How do you find out what people really think of you?


Brand perception research for Bournemouth University

This challenge was all about perception

Bournemouth University (BU) needed to know how other people saw them. They’d invested heavily in developing their candidate messaging and attraction campaigns, but hadn’t yet really got to grips with the role of influencers in the decision making process. This is what they came to us for.

In particular, BU wanted to understand two things. First, how four key stakeholder groups – Head Teachers and Careers Advisors, Employers, Local MPs and LEPs, and International universities – perceived them as an institution providing a quality education. And second, how this perception compared to their competitor institutions.

These were big issues. So we got cracking

We asked all the right questions

To make sure we had the whole picture, we carried out a wide range of research methods. These included focus groups, qualitative and quantitative surveys, and telephone interviews to key stakeholder groups. Our goal, every time, was to test the following attitudes:

  • Familiarity – with BU brand, courses, quality and overall
    student experience
  • Overall opinion – of BU’s complete offer
  • Conviction – how strongly each group held their beliefs
  • League table ranking – how highly they believed BU ranked against other institutions
  • Brand attributes – what characteristics BU has and its association in their minds.

We looked ahead, as well as deeper

When planning this project with BU, it was clearly important that we made it more than just a quick ‘temperature check’.

Our research had to be thorough enough to influence not only the development of messaging strategy by audience segment, but the whole BU communications and branding strategy over the coming years.

So we made sure it was.

The findings were mostly positive – and entirely valuable

Once we’d finished and analysed our research, we produced a full report which we presented at board level. The key findings were:

  • Overall, Bournemouth enjoyed widespread recognition as a provider of
    high-quality education and a great student experience
  • Businesses were particularly enthused about the quality of BU’s teaching
    and graduates
  • There were plenty of perceived strengths among graduates, as well as
    some areas that needed to be more heavily promoted
  • Bournemouth struggled to compete on the international stage with some of its longer established competitors, especially in London, through lack of awareness.

We didn’t just play back the findings, though. We also drew up a matrix of perceptions, identified areas of improvement, and suggested a range of new strategies to address the big issues.

The impact we made is easy to perceive

The immediate difference our research made can be seen in BU’s brand, which has been defined and developed with our findings in mind. Our project has also played a large part in the development of their new marketing strategy, which will feed into the University’s 2025 plan.

And we’re not finished. We’ll be rerunning the research a year on from the original project, with phase one as a benchmark, to see how things are progressing. And next time, we’ll be adding additional audiences too.

Because the more BU know, the more they can change things.