How Ethnography helped The Open University

Setting the scene

Mustard delivered deep-dive qualitative research in the form of ethnography, allowing the OU to develop and drive-through an acquisition and retention strategy targeting people interested in undertaking Higher Education.

Open Uni context

The context

With the Higher Education market in a period of flux, the Open University (OU) believed it was well positioned to take advantage, and central to its strategy was a segmentation that could be used to increase student numbers whilst retaining existing students. A number of priority segments were identified, and the OU tasked Mustard with “bringing these to life” for the purpose of building propositions and developing appropriate communications.

What we did

To bring segments to life we needed to deploy ethnographic research to dig deeper to find the hidden differentiators between segments.

Forty segment representatives were drawn from across the UK (with a mix of gender, age and region within each). A comprehensive recruitment script was used to ensure those recruited were ‘centre-segment’. There followed a multi-staged, multi-method approach including briefing interviews, homework exercises (e.g. my life in pictures), diaries and further in-depth interviews and observations – most of which were filmed.

TOU

The results

Mustard were able to deliver a series of mini-reports which pulled together all of the ethnographic insight related to each priority segment. This included insight on who they are – the things that make them tick, their qualification objectives and options, their messaging needs, brand perceptions, etc. – with clear recommendations on how to acquire and retain.

We also supplied a series of summary films (of varying durations) and image-based outputs (i.e. storyboards) to visually express the essence of each segment.

Subsequently, the segmentation was successfully embedded into the University and has acted as a cornerstone for future strategic planning.

The response