Major study to inform undergraduate recruitment marketing strategy


This research-intensive university wished to develop a new marketing strategy for undergraduate recruitment, with a view to attracting more high-performing students, irrespective of their background.

Marketwise Strategies worked closely with the university, to design a comprehensive, multi-mode research programme that consulted internal and external stakeholders including:

  • Admissions staff (in academic and support departments)
  • Marketing specialists
  • Current students
  • Sixth form heads and others who supported Ucas applications in schools
  • Potential applicants.

Primary research was underpinned by a substantial review of the literature surrounding entry to HE.

Outcomes included significant changes to marketing materials (particularly prospectuses and the university web site) and to the management of applicant communications throughout the admissions process.

Research requirements

Specific objectives were developed for each phase of the project. Overarching requirements, however, were to:

  • Understand the decision-making processes adopted by pupils studying in different types of school when they were selecting higher education institutions and courses
  • Clarify the roles played and the levels of influence that were exerted by different players within the decision-making unit, and by league tables and other information sources
  • Explore perceptions of the University and its competitor institutions
  • Establish the most appropriate points at which the university could intervene to influence applicants’ decisions
  • Determine which marketing channel/tool would be most appropriate at which stage in the decision-making process.


The research comprised:

Phase 1

  • Comprehensive review of the literature
  • Depth interviews with University staff, including from Admissions team, academic departments, Marketing and International Office
  • Depth interviews with student representatives

Phase 2

  • Focus groups with undergraduate students

Phase 3

  • Focus groups with potential applicants in schools across the north of England (selected according to criteria that were informed by the desk research)
  • Depth interviews or mini-groups with staff at the same schools.

Outcomes: The research has informed a comprehensive new strategy for undergraduate recruitment.

This has been reflected in particular in:

  • Revision of undergraduate prospectuses (e.g. the messages and imagery used to position the University)
  • Revision of the University web site (messages, imagery and navigation)
  • Outreach activities targeting schools
  • The management of Open Days
  • CRM activity targeted at applicants
  • Widening participation activities.

John and Jacquie got to grips with the problem we were trying to solve very quickly and enthusiastically, so much so they felt part of the team. Working with them to develop the right methodology was great and the research outputs and recommendations were insightful and practical. In short, working with Marketwise Strategies has been a pleasure.

— Deputy Director of Communications (Strategic Marketing) – 1994 Group University