Gathering student feedback to stand out in a crowded marketplace (MSVU)

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The Situation

In many parts of Canada, colleges and universities can no longer count on the steady domestic supply of 17- and 18-year-olds they once did to fill their enrolments. This is especially true in Nova Scotia, where demographic changes and outmigration have led to a shrinking youth population. Add in the fact that Nova Scotia has 10 universities and a community college system that offers programs at 13 locations to a provincial population of less than a million, and it's more important than ever for PSE institutions to position themselves clearly and impactfully in the minds of potential students.

With an enrolment of 2,200 full-time undergraduates, the Halifax-based Mount Saint Vincent University knew that it needed an advertising campaign that would make it stand out from the five other universities located in Halifax, as well as other schools across Nova Scotia and Canada. It was with this goal in mind that it created its “Small Wonder” advertising campaign. But the Mount also knew that it would need reliable research to make sure its message was being heard and was garnering positive responses.


The Solution

Post-secondary institutions don't have the resources to be pushing ineffective marketing materials. They need to make the most of every touchpoint with prospective students. That's why the Mount began working with Academica Group on a Creative Testing and Brand research project to gain a better understanding of the perceptions that high school and post-secondary students had of the Mount and its offerings. Academica developed and administered an online survey to secondary and post-secondary students in Eastern Canada, as well as Ontario and Alberta, which were identified as important regions for the Mount's recruitment and awareness efforts. The survey asked participants about their awareness, familiarity with, and perceptions of east coast institutions to see where the Mount stood among its regional comparators. The survey also asked about overall perceptions of the advertising campaign and the Small Wonder focus, providing students with a series of individual ads to gauge their perceptions. These perceptions were then compared across the ad set to determine which ads were most preferred, least preferred, and most unique, as well as which had the best visual appeal and best image-message match, among other factors.

The research validated the efforts of the Mount’s marketing team by indicating a positive response from prospective students who’d seen the school’s ads, but also helped the team hone its strategy by providing vital information on which ads received the most positive responses from which groups. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the research provided insights into which specific programs were running more effective ads than others, allowing the Mount to make creative decisions that were evidence-based and were directly tied to its Strategic Enrolment Management goals at the program level.

“By telling us which elements of our campaign worked and which didn’t, this research provided us with the insights we needed to tie our creative marketing efforts to our enrolment goals in a whole new way.”
Lauren Leal
Manager of Marketing
Mount Saint Vincent University


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