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Mazda Puts Bentley Students in the Driver’s Seat with Corporate Immersion
Undergraduate students in a Corporate Immersion Marketing class taught by James Pouliopoulos spent their fall semester testing the usability and effectiveness of an iPad app implemented by Mazda North American Operations (MNAO) in their dealers to improve customer experience and close sales. The class gave its final presentations and recommendations on the last day of classes to Mazda corporate executives, who traveled to Bentley from California specifically for the presentation.
Perry Lowe, a senior lecturer in marketing, has been leveraging alumni relationships to bring hands-on learning opportunities to the classroom for marketing degree students participating in Bentley’s Corporate Immersion Marketing Project. Bentley and Mazda’s collaborative relationship began five years ago with a conversation between Perry Lowe, creator of the Corporate Immersion Program, and Joe Shaker, ’89, president and owner of Shaker Automotive Group and a member of Mazda’s Create Demand team, at a Bentley Executive Club meeting.
“We have done projects for Mazda with grad students in the past and got great results,” explains Shaker. “When I developed an iPad app for Mazda and wanted to test it, Perry suggested using an undergrad marketing class. Though it’s rare for businesses to work with undergrads, we are thrilled that we did because our results were phenomenal.”
The class, which was divided into four working groups, used the range of data collection and analytical marketing tools and technologies housed at Bentley—the same tools and technologies that are at the disposal of today’s marketer and that students will use when they graduate into the workforce—to research the app and how it was being used by dealers. These tools include:
- Databases in the Bentley library including Mintel, Business Source Premier, ProQuest, LexisNexis, and JSTOR
- Qualtrics online surveys
- Videotaped focus groups
- IBM’s SSPS analytical software
- Google docs, Dropbox, Skype, PowerPoint
The students visited local auto dealers to survey the dealerships’ management and sales teams. Students also posed as shoppers to get a more transparent view of the app and how it was—and wasn’t—being used. Throughout the course of the semester, the students and Mazda executives at their Corporate Headquarters in Irvine, California discussed the progress of the project through video conferences in the Center for Marketing Technology.
A critical moment during the semester came during Bentley’s Open House event for prospective students and their parents, when the class agreed to revamp its direction to include them, numbering in the hundreds, in its research. In one week, the class reorganized, prepared and administered multiple surveys and focus groups, adding to the wealth of data they were collecting.
“The information we received from the student teams is tremendous,” said Lawrence Chao, Mazda’s group manager for sales integration and training, who has been working with Bentley on the project since June. “They looked at our problems in a unique, out-of-the-box way, and each team took a different approach, so each point of view was invaluable.”
Shaker said the benefits to corporations using Bentley immersion classes are manifold. “Companies are able to tap into a motivated, energetic consulting team with the behind-the-scenes expertise of faculty, and a wealth of database resources and technological tools.”
Chao said Mazda’s next step is to review all recommendations with Mazda’s dealer advisory group and determine which of the students’ recommendations Mazda wishes to pursue. “We’ll then incorporate those into our normal development process for that business function,” he said.
The Yawkey Foundations have recognized Bentley University’s longstanding commitment to service-learning and awarded the university $500,000 to educate students to effectively lead nonprofit organizations and expand student efforts to help community groups.