Enrollment Opportunity: Under-served Segments
Dec 10, 2017
You serve a specific geographic market, and specific segments residing within that market.
But markets can see their population change over time with people moving in and out due to many factors. Even those that remain will have different wants and needs as they age.
When your population changes, your ability to rely on the same programs and services, modalities, pricing and promotional efforts will become less effective. Enrollment goals will be harder to meet.
Many institutions have seen this happen and elected to pursue new markets via online programs. Unfortunately, the underestimate the fact that, as the ‘new kid in town’, they lack the reputation they enjoy at home and now must deal with a new set of competitors that are well established in those markets.
Instead of exploring new markets, we recommend looking at your existing market for the new opportunities that are developing.
What is an ‘under-served segment’?
An ‘under-served segment’ is a group of people in your target market (geographic) that is not enrolling in your programs but is large in numbers, ideally growing, but is enrolling at a significant number or is voicing a desire to enroll in larger numbers if they can find a solution or option that they see as valuable.
Typically, this occurs when the population in your market is changing with new residents entering the market.
Why consider under-served segments?
Your market – the geographic area that you serve – can change over time. The population ages. People move in and out of your market for a variety of reasons. The chances that your market remains unchanged over time are low so, if you haven’t been paying close attention, you could be trying to serve an audience that can no longer support your growth plans.
An under-served segment could be a large, growing group of people that now represents the ‘new look’ of your market.
Additionally, as you look to grow – or even maintain enrollment levels – your primary audience may no longer be able to provide you with the demand you need. When many colleges encounter this and realize it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve enrollment goals, the common response is to spend more money chasing what is a smaller audience.
Changing with your market is key and allows you to leverage existing strengths such as brand awareness and reputation – something that you cannot do if you elect to enter new markets as many have attempted via online program offerings.
How can you identify these segments?
Start with a clear understanding of your current student population, then compare that with your market’s population. Using demographic, psychographic and behavioral factors, you will be able to identify segments that are not enrolled in significant numbers in your programs, yet represent a sizeable percentage of your market.
We suggest working with companies like Nielson Claritas that specialize in segmentation.
How can you identify if an under-served segment offers you a reasonable opportunity for success?
The first step is to gather the right data which would include answers to questions such as:
- Where are they currently enrolling?
- What do they like and dislike about those institutions?
- What would do they want/need but cannot get from those institutions today?
- What do they want and need from a college in terms of programs, services, etc.?
- What do they know and think about your institution, programs and services?
- Why haven’t they enrolled in your programs to-date?
Some of this information may be available in existing research and reports, some of this information may require you to perform your own primary research including focus groups, interviews and surveys.
Analyze the data, Decide Next Steps, Test
Once you have gathered the data you need to answer your key questions, you can decide if it makes sense to pursue this segment. But we recommend you develop a detailed list of what you have that the segment values and what you don’t, so you can determine what you need to acquire or develop and the cost and time necessary to acquire them.
For example, you may need to hire people with certain expertise – how many and at what cost?
Perhaps you need to modify operations and processes – what is the impact on current resources? Are additional resources necessary? What is the cost?
Then begin laying out your plan in terms of what you need to get started, what results you anticipate and what needs to be done over the near and long-term to achieve your vision.
When you start, do so in a realistic way that doesn’t negatively impact your existing operations and efforts. This is a long-term strategy, not something that is going to magically happen overnight.
And set up processes that allow you to quickly, easily evaluate performance, so you can adjust based on actual results. You are going to see portions of your plan work as expected and other portions fall short, so modifications are to be expected.
Lastly, have an exit plan because sometimes you are going to discover that what you thought would work is not – and that new data and insights, as well as any changes that might occur within your institution or in the market, are showing that what once was an attractive opportunity has turned into a less attractive option.
The benefit of the exit plan is that it takes most of the emotion out of the decision and maps out a process for change. You have specific goals and objectives that you need to meet along a timeline and if they are not met, you begin to implement the exit plan rather than delay decisions based on the hope that things will soon improve.
All markets undergo change. Serving new, growing segments of the population in your current market can allow you to better leverage your existing strengths and resources while also allowing you to compete against familiar institutions.
Your mission is to serve your community and that means changing with it.
The benefit of exploring under-served segments in your market is that you can leverage your existing brand reputation and awareness to better serve your changing community. And where others will attempt to enter new markets or expand the geographic/size of their current market, the face competition from the institutions in those new markets.
Patrick McGraw is VP of Higher Educaton Marketing Services and has more than 25 years experience in market research, competitive intelligence, business intelligence including database marketing and CRM, strategic planning, brand development and management as well as operations/campaign management. His work has consistently helped his clients and employers develop and implement more efficient ways to attract and retain profitable customers, enter new markets and launch new products. His areas of focus include the education, hospitality, travel and tourism, hi-tech, telecommunications, financial services, and retail industries on both the agency and customer sides.