POSTED BY: | November 16, 2020

Brand Research – Case Study

Our Indiana-based college client that provides multiple options for higher education needed to know internal and external perspectives of the school’s reputation. SMARI conducted 25 online focus groups to gain insight into these perceptions.

Industry: Public Higher Education


Services Provided: Key Drivers of Attraction, Consumer Segmentation, Online Focus Groups, SWOT Analysis




If you know anything about college, you probably know that the process of selecting and applying to college can be filled with trepidation and complications. Most ask questions like, “what schools can I afford?”, “what should I major in?”, “is this the right decision for me and my life?” A very important question for everyone going through this lengthy process should be, “what can each college offer me?” As such, colleges need to attract students and provide an easy application process. One Indiana-based college asked SMARI to uncover their brand equity and how their strengths can be formed into attracting students of all ages.

Innovative Tools used for this area of Applied Research:

  • Moderated Online Focus Groups
  • In-Depth Interviews



A series (it felt like a marathon) of 25 online focus groups by trained SMARI moderators were conducted over the course of 3 months. Each focus group was comprised of a different segment – among both internal and external audiences. The discussion was finely tuned to the audience but included common themes to gather college preference/drivers of attraction, influences on college selection, and preferred communication methods from prospective schools.

Once the college selection process points and determinants were established, we measured our client’s performance in these areas with internal and external sentiments pertinent to their brand.



Results showed that affordability, location, and degree/major offered were the most significant factors in the selecting a college among students of all ages. Parents and teachers have a larger influence in traditional students’ decisions than other influencer groups and we found out their preferred methods and info points of communications. The college was able to shape their marketing strategy around their strengths that matched drivers of attraction and widen their audience reach.

SMARI’s specific findings uncovered:

  • General sentiments and decisions toward the college selection process for students of all ages.
  • Detailed SWOT Analysis containing internal and external perspectives.
  • Specific college attributes that attract students and parents of students.
  • Marketing methods and info points to communicate to each audience segment.