Reviewing the communications strategy for the Open University
The Open University (OU) has an ongoing communications programme with its students and alumni. The OU commissioned Beehive to conduct a strategic review of its communications, to measure their impact and effectiveness and assess how they could be improved.
The purpose of the research was to enable the OU’s Communications and Development team to provide the most effective strategy for getting its message across to its target audiences.
A key part of the research was to determine which channels of communication were most appropriate to each of its stakeholders, and within those channels which communications vehicles were most effective. OU has a range of different target audiences including:
- students at varying levels of course completion
- “dormant” students who have completed some courses but not gone on to complete a qualification
- alumni who have completed an OU qualification
These different audiences present a significant communications challenge in terms of what kind of information they are most interested in, the types of media they access and use (email, internet, social media platforms, mobile internet etc) and how they prefer to receive information from OU.
Beehive needed to create a research programme to assess:
- Usage of the various communication channels
- Awareness and value of the various channels
- Actions people take as a result of the communications
Because the proposed sample had varying levels of email access, Beehive proposed a mixed method approach conducting telephone and online interviews. Interviews were conducted both in UK and Overseas, and took place in January 2011.
There was a good spread of response, with minimum quotas achieved in most cases except dormant students, highlighting the challenges in communicating with them.
The findings informed OU where to supply its communications more effectively. It highlighted the different communications needs of students and alumni and showed the most effective channels with which to communicate with them. It showed how the different communications were received and what OU needed to do to raise awareness of its key communications vehicles.
The findings are being used by OU to devise a more cost effective communications plan. In addition the research findings are being applied by OU to address other communications-related issues such as:
- Managing and developing reputation
- Improving positive onward communications
- Supporting retention and recruitment
- Increasing re-registration/continuous study
- Inspiring ambassadors
- Increasing fundraising awareness and philanthropic support
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