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By the time you get this, you’ll have forgotten about the first episode on market research. 


So, a two-sentence recap: 

  • Surveys are NOT the only form of market research available, and in some cases they’re just not adequate, especially for strategic work for schools
  • Good market research gives you an INDEPENDENT view, insight and intelligence to prevent small problems (before they become big), make informed decisions, and create unanticipated delight for customers


My second blog on this subject goes deeper on finding where the value lies in market research for independent schools, and uncovering the gems that are key to crafting a compelling value proposition for your target market.


How did I get here, with a model that works so well with independent schools?


I completed my Chartered Marketer CM(SA)  designation in 2021 with MASA. The chapter on Market Research was by far my favourite of all seven chapters of the portfolio that we had to submit in order to qualify to write the Board Exam. So, I tackled it first. 


In the process, I found that across all sectors, both manufacturing and service economies, marketers tend to outsource their market research requirements to full-service research companies. This is because it’s not a core part of the marketing department, so it’s understandable. 


Surveys have become the bulk of the work by many larger agencies. A school marketer will seldom get involved in the methodology used, the process of market research and how findings link to strategy.


I see this as a lost opportunity, and it’s part of what I believe makes my work so unique.


Do you have market-related reports gathering dust on shelves?


When discussing the needs of schools, I’ve often been told about market research reports and marketing workshop reports that are sitting on their shelves. It’s a huge waste of resources. Is this happening at your school?


For me, if my Houseway Consulting brand is on a report, it’s critical that it gets implemented within the first year. This is because that’s when it counts the most and the research is the most relevant. So, in addition to presentations and co-creation work that adds an edge to my projects and training in school marketing, I also provide free follow-up online calls for projects. Follow-up calls allow for clarification on the recommendations and implementation plans that the marketing team need to activate.


I also give random nudges along the way to encourage implementation. You’ll know if you’ve had a nudge from me! Or maybe you’ll be getting one soon!


Why are schools different when it comes to market research?


Large-scale survey work of entire communities is necessary for many consumer industries. But not for all sectors. For schools, market research that’s valuable and relevant to marketing strategy is more interview-based than survey-based, in my view. 


Interviews with whom, you ask? 


It depends on the project. What are you trying to achieve? If you’re looking for a competitive market positioning (owning that step on the ladder), then a sample of the Board, management and staff are key, followed by existing parents. The questions you ask are tailored to the project objectives, but also allow for exploring and probing to get clarity. This is where the gems are.


For a project related to the school’s place in the community, and in development work, stakeholder interviews are critical (community groups, NGOs, Associations). But always, the customer interviews (parents more so than children due to the nature of schooling) are for me the most valuable. And the alumni. Oh, the alumni. Such gold!


A combination of methodologies is ideal.


Gather insights via interviews, test initial outputs via a survey. Then follow-up interviews can flesh out the new concept or refine the detail, producing a result that is well-tested and compelling.


Focus groups with parents are emotive if gathering opinions on past and present. Whereas they can add value if testing concepts and new ideas that have already been initiated through other research methods.


For students (for example, teenagers) I’ve found that focus groups are better than one-to-one interviews. 


Why do I feel that independent interviews are best to uncover the gems in schools?


I was originally trained in interviewing as a young strategy consultant. I remember visiting offices and factories and construction sites and wineries to speak face-to-face with the internal staff and the external customers, existing or past or prospective. Often co-driving with sales reps, asking them lots of questions as we traveled from call to call. Follow me on LinkedIn to read some of my stories of my journey.


It was in these early days of strategy consulting where I learnt the value of eye-to-eye communications when gathering data for use in developing marketing strategy. This is where the gems are uncovered, the aha moments arise and the magic happens.


Even if interviewing online, the pros far outweigh the cons in the interview process. It works.


Talking one-to-one in the interviewee’s own environment (virtual or physical) is where the magic starts to happen. I love the fact that I never know how it’s going to go. I still get butterflies before every interview! Having a set discussion guide of questions approved by the client is key, but it’s only a guide. Marketing strategy calls for insight.


I believe interviewing customers and stakeholders by an independent consultant is a process that works exceptionally well for marketing strategy in schools. This is because I believe schools are people-places where a parent’s child is the key focus –  Unlike products or services such as baked beans, mortgage bonds or cell phones. Also, the softer aspects are more important than ever today. Integrity and trust are key. Customers are much more informed, and understandably more cynical of superficial promises.


Perception is reality


Of course, in an independent interview of this nature, there’s little objectivity by the interviewee. This is intentional.


It’s important because perception is reality in marketing. Perspectives need to be raw and uncut, not packaged and sanitised. The interview findings are then summarised and reported back anonymously by the independent researcher to the organisation as input into the marketing strategy, revealing the gems.


Trust is built. 

Understanding is achieved. 

Quality is the result.


Contact me to find out more about research-based marketing strategy for independent schools.


I'm Keryn House

I enjoy writing on my niche in marketing strategy for independent schools. I’m inspired by global trends driving change in this sector – from consumer trends to educational trends to market and macro trends.

I like to draw from my background in strategy across multiple sectors as well as my personal and professional journey to craft short conversational and topical pieces.

I hope you feel informed, inspired and supported as readers of this blog from wherever you are in the world. I encourage comments and suggestions on content. Please also connect with me on my social platforms.