College marketing class seeks local businesses to boost

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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A Sierra College business faculty instructor has taken her Introduction to Marketing class into the third dimension.
Susan Wheeler’s students go beyond the textbook pages and theoretical exercises. Their final project is to create marketing plans for local businesses or nonprofits.
“Sometimes they are full marketing plans and sometimes they are specific projects,” Wheeler said. “A couple of semesters ago, the Salvation Army was having a volunteer celebration, so our students did a new video with sound for them. (Salvation Army representatives) came to the class and it was very moving. The students did a very fine job.”
Students can recommend a business to be included and the class also accepts submissions from the community. For the current semester, businesses have until March 20 to apply.
Students have worked with everything from startups to well-established companies.
One of the projects that particularly stood out for  Wheeler was for a multi-million dollar Truckee-area construction company.
“The company had never had a real marketing plan,” she said. “We invited (company officials) to come to the class to hear the students’ presentation. They were so impressed, they hired one of the students on the spot to do marketing.”
One of the more challenging projects was for a client who had a genealogy business publishing books on investigation of family trees. 
“Every idea they came up with, she said it wouldn’t work,” Wheeler said. “It was frustrating but one of life’s lessons. They still put something together based on her budget and her market.”
Generally the class will have six to eight projects  and students form groups of three to five to work on them.
 “Even though it’s more work for me because I’m not grading the same project, it’s more meaningful (for the students). They learn from each other because they are doing presentations in front of the class. They are learning about a wide variety of businesses and it is a way to give back to the community.”
It’s kind of capstone project, she said.
“Throughout the semester, they’re learning different aspects of marketing,” Wheeler explained. “They may not use every piece of it for their customers, but they will evaluate each one.”
If there are visuals involved,  Wheeler encourages students to actually redesign them.
“They can do mockups if they don’t have the (computer skills,)” she said. “If a website needs to be redesigned, then tell me and the clients what are the changes you would make. The students can take the existing one and redesign it, even if is on paper.”
Getting to immediately apply what they’ve learned is important for the class. And there’s a lot of value for business owners, too.
“Sometimes, companies — small or big — don’t have time to take a step back and look at why (something) works or doesn’t work,” Wheeler said. “Students will do a competitive analysis or present different methodologies. Some are looking to do more social media.”
One of Wheeler’s previous marketing students, Roseville resident Nicolas Codding, worked on the Truckee-area construction company marketing plan.
“The first thing we did was interview (company officials),” Codding said. “We didn’t want to come up with something that was unrealistic. We wanted it to be something that could help them.”
Then his group looked at the construction company’s target market and target clients
“We helped them try to understand who their target was. We did a complete, comprehensive marketing plan, starting with goals and a mission for the next two or three years,” Codding said. “We did a lot of analysis based on the size of the market and their market share, their main competitors and (we identified) the market leader in that region. We came up with a strategy for positioning them in the market to differentiate themselves.”
They also included a pricing survey.
“We had a detailed marketing campaign we put together for them that included mailers and a way to get their message out there by zip code. We gave them target zip codes. It was pretty in-depth,” he said.
Along the way, the students learned the how-tos through textbook and lectures.
“Miss Wheeler helped us a lot with organizing the data,” Codding said. “The biggest challenge was making it applicable and coherent.”
Codding, an engineering student, had no plans to make marketing a career but found the class very useful.
“I would feel comfortable if I had a business idea, that I would know how to really put together a plan on that product and services,” he said.
Wheeler, who has been with Sierra College since 2005, has offered the interactive marketing program for her classes since 2009.
“I would just say, I’ve taught in public and private college environments,” she said. “I appreciate that I have the flexibility in the community college system to put something like this in place. Sierra College is a very supportive environment.”


Sierra College Introduction to Marketing final course project:
Deadline for requests to be part of the project:
Tuesday, March 20
To apply and for more information: email
Include: Company or organization name, main contact name and phone number, email address, brief description or organization and its biggest marketing challenge