Each semester, Bonnie Knutson, professor of hospitality business, instructs a course in which hospitality business seniors gain experience solving a real-world problem with a client. The client partner for the spring 2020 semester was Graduate Hotels, which is currently constructing a hotel in East Lansing that’s set to open in the fall.
The class was broken into six groups and asked to find a strategic marketing solution for the grand opening of the new hotel. Each team had the opportunity to select a specific target market from three possibilities: students, faculty, or East Lansing and MSU communities.
Graduate Hotels selected the winning team, White Rabbit, composed of Anne Swartz, Claire Murray, Maggie Dutch, Alexa White, Bryn Nagel and Erin Dempsey, all graduating hospitality business seniors.
“As an MSU alum, this was especially fun for me; it is inspiring to work with such young sharp minds and gain helpful insight from those we truly want in our spaces,” said Graduate Hotels principal Eric Hassberger. “They delivered a strategic campaign with thoughtful and fresh ideas that we can absolutely implement when we open our doors.”
Swartz, who chose the name White Rabbit, spoke on its significance. “I decided on White Rabbit based off of the character from Alice in Wonderland,” she said. “As a consulting firm, we are there to guide our clients in the right direction, just how the white rabbit guided Alice to Wonderland.”
White Rabbit focused on the student target market, specifically on the incoming class of first-year students. The goal was to showcase the Graduate as a viable study location.
“Since the hotel has yet to open, there are no current opinions or stereotypes present in the student body,” Murray said. “This allowed us to create a marketing strategy that would fully encapsulate the student body’s attention to the hotel.”
However, course work took a turn when social distancing and work-from-home guidelines were put in place due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“Halfway through what started out to be a normal semester, our students were thrown into an unexpected virtual learning experience,” Knutson said.
Despite the difficulty of virtual collaboration, White Rabbit rose to the challenge. “We adapted fairly easily because we all had specific parts of the project we were focused on, which allowed us to each work on our parts,” Swartz explained. The team held multiple video meetings each week to maintain focus and complete their proposal.
“Presenting our brand marketing strategy virtually was another very tough part of this project,” Murray said. The team had only weeks to convert the entirety of their findings and presentation to a virtual medium. “Nonetheless, with teamwork we made it work and successfully presented our strategy.”
As the team’s focus was on creating loyalty among students, they devised several methods to establish continued patronage. White worked to plan possible events that would attract incoming students, and Swartz took the lead on designing a mock-up of a mobile app that offers a rewards system for returning students.
To recognize the team’s efforts and winning strategy, Graduate Hotels honored White Rabbit members with gift certificates to stay at the new hotel in East Lansing when it opens.
Reflecting on their experience, the team members expressed pride in their accomplishments. “Over the past four years at MSU, I had never done a project like this,” Swartz commented. “I learned a lot about myself during this project, mainly that I’m a lot more creative than I thought. I needed to really put on my thinking hat to create something new.”
White Rabbit was also humbled by the experience of working with a hotel that will serve their fellow classmates and future alumni. “The Graduate Hotel is a very unique brand. Being able to contribute in real time to a brand of this size’s marketing strategy is an honor,” Murray said. “I hope this strategy can be used to capture the attention of current students to encourage them to return to their beautiful campus as alumni.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Knutson said of all her students this semester. “These students lived up the ‘Spartans Will’ mantra and presented six different and achievable strategic plans that appeal to the diverse target markets.”