Getting the Most Bang from Your Market Research Dollar

Becky Morehouse

Becky Morehouse

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One of the best ways to make the case for more market research is to fully utilize existing research.

With this goal in mind, I have a handful of ideas to help get the most bang for your research buck.

First, begin with the end in mind. In other words, be clear on how you will use the research before you start any study. Knowing that the research will be used to refine your messaging, evaluate the efficacy of a new program, or help develop a more effective campus tour will not only help develop a better research study, but manage expectations as well.

Second, and closely related to the first, use a research brief. A focused research brief created as a precursor for the study, will not only help focus the study, but also help consider its mechanics and logistics. Here’s a recent blog on how to use a research brief.

Third, do some research before you conduct your research. Get online and review similar studies and findings. Talk to colleagues around campus and around the country. Review previous research you have conducted. Chances are high that you will discover some questions, approaches, and even topics, that will enrich your study. 

Fourth, conduct and analyze the research in a timely fashion. While this may seem logical, you might be surprised at how many studies stall because the people responsible were distracted by other assignments. This is especially true at the analysis stage. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients admit that while they executed the study, they never got around to analyzing the results. An unfortunate, and costly, waste.

Fifth, remember that smaller studies done more frequently are always more effective than mega studies done every five (or more) years. When you continually have access to fresh data your team will become much more comfortable integrating the resulting insights into their marketing strategies. Also, keeping your finger on the pulse of your marketplace helps head off major surprises.

Sixth, develop a research cycle. A research cycle is a calendar of what study is done and when. For example, a five-year research cycle for undergraduate admissions might look like this:

  1. Year 1: Prospective students
  2. Year 2: Influencers (parents, guidance counselors, coaches)
  3. Year 3: Nonmatriculant study
  4. Year 4: Prospective students
  5. Year 5: Admitted student study

A research cycle not only helps assure the steady flow of marketplace data (see item five, above), but helps routinize budgeting for market research.

Seventh, make sure you have an implementation plan in place before the study is launched. Implementation will not only improve your marketing strategies but convey to the campus community that your office is a thoughtful steward of institutional resources.

A quick reminder: One way to clear the path for implementation is to make sure the marketing team was involved in the design of the study. This will reduce anxiety and surprises and increase buy-in. In addition, you will likely have a better study.  

Next, conduct a post-mortem after the study is completed—learn from your mistakes. Ask the tough questions: What questions should be added, eliminated, or retooled? Did we use the right methodology? Was it even the right audience? A well-done post-mortem can significantly improve future studies.

Finally, communicate not only the findings of the study but how the study was used to improve your marketing strategy. This will increase buy-in, and help lay the foundation for future research initiatives.

The goal of these nine tips is to increase the value of each dollar you spend on research. As a corollary, check out a recent blog on sources of inexpensive market research.

f you’d like to discuss these and other options for your institution’s research data, reach out for a conversation.

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