From education to employment

The value of market research

Research has always been a high priority for The College Marketing Network, and that’s why we were so keen to get involved with the RCU on a research project commissioned by LSIS earlier this year, looking at the effective use of data in marketing. Through online surveys, research workshops and in-depth interviews, we’ve learned how marketers are sourcing and using data to inform their marketing, and just as importantly, how college managers view the role of marketers in understanding the college community.

Knowing who our are customers are, who our potential customers are, and what they think about us are vitally important when the current government agenda is based on accountability and response to community needs. Colleges must work with employers to develop and upskill the workforce, must generate income from adults, as well as provide relevant HE and FE. All of this means colleges need to know their local markets inside out: we can’t rely on external research any more to give us the depth of information needed to plan the curriculum and meet the needs of our potential customers.

Now the research is complete and a new Effective Practice Guide on using data in marketing has been published on the Excellence Gateway, which brings together what’s been learnt, and provides case studies, sources and techniques to support college staff in researching their communities. Most importantly, it lists the “ten top tips” that will ensure colleges – both managers and marketers – are making the most of research in their annual planning cycles.

These include ensuring strategic commitment, identifying responsibilities, and creating a single access point for data – nothing makes effective use of data more difficult than not knowing who holds it, but often vital information, for example about employer links, is held by a number of managers across a college rather than all in one place. Other tips for success are to identify the key questions you need to research – it’s not often possible to research everything at once – and to create a market intelligence plan for each key question.

In the 25 years of the College Marketing Network, colleges have gone through feverish competition, uneasy collaborations, central and regional planning, and now the “freedom and flexibility” for colleges to develop and serve their chosen markets. The need for market research has ebbed and flowed over the years, as centralised planning and regional research informed and directed college planning through FEFC, LSC and other bodies.

Now it’s time for FE marketers to step up and demonstrate they have the research skills to enable their colleges to position themselves effectively within their communities – and it’s time for college managers to make full use of the skills that exist within their marketing teams to support – and maybe even lead – curriculum planning, review and promotion. In our 25th year, our Annual Conference will be focussing on developing these skills.

Rachel Smith is chief executive of the College Marketing Network

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