Harnessing Data for Excellence: Why Independent Schools Should Prioritize Market Research

Market research is a game-changer for independent schools. There’s no better way to guide your enrollment, retention and marketing strategies, inspire a strategic plan and give you the data needed to make informed decisions.

You need to know what your audiences really think about your school. A well-done, comprehensive market research study is the process of gathering information and data directly from a particular audience to gain insight into behavior, competitors and the market itself for your school.

Take the Kalix Market Research Readiness Quiz

Yes, knowledge is power. The more you know about your audiences, what motivates them and what they care about, the more strategic and effective your marketing will be.

Take our simple quiz to determine if you need market research:

  • Do you know why some of your applicants are not enrolling in your school?
  • Do you know if your advertising is conveying the right message?
  • Are you satisfied that you are keeping up with the changes in your prospective families’ decision-making priorities?
  • Have you recently studied your current families to see how you might enhance their experience with your school?
  • Do you have a data-informed understanding of whether there is the potential to expand your target market and appeal to more families?

If you answered “no” to any question, your school could benefit from market research.

What Kind of Schools Benefit From Market Research?

If your school is having enrollment and retention challenges, your school will benefit from the whys and suggestions for improvement that market research offers.

If your enrollment is relatively strong, market research is also a valuable tool to help inform your strategic priorities and stay a step ahead.

The data and insight you get from market research dramatically informs every aspect of your marketing plans and how you allocate your marketing budget, from traditional print ads to your social media strategy.

Why Do We Need New Data?

Many schools rely on old data, from previous market research studies, pre-pandemic survey results from new families and exit interviews with ANCs (Accepted But Not Coming) completed by your friendly enrollment management team. (ANCs typically aren’t as candid as they need to be with your great staff.)

Schools also are using Net Promoter Scores, a tried-and-true business marketing tool, to better understand their market. It’s a great strategy and one we encourage, but it’s only one data point. You need lots of data (quantitative and qualitative) to address what’s important to your market’s priorities to drive greater enrollment and strengthen retention.

Yes, using previously collected data saves money – market research is not inexpensive – but it can cost you. Markets change and shift, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. What may have been priorities for your market five or 10 years ago, may no longer be relevant.

Relying on anecdotal stories vs. actual data can lead to poor decisions about programs and your school’s directions. Information gleaned from market research also helps your school define the right, authentic themes that will truly resonate with your audiences and quantifies your brand in your market.  

How Much Does a Market Research Study Cost?

Market research is an investment in the future of your school, meaning, it’s not cheap.

Market research studies typically start at $30,000 for a small, qualitative study with telephone interviews. Depending upon the complexity, geographic reach, audience size and screening criteria, the price tag can go much higher.

When you interview firms, ask for an average cost of a study and what it includes. Firms unwilling to be transparent on the costs of a study may not be the right partner for you.

Check out Kalix President Jonathan Oleisky’s tips on working with marketing consultants.

The results from a study often create better, more streamlined marketing budgets for your school. No more wasting dollars on marketing efforts that aren’t effective.

How Long Does a Market Research Study Take?

A minimum of three to four months.

Applying the findings to your branding and marketing may take some time, and taking a long view is a must with market research. After completing your study, you will use the data and insights learned to make informed, strategic decisions about how you market your school. Seeing the results of the insights and learnings may take years.

How Do I Budget for a Market Research Study?

Because of the cost and time, you need to plan and budget for a market research study. Getting the buy-in from your board of trustees is key. A few pointers:

  • When planning a market research study, include a few board members in your discussions about what your marketing goals are and how a market research study will help you meet those goals.
  • Educate your board about what market research can do by talking with peer schools who have used market research and how it’s helped them achieve their marketing goals.
  • Include your board at every stage of the process: evaluating market research firm finalists, participating in surveys and attending kickoff and final report meetings.

Which Comes First? Market Research or Strategic Planning?

You wouldn’t plan a trip without maps, travel reservations and checking the weather, right? Creating a strategic plan for your school without doing a market research study is like winging it on a cross-country trip.

Don’t plan in a vacuum. You need data to see where your school is and where it needs to go. 

Many schools refer to strategic planning as a “visioning” process. Trustees, parents, faculty/staff, alumni and students brainstorm on what the school could be, and then strategic goals follow. We’ve seen these visions get off to the wrong start by using only one source of data: opinions from only the internal audience.

To plan for your school’s next chapter, you need real data — not just daydreams — on the preferences, perceptions and expectations about your school from all of your audiences.

By doing market research first, you hear directly from the marketplace to validate your hypotheses about what your audiences think and feel about your school. Then you can march confidently into a visioning and strategic planning process knowing — not guessing — what your place is in the market and what is needed to improve it.

Want to know more about what market research is and how to conduct a study, work with a firm or do it yourself, etc.?

DOWNLOAD our free e-book Marketing Research: A Strategic Guide for Independent Schools. 

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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