When you survey prospects and students, you try to profile them, hoping to focus a message around what they want from your product. In segmenting your students and parents during a survey, where do you start? It helps to think in terms of the profile data on which you could act. You need to be specific with targeted questions about why someone chose online learning, which publications on e-learning they read, what groups they have joined and what other competitors they considered when choosing a school. In fact, there is a whole array of data you can acquire through effective market research, which are not limited to demographics.
- Student segments: Do students in different stages of your customer life cycle value the attributes of your school differently? If yes, develop different content for approaching students who are prospects, free trials, have studied with you for 6 months, or for more than 2 years.
- Behavioral: This data applies to some action your students have taken. This includes segmenting responses by web pages viewed, original source, or whether they have showed interest in other schools.
- Psychographics: Some data offer a psychological profile of your students or parents. Parents may consider themselves as part of a generation (ie. Baby Boom, Generation X, Generation Y) or belong to a group that defines them in a way that a simple demographic does not (ie. Homeschoolers, Autistic children, Religious parents, Veterans, the LGBT community, Cosmo readers, Retirees, Environmentalists, etc.).
- Demographics: These are basic data like age, sex, marital status and income. While some questions may not be appropriate for students, they can be helpful in segmenting and understanding the parents who are exploring different educational opportunities.
In terms of market research, this profile data will be transcribed against the rating questions you include in your survey. You will start to know that homeschool parents really value the freedom to explain curriculum in conjunction with family religious beliefts while parents of autistic students feel their children will excel more in an online environment. While segmentation of your market is a useful concept for other forms of market research like panels and focus groups, if you want quantitative validation that your ideas about a segment hold true among everyone in that population, then you will need to conduct a survey. And as you design your questionnaire, make sure to ask questions that will give you relevant dimensions with which to segment your students. Some rules apply:
- Don’t ask what you already know: If you ask your students for a geographic location when they originally fill in a form and can track that data back to responses, then there’s no reason to ask it again during a survey.
- Don’t ask what you have no possibility of using: If there is no way that you can differentiate marketing tactics for different segments, don’t ask the question. Survey space is precious. Although we may be curious about some inane demographic or another, only ask for it if you can actually use the information.
- If you ask something very personal, leave an opt-out option: Some parents or students may not want to share information about their income or lifestyle or race. If you have a survey question that is more personal, then add in the option “I prefer not to say.”
- Don’t be afraid to identify the needs of a tiny part of your audience: Some marketers think that they only attract a certain type of student, so why even try to delineate responses by some other dimension. However, a small segment of prospects could lead you to a new opportunity; you can use different messaging to attract that audience to your existing curriculum, or even launch a new curriculum catering to that particular segment.
- Slice your data any way you can: When you’ve finished collecting your survey data, slice each question by all segments. You may be surprised at which segments correlate (or don’t correlate) to different ratings.
- Don’t assume anything: Just because you believe something to be true doesn’t make it so. At all companies, anecdotal evidence can take on the mantel of established fact. It gets repeated so many times that everyone believes it without checking the evidence. Market research is meant to challenge these assumptions.
Now that you’ve thought about how to conceptualize your student segments, you’re ready to include the right questions into your survey, and be ready to slice satisfaction, importance, determinance and any other measure by these segments. You can then approach various types of students with content relevant to their needs, enabling you to generate new business and retain existing enrollments.