For higher education organisations, reaching your goals and growing your business requires a deep understanding of the evolving needs and aspirations of your current and potential students and the future direction of the employment market. Market research is a vital tool in helping you to uncover those needs, and in allowing you to understand how your organisation can best meet those needs in a competitive landscape. In this article, we look into the significance of market research for higher education organisations, and outline the practices that will help you to carry out effective and enlightening research.
Before commencing any research project, it’s important to ensure that the project and its results will contribute to the aims and goals of your organisation. To help keep your project on the right track, determine clear objectives for your research and understand how these will contribute to your overall goals and desired activities. These objectives act as guiding principles, steering the research project in the right direction. Objectives may include identifying potential program development opportunities, gathering data to inform targeted marketing campaigns, or laying down a framework for future growth activities in emergent skill areas. Clear objectives not only help ensure you have a plan for your marketing activity but will also help you to understand and apply the results of the research in a productive manner.
Surveys, Interviews, and Focus Groups
Higher education organisations have a clear and distinct advantage when it comes to market research; easy access to large numbers of students who are likely to be a close, if not identical, persona match to the profile of student you are looking to attract. Engaging with existing and prospective students through surveys, interviews and focus groups will allow you to gather the data that uncovers valuable marketing insights you can build actions and activity around.
Accessing Existing Data
In addition to primary research methods, institutions can leverage existing data sources. Analysing enrollment patterns, academic performance metrics, and alumni success stories can offer valuable insights into what has and has not met your organisation’s goals, providing a foundation for understanding trends over time and identifying opportunities and areas that can potentially be improved.
Understanding Your Audience
Building an understanding of your current and potential audience is one of the most essential aspects of market research. This is the information which will help you to identify your customers, create the course offerings that will meet their needs and desires, and to tailor your marketing and promotions to stand the best chance of reaching and attracting the right audience.
Demographics, Behaviours, Wants, and Needs
First and foremost, it is important to gather information on the key demographic information on your target audience - their age, location and socio-economic background. Beyond this, you should also capture the specific drives and needs of your potential students; why do they intend to engage with learning, what outcomes are the most important to them, and what are the pain points that they have encountered or are fearful of? Understanding these elements provides insights into learning needs and preferences but also motivators, which helps institutions address potential sticking points, address motivations with solutions and allow them to create a more appealing educational offering.
Understanding Your Competition
In-Market Activity Analysis
Monitoring the overall education market, and the sections of it which most closely overlap with your own offerings, is essential to stay abreast of industry trends and the actions of your closest competitors. Taking a proactive approach here allows you to position yourself strategically, giving an opportunity to respond to market shifts and identify opportunities to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Conducting a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on competitors is the next step in strategic planning. Developing an objective view of the strengths and weaknesses of both your organisation and of your competitors will allow you to identify the key differentiators between you and your competitors. Through understanding both strengths and weaknesses, you are more able to develop a unique value proposition that will both increase opportunities and mediate threats, whilst providing the foundation and scaffold of your marketing activity.
Analyzing Data and Forming a Marketing Plan
Once data has been gathered, it's crucial to re-align it with the institution's goals and objectives. Leveraging analytical tools and methodologies helps identify the essential elements of the information you have gathered, converting data into actionable insights. These can then form the basis and inputs to help drive the decisions to form a comprehensive marketing plan that addresses identified needs, leverages points of differentiation from competitors, and capitalises on the opportunities that you have identified.
Market research serves as a compass guiding higher education institutions towards sustained growth and success. Through forming a deeper understanding of their audience, analysing the competitive landscape, and identifying the opportunities that promote and leverage their strengths, institutions can craft programs and marketing strategies that resonate with potential students. Committing to an iterative cycle of market research ensures that institutions remain agile, adapting to the ever-changing dynamics of the education sector. Embracing these best practices positions higher education organisations to not only increase student enrollments but to foster a culture of continuous improvement and innovation - both strategically, and in the classroom.