Embarking on a strategic planning process can be overwhelming. There’s so much to consider and often competing areas in need of support. Well-planned market research can provide key insights to help you prioritize and shape important strategic decisions.

Why market research essential to strategic planning.

Three words: Data is power. Your board of trustees, current parents, alumni and administration have different perspectives on what to focus on. Listen to the data. Anecdotal perspectives are interesting, but they cannot replace validating, statistical data about a trend.

Research yields key market insights that you may not have realized. Perhaps you think you have a strong positive brand image with your audience or the community, but market research reveals that, in fact, families think your brand is dated or out of touch with what their needs are. What if you think you have great faculty but market perception is that your teachers are not as innovative and engaging as prospective families think they are?

Don’t assume that you, your faculty or your board are all in touch with what prospective families really want or need and how that may have changed over time. Messaging that has resonated in the past may not be as relevant today, especially with millennial parents who may have different needs, wants and priorities.

5 questions to consider when creating a comprehensive market research project.

Articulating your strategic questions and getting your stakeholders aligned is half the battle. Identify your challenges and your questions. Questions may come a variety of sources (board, faculty, administrators, parents, alumni). While there may be a variety of key questions, be very clear about your primary market research objective and outcome.

Some example strategic questions may include the following,

  • If I change my tuition strategy, how might prospective families react? What about current families? Full-pay families vs. those receiving financial aid?
  • Are inquiries from prospective families declining? If so, why?
  • Is it the brand perception vs. other schools? What is most important to prospective families?
  • Is my brand still relevant? What is the perception of my brand?
  • What is my value proposition?

DIY research vs. using a firm.

Before you go any further, ask yourself an important question: Will you do the research yourself or hire an outside research firm? Good research is not inexpensive, but if your school needs answers from the market beyond your internal community, the most strategic and effective research program is one done by a professional market research firm.

It would include both qualitative data – the focus groups, phone and in-person interviews – and the quantitative data – the large numbers of internet or phone surveys that prove the hypothesis with statistical significance so you can be sure of your conclusions. Simply put, good research includes both important steps.

After the Trustees and other stakeholders have approved the use of an outside firm, ask peer schools whom they have used for this. Start with firms that work in the educational space and have significant experience in developing surveys and using statistical data. Experts also can help you hone your strategic questions.

Do your research, ask for referrals and send out a Request for Proposals or RFP. Here are some tried-and-true, “oldie but goodie” tips to keep in mind when crafting your RFP.

A word about timing.

The best strategic plans – and the market research that validates them – are proactive, not reactive. Too often, schools wait until there is a problem to do research and write a plan. Effective, strategic market research is conducted to gather key market and target audience insights, inform where you are going before there is an issue and take advantage of positive trends.  Now is the time to begin outlining your long-term vision and strategy.

We can help you make the most of your positive trends and address challenges with our expert market research team. Contact us.

Donna Balinkie, Kalix Marketing Lead and Strategist

Check out our recent blog posts to learn more about Strategic Planning:

Why Your Admissions Advertising Should Have a Strategic, Year-Round Presence

Why Your Admissions Strategy Must Include What Matters Most to Parents

Strategic Planning Check-up for Heads of School