Editor’s note: Ashley Miller is principal of marketing insights and analytics at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. Kevin Micklitz is founder and CEO of Sunseed Research, Madison, Wisc. 

If you participated in higher education of some kind, think back to that time. How many universities did you consider? Who helped you make your decision? Ultimately, what reasons did the university give you that made you believe it was the right choice?  

With over 4,000 higher education institutions available today and an undergraduate market continuing to experience declines, the need for a differentiated and effective messaging strategy in higher education is more important than ever before. When a prospective student is trying to decide which college or university may be right for them, there are many factors that go into their decision-making process including but not limited to affordability, prestige, balance and safety. While the student is weighing multiple options on where to attend, their parents/guardians are critical influencers and decision-makers as well.

At Purdue University, a land-grant institution in Indiana of nearly 40,000 undergraduate students, there is an ongoing desire to understand the audiences we serve through research and insight. As you can imagine, there are many reasons to believe (RTBs) that we tout proudly across the university. In early 2022, we had the opportunity to partner with Sunseed Research to help us understand how our ever-evolving constituents respond to current and proposed RTBs.  

Through this partnership, we wanted to learn whether the RTBs we had developed over time resonated with our audiences, how this changed at different points in the decision-making journey and how we could best optimize our messaging for the future. We explored multiple approaches and decided that a MaxDiff approach would be the ideal methodology to answer our questions. Using MaxDiff...