now  

Topics: Recruitment & Marketing

Recommended Posts for You: