Insights — That Question that Comes Up in Every Research Presentation, Part 3: Brand-Health Metrics

That Question that Comes Up in Every Research Presentation, Part 3: Brand-Health Metrics

Resources , Thought leadership / September 08, 2017

This year, we have been giving our readers an occasional glimpse into SimpsonScarborough’s normative database, which contains findings from hundreds of studies we’ve conducted over our past decade of research work. We use this data to give our clients some context for their own survey findings. (Caveat: We can only include data gathered on standard questions that are worded the same and include the same set of response options.)

In March, we covered response rates and Net Promoter Scores; in May we shared what we’ve gleaned about alumni engagement. This month, we’re sharing findings from several brand-health metrics.

Brand health is something that most schools are (or should) be tracking every few years. It helps measure and understand how audiences feel about your college or university. It starts with the institution conducting a foundational research study that provides baseline measures and then replicating the study every couple of years to understand if and how the needle has moved. It is extremely important to measure before and after a major marketing, branding, or advertising initiative if you want to understand the campaign’s impact on your key stakeholders. In this article, we will share findings on three brand-health metrics we have gathered from our work.

Unaided identification (or brand awareness). This is a simple way to measure the extent to which your institution is (or isn’t) top-of-mind in your market. A typical awareness question is, “When you think of excellent colleges/universities in [geographic area], which ones come to mind FIRST? We typically ask respondents to write in schools located within a certain geography; other times we ask them to indicate schools that are best known for certain things (liberal arts, STEM, Jesuit education, etc.). “Unaided” means that respondents are not provided with a list of schools to choose from, they are simply given blank lines and asked to write in up to five schools. This is a great tool to help measure the effectiveness and reach of your marketing efforts: Are audiences thinking of your institution or recognizing it more than before?

Below are the average percentages for how often each audience writes in the name of the client school.

  • Current undergrads: 58% identify client
    • Privates: 61%
    • Publics: 54%
  • Current grads: 51%
    • Privates: 55%
    • Publics: 43%
  • Alumni: 51%
    • No difference between public and private
  • Faculty and staff: 34%
    • No difference between public and private

Notice how faculty and staff are lower? We call that the “faculty dip.” Faculty members are always an institution’s most critical audience, and so it is never unusual for us to see their numbers much lower than those for other audiences.

Familiarity. In a brand survey, one of the first things we do is ask respondents to rate their level of familiarity with your institution. This is important because if they are NOT familiar with your school, they can’t answer questions about it in any informed way. Familiarity is also a foundational brand-health metric. For this question, we give respondents a small subset of peer/aspirant schools to rate so that we can see how their familiarity with your institution compares to that of other institutions in your competitive set.

We ask respondents to indicate whether they have 1) never heard of this school, 2) only know the name, 3) are somewhat familiar, or 4) are very familiar. Average total familiarity (somewhat or very familiar) with the client school is shown below:

  • Prospective undergrads: 65% somewhat or very familiar with client institution
  • Prospective grads: 85% somewhat or very familiar

Preference (also known as likelihood to consider). This is a question we typically ask of prospective students to understand how likely they are to consider applying to and/or attending both the client institution and a small subset of its close peer/aspirant schools (ideally the same list we used in the familiarity question). Familiarity and likelihood to consider are closely correlated, and both metrics are key to determining the success and reach of your marketing and branding efforts.

Below are mean preference ratings for our client schools, on a rating scale where 1=not at all likely to consider and 10=extremely likely to consider:

  • Prospective undergrads: mean of 4.5
    • Privates: 4.1
    • Publics: 5.3
  • Prospective grads: mean of 5.2
    • No difference between public and private

These three simple metrics form the foundation for an institution’s brand benchmarking efforts. Tracking these metrics and others over time is critical to understanding the evolution of a brand, how well it is performing, and whether marketing objectives are being met. If you have conducted research with us in the past, gather those reports and see where you fall among other institutions we’ve worked with.

This is the third and (for now) final article in a three-part series in which we share general information we have gathered from our work over the past decade. Every day we are gathering more and more data on colleges and universities. As our normative database grows, we will continue to report back on our findings and insights.

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