Could destination research help universities to improve student experience?
With such a wide range of information available, students are better informed about the University choices they make than ever before. Where the courses are largely similar there are a vast range of other factors which affect their choice. As the marketplace naturally becomes increasingly competitive, Universities are rightfully responding by focussing on the student experience but is this the most appropriate way? Could research into the university as a destination be more accurately applied?
The Higher Education sector has undergone a massive shift in the way it is funded and tuition fees are a significant component of that funding. With the relaxation of the cap on students, competition for high performing A level students has intensified and marketing strategies are being reviewed in this challenging new environment.
Central to any successful marketing strategy must be a detailed understanding of the students that they are trying to attract and the key touch points along the journey that influence that decision. How important is being close to or away from home? What are my career and earning prospects? Where are my friends going? What is the cost of living? Is an active social life important to me? These are just some of the questions that a well-defined client segmentation from a specialist market research company can answer.
Understanding how motivations differ, sizing the value of target client segments and tailoring the key messages and delivery channels of marketing materials is critical to successfully attracting both home and international students. Universities who think of themselves as destinations and understand that students are not a homogenous group, but have different needs and behaviour drivers are ahead of the game. But doing this without specialist help can lead a destination marketing strategy wildly astray.
Having supported my children through the university application process twice, I was party to a number of reasons why my son and daughter chose one University over another but was very surprised when none of those they accepted or those they rejected followed the application through to find out the reasons behind those choices. There was a valuable trick missed here as their reasons were not exclusively the most obvious ones! If these reasons had been analysed the Universities would have gained further valuable insight as to what they could improve in the future and how their marketing messages could be re-defined and more accurately targeted.
By developing a targeted client segmentation, following up with students who accept places at other Universities and tracking National Student Survey scores a University can clearly define its offer. Maybe now Universities need to think more about how they are perceived as a brand and how perceptions of their offer as a destination meets their student’s priorities. Those that do will have critical insight that will drive their marketing strategy to new heights.