Understanding your audiences


Recently, after completing three extensive pieces of market research, we uncovered three main topics that highlighted the need to understand our audiences as a top priority for universities. It’s safe to say that we’re all not the same as we were in 2019, and it’s time we looked at how we can support students through this.

We found three major themes, that shared why and how we can improve their journeys.

Big trends

Over the summer, Jackie Grisdale, our leading Youth Marketing Consultant, and Rachel Ditchfield, our Lead Researcher, conducted a piece of longitudinal research, that surveyed 2,000 students aged between 16-22 from different backgrounds, locations and communities. When asked ‘what is extremely concerning to you?’ a third of participants responded saying that mental health was top of the list. Followed closely by racism, equality and violent crime.

From our research came three big takeaways.

  • A generation with mixed feelings
    The past 18 months has had a large impact on students and how they’re feeling – are we taking this into consideration? Are we adding to their anxiety, and can we reassure them?
  • Big societal issues are a concern
    The latest generation of students are showing a heightened awareness, and a strong demand for change. As the research showed, social causes are causing some of the highest concerns, so how can we reduce that impact? Can you show a fair and impartial process?
  • It is impacting their decisions
    The impact of the global pandemic has inevitably had an impact on youth audiences. The last 18 months have had an increasing affect on them in more ways than one, and is influencing their decisions. Are we are aware of the impact this is creating and how can we improve engagement to support them?

Applicant Experience

When it comes to a student’s experience with a university, it’s imperative you get it right. Our recent syndicated research project with the CASE Universities Marketing Forum engaged responses from a total panel of over 26,500 and focused on the applicant experience and where experience can be improved to help future students.

Our findings found that to create the best experience, we should consider:

  • Approach to events is an important factor. Students prefer campus-based events, but they have expressed a need for variety and flexibility. They want the options and the choice at different stages of decision-making.
  • Quality and experience have lacked through the past 24 months. Students have expressed that they felt underwhelmed due to poor inactivity and lack of UX. Investment in improving virtual events and digital engagement is important in light of ongoing uncertainty.
  • Comms and marketing can assist in relieving any feelings of anxiety or general concerns. Providing up-to-date information about what the university experience will be like, signposting support services, as well as other services can help reassure students.

Online Learning

In early 2020, we noticed a gap in understanding the online distance learning market, the scale provision and how the pandemic was shifting perceptions towards online learning. Our research and consultancy team put together an extensive a market-leading and detailed report into online distance learning.

Using the 7 P’s Marketing Framework, we found key findings against each area:

  • Product: There’s two main factors that inspire students to study, improving their career prospects and an interest in the subject area.
  • Place: When it comes to online learning, the location of a university matters to over half of our panel and is important to deciding where to take an online course.
  • Price: There is a strong connection between price and perceived quality; the higher the fees, the higher the perceived quality.
  • Promotion: Unsurprisingly, search engines and university websites are the key channels used most by prospective online students, but our research did find an opportunity for greater alignment across overall university marketing.
  • People: The key finding here is that online learners have compact short-lists (great majority only consider 2 or less providers), and very short decision-making periods from research to enrolment, typically, just three months
  • Physical evidence: Overall, most online learners have positive experiences with their learning platform, but high-value courses like MBA’s and Masters there is a greater propensity for students to be less satisfied.
  • Process: Communication throughout the onboarding process could be improved with a clear desire for greater personalisation and relevance highlighted as being particularly important.

Overall, our three areas of research have highlighted the importance of understanding your audiences, especially, given the changes of the last 18 months. If you’d like to watch the full recording of our event, click here.