One size doesn't fit all: The value of segmentation

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This is the first blog in a two-part series about segmentation in higher education.

The individuals in your institution’s target audience aren’t just “students”. They have unique wants, needs, and expectations for instruction, campus amenities, and technology. A mass, “one-size-fits-all approach” is no longer enough.

Colleges need to adopt a broader segmentation approach throughout their institutions to:

  • guide and inform academic programs
  • understand which programs/services to reposition or launch
  • navigate students through the experience
  • help determine which go-to-market strategy to employ

The more higher-education leaders understand what motivates prospective students to enroll and persist and what offerings and services meet their needs, the better offerings can be tailored for them.

Jeffrey J. Selingo, author, The Future Learners

What’s segmentation?

On a basic level, segmentation is the separation of a broad, homogeneous target group (like “students”) with different needs into heterogeneous subgroups (like the “traditional learner”) with similar needs and preferences.

While segmentation in higher ed has been used in limited, siloed functions such as admissions, fundraising, and marketing, the process must expand so institutions can better tailor and target offerings to meet each segment’s needs.

To be effective, each segment should be:

  1. Measurable: Are your segments uniquely identifiable? You should have enough information available on specific target characteristics to be measured or categorized.
  2. Differentiable: The students in a segment should have similar needs (preferences and characteristics) that are clearly different from those of other segments.
  3. Substantial: Is your segment large enough to be profitable? Small segments without viable spending power can be a waste of time and resources.
  4. Accessible: How might each segment be accessed, and is it efficient? Your institution should be able to easily reach its segments via communication and distribution channels.
  5. Actionable: What is the segment’s practical value? Your institution should be able to design and implement effective programs for attracting and serving the segments.

What’s the value of segmentation?

While segmentation is not a new concept by any means, the higher ed industry has been slow to adopt it. However, attitudes and the use of segmentation are slowly beginning to change because of pressures on enrollment and tightening budgets that together require institutions to assess who they want to serve and how.

In the short term, segmentation can guide your recruitment and marketing teams and aid in targeted efforts to ensure that you’re reaching the right students with the right messages. Long term, it can guide decision making on expanding your institution into adjacent categories or segments.

While segmentation provides the groundwork for sound strategy, to truly unlock student-centric growth, segmentation must galvanize your institution around priority learners.

For colleges to remain relevant in the decades ahead, it’s critical that leaders start thinking about the broad range of students they want (or need) to serve and how to appeal to their specific needs and desires.

In our next blog, we share five examples of major learner segments your university could use to strategically market and grow your programs.

To learn more about segmentation in higher ed, check out The Future Learners: An Innovative Approach To Understanding The Higher Education Market And Building A Student-Centered University.

Today’s increasingly competitive landscape requires a strategic approach to successfully reach more of the right students where they are. Partnering with Pearson can help you accelerate strategic change while reducing the risks associated with growing your online presence. Our online program management services and community can help your students thrive as you build the brand and reputation you’re striving for.