Yes, market research can be expensive. Market research can require a lot of time, effort, energy, money...
Or market research can be performed in a way that provides a steady, timely stream of valuable insights that help your institution stay ahead of some opportunities and threats. And that can lead one heck of an ROI.
Here's how you can develop an on-going market research process within your institution that doesn't break the bank while avoiding that "...we don't have 3 months...' rationalization against investing those stand-alone market research projects that pop up from time to time.
Step 1: What do you need to know?
What do you need to know about your market? What do you need to know about the government at the local, state, and federal levels? The environment? Society? Technology? Competition?
Lay out what you need to know and why you need to know it so that for every bit of data gathered, there will be someone responsible for reviewing it, analyzing it, and using it to make recommendations on a regular basis.
Now, I realize this sounds rather simple but the truth of the matter is this helps contain costs and maximize returns.
Simple. By identifying what data is needed, you go through a process of identifying and prioritizing which limits the potential for gathering unnecessary information or information that isn't viewed as critical.
You see, in many instances, organizations will look at a stand-alone research project as "the only opportunity we will have to get everything" and the list can start to look like a child's Christmas List for Santa - filled with a lot of "nice to have" but not "need to have." Starting off the process with this step focuses on the "need to have."
Now, this list should include:
- Government: Local, state, and federal should be considered and then the topics that are most likely to arise from these sources that will impact your institution directly as well as your competition, and your audience.
- Economy: This will focus on the local job market - who are the major employers? What are their plans for the future? What types of positions are they looking to fill - and what are the educational requirements for those positions?
- Society: Beyond your own target audience/segments in the market, what is society's perspective of higher education? Your institution? The competition? Are there any unmet or under-served needs in the market that you can fill? Are there any shifts in wants and needs that might impact the demand for current offerings?
- Technology: What's going on in areas that will help with educational delivery and service/support of faculty, staff, prospective students, current students, alumni, and even vendors/service providers that you work with currently?
- Competition: What do they offer in terms of programs and services, and how do they compare with your offering? What are their strengths? Weaknesses? Are they growing? Shrinking? Staying the same size in terms of students? Faculty? Staff? Why?
Step 2: Where can we get the data? What is considered 'acceptable sources'? Where and how will the data be stored?
These questions are also critical to ask and answer upfront before any actions are taken because it helps identify what can be done internally and what needs to be done through outside expertise. Also, agreeing on quality sources of data upfront means the process will flow more efficiently, and any recommendations from the analysis of the data are more likely to be accepted and acted upon rather than questions, debated and ignored.
Step 3: Who will perform the analysis, make the recommendations?
You want the right people analyzing the data collected so that practical, relevant recommendations can be made.
For example, you probably won't want an entry-level data analyst handling the financial analysis of the competition to determine if your competition has the cash reserves to successfully launch and deliver new programs and services. That might be best handled by someone with experience in the CFO's office.
Same for evaluating the hiring, training, evaluation, and compensation of faculty at your competition.
And you can add curriculum evaluation and comparison to the list as well.
Step 4: Regularly scheduled updates to ensure timeliness
This final step establishes a sense of urgency so that the market research initiative remains the top priority that it is. Rotate the updates for presentations to the Cabinet and Board so that the topic of strategic planning is constantly on the agenda, constantly being evaluated and modified, when necessary.
Some Final Thoughts
By following these steps, you will create an on-going market intelligence process that helps you identify opportunities and threats in a timely manner so you can develop appropriate responses rather than react to events as they occur.
And with Steps 1 and 2, you can determine the impact of this effort on your existing resources so you can determine who will be responsible for what tasks within your institution, and what external assistance you might require.
Then, with the details you have put together, you can more effectively identify and select the appropriate external vendors while also receiving more accurate proposals.