Thinking Like a Scholar: Using Research and Goal-Setting as a Core Practice

Posted: June 18, 2009

Tony Poillucci Vice President & Creative Director

At VisionPoint Marketing, we like to reach out to higher education clients because we feel as though we share their appreciation and respect for one core principal in particular: research. Setting goals through the use of research not only is a sign of respect to your target audience, but like any university, it demonstrates an air of professionalism, organization and is the primary step in a successful marketing program.

It sounds like common sense, but many clients are not willing to invest the time to establish goals for themselves before taking action. The key is to remember that strategy ultimately informs the tactics. Starting an online marketing campaign without having an understanding of what your goals are, as well as the goals of those who will be using the site, typically ends in wasted time and resources … something none of us can afford.

As with all of our clients, we start with research and goal-setting exercises that set the strategic foundation for their marketing efforts. We understand and appreciate the fact that every situation is unique, and while it can be helpful to reflect on past efforts and best practices, a systematic breakdown of the marketing challenge or opportunity will unveil an organizations unique strengths and weaknesses.

In our strategy engagements, we conduct:

  • stakeholder interviews –  face-to-face meeting with key stakeholders throughout the institution;
  • user studies –  interviews, focus groups, workshops, experiments and more with target audience members;
  • competitor analyses –  what others are doing in and out of the industry as well as what we can learn from them;
  • prototyping and testing –  to validate tactical execution and assumptions; and
  • goal setting –  establishing a set of clearly defined, measureable goals that we use to make all decisions moving forward into design and development.

For example, take the measures to improve the distance education program at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNC-G). On the surface, the challenge facing UNC-G was the mediocre report cards that resulted from taking distance education courses via the university. However, an in-depth assessment of the problem revealed that flaws in the educational Web sites and search engine were to blame. Outside of being difficult to navigate, the sites faced new university-mandated requirements that would require a complete re-architecture. Identifying these issues led to VisionPoint working with UNC-G to set specific goals aimed at website optimization in an attempt to boost distance education grades.