Stanley Kaplan: An Education In Marketing

August 27, 2009 at 6:21 pm Leave a comment

Stanley KaplanStanley Kaplan, founder of the education company Kaplan, Inc., has passed away at age 90. In my previous post about Buick, I mention the concept of “meeting underserved needs” as being a cornerstone of good marketing. Mr. Kaplan found an underserved need–college test preparation–and made it the basis of a company that today has over 30,000 employees worldwide and $2 billion in annual revenue.

The New York Times obituary and an excellent New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell tell the story of Stanley Kaplan, the diligent, brilliant son of immigrant parents, denied entry into medical school in 1939 because he was Jewish and the graduate of a public school, City College. A paid tutor during his high school years, Mr. Kaplan turned tutoring into his full-time profession after college.

In the mid 1940s, a high school student approached him for help on a relatively new type of college entrance exam–the Scholastic Aptitude Test or SAT. Preparing students for the SAT became Kaplan’s signature service. Over the ensuing decades, his company grew from a local business to a national chain. He fought back accusations from test preparers and colleges that the SAT was “uncoachable,” eventually winning validation from the FTC that his practices did improve test scores.

Mr. Kaplan sold his company to the Washington Post company in 1984. Kaplan, Inc. went international and branched into higher education, tutoring for grade school children, and continuing education for professionals. Its dedication to meeting underserved needs is seen clearly in its push into online education, accompanied by advertising that recognizes “late bloomers” and “full-time workers.”

Admittedly, I have a bias here. I went back to school this decade and received my bachelor’s from an online program. Kaplan stands with my alma mater, the University of Phoenix, and other forward-thinking schools that have been creative with the marketing “P” known as “place” to deliver the “P” known as “product,” in this case an education.

Stanley Kaplan and his namesake company have challenged the status quo for years, those who said the SAT couldn’t and shouldn’t be coached, those who say today that online and/or for-profit schools can’t deliver a quality education. All this from a man who was told he couldn’t be a doctor. Stanley Kaplan’s legacy comes from telling people what they can do–a superb premise for effective marketing.


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