This post originally appeared on Inside Higher Ed’s blog Call to Action: Marketing and Communications in Higher Education. Please go to the original post on the Inside Higher Ed website to leave a comment.

Nearly every time I have an audience, they hear my version of the 10:90 Rule. It goes like this: Invest 10% of your annual marketing budget in market research to improve the chances of the other 90% maximizing your marketing return-on-investment (mROI).

Few people on your campus would argue the essential and perpetual need to boost your school’s visibility and elevate its brand among the audiences who contribute to your revenue streams. We’re talking about your current and prospective employees, current and prospective students (and their parents), alumni, donors, and friends. These folks pack the potential to be your most influential ambassadors in the world.

Equipping and energizing your ambassadors with accurate and compelling information about your school is, without a doubt, a very wise marketing investment. But for you to build an effective promotional plan that will be relevant to them, resonate powerfully with them, and be remembered and repeated by them, you need to understand a great deal about them:

  1. You need to understand current perceptions and misperceptions these key audiences have about your school now. Ultimately, you want them to think and feel about your school in ways that are aligned with your institutional vision so they can help youachieve that vision.
  2. You need to have a firm grasp on your perceived competitors; your chances of competing successfully for charitable support, for students, and for outstanding new employees are significantly strengthened if your brand marketing strategies fully leverage your competitive strengths and mitigate perceived competitive liabilities.
  3. You need to have an intimate knowledge of your audiences’ most relevant and resonant concerns, issues, causes, and expectations; if your promotional efforts don’t address them and speak their language, your audiences simply won’t pay attention.
  4. You must honor their communication channel preferences and leverage their most trusted and valued information sources; trying to communicate through a channel that isn’t appreciated, valued or trusted is a waste of your marketing resources.
  5. And you must help your entire campus understand and tap prospective stakeholder passions and preferences; appealing to prospective donors, prospective students, and prospective employees with ill-informed cases for support is, quite simply, a recipe for campaign failure.

Maximizing marketing efficiency simply can’t be accomplished without these five essential understandings firmly in hand. So if you’re charged to produce more, better, and bigger institutional brand “bang” with fewer resources, give yourself the ROI boost that only market research can provide. It’s one of the best 10% investments you’ll ever make.

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