It’s perhaps surprising the number of times our clients read through the results of the market research survey we at MTM have conducted for them, sit back in their chairs, nod and say, “Yes, that’s just what I expected.”
Whether the outcomes are the ones they wanted or not, of course, varies. It’s very often the case, however, that the facts that are laid down in black and white as the conclusions of thorough market research only serve to confirm what heads, bursars and marketers – the good ones anyway – already know.
This is because they have their fingers on the pulse of their schools. They chat to the current parents on the touchline at rugby matches and in the auditorium before concerts, and to prospective parents at open days and inter-school events. They read the local news. They are part of the community and they know what’s going on there.
When it comes to committing the school’s own funds to developing the school and pushing it further though, only the cold, hard facts will do.
You can only really make decisions about how to move forward if you know where you are now and where you could be in the future – and that’s what only facts alone can tell you. After all, no-one would want to risk the school’s bank balance on a hunch.
Demographic data research is one of the most fascinating areas of market research, certainly for the inquisitive among us.
You can note the calibre of car arriving at school drop-off and pick-up times, and hazard a guess at the family wealth, but demographic research can give you a real insight into the incomes of families living in your catchment or within a reasonable travelling time, and whether or not they could afford your school’s fees.
Obviously, this information is of no use to schools unless you know whether or not there are school-age children in the house – and demographic research can tell you that too. Drill down a little further and the data can tell you which shops these families are likely to shop in, how much they spend on holidays, and the newspapers and magazines they read. This can give you vital clues as to the type of communication these families will respond best to, their values and how likely they are to consider educating their children at an independent school.
Of course, if they can afford an independent school, will they choose yours? Researching your competitor schools is relatively straightforward – swathes of data is kept and published on school roll numbers, exam results, and the available scholarships and bursaries.
But by far the best source of in-depth information on schools is their current families, as well as others who have heard of the school locally. Speaking to them as part of a survey helps to build a picture of your competitors’ actual and perceived strengths, and where those other schools are positioned in the local marketplace, relative to your own school (whose data and parents must be gently interrogated in just the same way, as a point of comparison).
Knowing this information is vital if you are even considering investing in a particular area of your own offering – is it something parents want for their children, and will it therefore result in more admissions? There’s probably no point spending big bucks on an Olympic-sized swimming pool if there’s one already in the town and the national champions train there.
So, you may already have strong inklings of the number of prospective families in your target market, where they live and what would attract them to spend their money on an education for their children at your school, rather than any other.
But, before signing on any dotted lines, you’ll want to take a look at the cold, hard facts. Then sit back in your chair – and nod.