Higher Education Marketing

Using Analytics Tools to Better Understand Market Segments in Higher Education

Date posted: May 11, 2012

Good marketing is all about segmentation. If you truly understand your market and communicate effectively with them you will be successful in whatever your goals or “conversion events” might be. The higher ed marketplace is no different in this respect, it is just really complicated by the wide range of programs, approaches and types of people it serves. This post provides a few organizing concepts and examples to try and help make it a bit simpler for higher education marketers to understand their digital market segments and improve their overall effectiveness (and results!) through analytics.

So let’s review the four basic types of market segmentation and showcase how two tools, Google Analytics and Google Website Optimizer, can be used to analyze those different segments of traffic on your website. The four basic types of Market Segmentation are: 1) Geographic 2) Demographic 3) Psychographic 4) Behavioral

1) Geographic Market Segmentation

Geographic segmentation breaks down your web traffic by geographic criteria – countries, states/provinces, regions, counties, cities, neighborhoods, or even zip/postal codes. The report below, from Google Analytics, shows a distribution of website visitors from the state of Texas to an anonymous college’s website over a 1 month period. If you are College or University marketer with a high priority to recruit students regionally, this simple type of analysis can make your marketing planning and recruitment human resource allocations much simpler.

2) Demographic Market Segmentation As you know, demographics are statistical characteristics of your site visitor population. Demographic segmentation involves things like age, gender, family size, income, occupation, education, religion, race and nationality. In this example, Google Analytics is used to report visitor behavior, based on the language settings used on their computers. International student recruitment is a very important part of revenue generation for many colleges and universities. This type of analysis can be very useful to marketing planning and optimization of your site, as you work to develop a relationship with these foreign language speaking, prospect students.

3) Psychographic Market Segmentation Psychographic segmentation examines markets according to lifestyle, personality, and values. Psychographic segmentation is often studied in parallel to demographics as people within the same demographic group often have very different psychographic profiles. In simple terms, they represent an individual’s interests, activities, and opinions, including attitudes and cultural touchstones. In the Google Analytics report below, a community college’s microsite mobile traffic is examined to reveal local student smart phone preference. Over 66% of the mobile device traffic is from an Apple operating system. So in this market, Apple is clearly winning the brand battle for the hearts and minds of the college student. Understanding student popular opinion toward and use of Apple, Android and Blackberry systems can be very important in setting priorities in the future development of internal college mobile apps and campaigns. Just for the record, in the writing of this post we’ve had a lively discussion in our office over the question of “is mobile operating system a psychographic or a behavioral segment”. I personally believe, that in this case, it is psychographic because it seems that these days, your selection of smart phone OS is as much a political statement of your support to Apple, Google and to a lesser extent RIM, rather than simply the purchase of a product. Let us know how you feel about this question and we will report back with your feedback in a future post.

4) Behavioral Market Segmentation Behavioral segmentation typically divides people into groups according to their knowledge of, attitude towards, use of, or response to, a product. In the higher education digital marketing context, we use web analytics to break-down the range of all visitors (prospective students, existing students, staff, parents, alumni, etc.) into a number of discrete channels. Each channel is then analyzed and a virtual profile is created to deal with each channel. These profiles can be developed into personas that give you a starting point in terms of deciding what content, navigation and layout to present to each of the different personas for optimal conversion results. Further micro-segmentation of your channels can be researched using A/B testing, (the example below is from Google Website Optimizer), on content, messaging and calls to action, allowing visitor behavior to further indicate which of your communications lead to the most desired outcomes or conversion events for each segment and when to further split your messaging into tighter segments. I‘ve only touched on a few examples here, revealing the tip of the segmentation iceberg. We’ve looked at a few default reports, to demonstrate how readily available this type of analysis is to you, within your existing resources. Once you master the basics of segmentation, the sky is the limit in terms of what higher level segmentation strategies you implement and the analyses you develop to track their performance. But that is another topic (or two)! I do hope to have demonstrated that using these (free) tools even in the most basic ways, can lead you down the road to improved marketing effectiveness.

We would love to get your feedback on these approaches and hear about your favourite market segmentation success stories. Please share your feedback and comments below. Thanks


Scott Duncan has worked in post-secondary educational marketing for over 25 years developing and marketing curriculum materials, marketing educational software, consulting to post-secondary institutions and most recently focusing on developing traditional and e-marketing solutions for student recruitment. He has extensive experience in student recruiting for continuing education and non-credit programs.

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