Prediction Marketing and the University

Prediction marketing is briefly assessed in the December10-16 issue of The Economist. While the possible use of this new and still experimental mind-game is restricted to industry and commerce in the article, the thought that the activity might be of value to the university comes easily to mind.

Prediction marketing is an in-house attempt to predict future sales trends and product success by allowing employees to engage in a virtual reality game on the computer with imaginary sums of money. One individual quoted in the article stated that prediction marketing had a 70% chance of success on technology issues.

Now as universities are beginning to reinvent themselves, prediction marketing might provide a useful and stimulating approach to re-evaluation of university structure, governance and, most important of all, student enrollment and faculty growth.

It is evident that the university is in many ways adopting the business model of administration.(In one telling instance, the frequent substitution of the word "client" for student suggests the new approach.) Competition in national rankings, competition for good students, sophisticated and slick advertisement of the university’s "product" all give some idea of the university as market-oriented.

Moreover, the construction of centers and institutes that will generate patents or will spin off for-profit companies beneficial to the university’s endowment as well as to human well-being clearly suggests that the groves of academe have given way to state of the art, climate-controlled environments. (I think of the title of Tom Friedman’s first important book "The Lexus and the Olive Tree.")

Surely, some quick-witted members of the marketing department of a university’s college of business can test the feasibility of prediction marketing as one means by which to guide the university’s move to the future.