Most people hear the words “data-driven” and instantly imagine spreadsheets of statistics. But in marketing, while we do need quantitative data, we also need much more than that.
The kind of data I’m talking about includes the school’s goals and objectives, challenges, and marketplace perceptions. For schools, in particular, there are four core data sources that can be the driving force for your marketing efforts. These sources are especially important if you’re building a marketing plan for your school. What are they and how can you use them?
Marketing Research Report
These comprehensive reports are usually outsourced and conducted by a marketing agency contracted to help you get a better understanding of your school’s position in the marketing place. It reveals the school’s strengths, weaknesses, and the general perceptions of the public: your target audience. A good report will also provide you the start of a marketing roadmap, showing you what to capitalize on and directions for improving your presence. You can also often uncover common complaints from current parents and students, such as issues with the website, course registration processes or overall communication. Peer comparisons are also common in the reports, helping you understand how you stack up against the competition, crucial information when determining how to recruit students. However, on the downside, these reports are usually more local than national and can be quite expensive.
While an external consultant may be hired to assist, typically, these documents are still produced internally, and as such, reflect the beliefs of the school community as a whole. This document will outline the key institutional goals and action items for tackling these goals. A strategic plan is also a time-sensitive document, giving the school a set number of years to enact the change recommended. It is also a document that looks at the school as a whole, meaning that all aspects of the institution are assessed with recommendations for the future. The only downside is that a strategic plan doesn’t normally have marketplace data.
Accreditation/Self -Study Documents
Every independent school has to go through an accreditation process, and as such, this is a guaranteed source of data. Like the Strategic Plan, this internally produced document will automatically provide you with community buy-in on the directions you need to go in marketing. You’ll determine the school’s strengths and challenges, and identify improvement objectives. This is another school-wide document, but also like the Strategic Plan, doesn’t always have marketplace data.
Surveys, Focus Groups, Interviews
Last but not least are surveys, focus groups, and interviews. There’s no better way to learn about your school’s reputation than to get it from your customers and prospective customers. These tools can be conducted internally or externally, and they can be used to ask targeted and difficult questions. It’s important to put pride aside when engaging in these opportunities for research, because you can never improve unless you’re truly willing to embrace everything your consumer has to say about you – good, bad, and utterly ugly. On surveys, you can use a range of questions including rankings and ratings, as well as open-ended questions. When done right, you’ll know exactly what you can celebrate and how you can combat harsh perceptions. The downside of these? You might not like what you hear.
There you go, four simple sources of qualitative data that can help drive your marketing efforts. Where else do you gather data? I’d love to hear your go-to resources.