independent high schools

Three Criteria Crucial To Marketing Independent High Schools

In our 35 year history, The Melior Group has worked with numerous independent high schools, including those with a faith-based mission.  Given the demographic forecasts which predict a dip in the number of high school students over the next several years, rising tuition costs, and overcapacity in many markets, it is not surprising that our recent projects all center on helping independent schools enhance their outreach and recruitment efforts.

In our work, we’ve talked with countless parents about how they make educational decisions.  We’ve heard them express their hopes and aspirations for their children, and their belief that the “right” school can enable those visions.  We thus have gained insight into what parents value when “shopping” for schools, and we know what schools need to communicate in order to attract the students they want.

First and foremost, our advice is this:  in this competitive environment, every school needs to be prepared with the answer to the following question:  ‘at the end of high school, how will my child be better as a result of attending YOUR SCHOOL (versus going somewhere else)?’ 

Parents, in making assessments about what is the best school for their child, compare schools on three overarching criteria.  We believe that in each of these areas, schools need to articulate their unique approach/philosophy, strengths and track record:

  1. Strong academics are a baseline expectation of independent schools. Parents assess excellence in this area by examining college admissions statistics (parents want to see that nearly all graduates attend college, and that some are accepted to highly competitive colleges); breadth and depth of classes offered; word-of-mouth about teaching quality; availability of advanced courses; presence of academic enrichment opportunities (e.g., STEM club, trips, lab facilities, etc.); and availability of academic support from teachers and learning specialists.
  2. Parents want to see evidence of measurable outcomes on the “investment” in tuition. They want to know how their investment will impact admissions to competitive colleges; ability to earn college scholarship money; and career prospects and earning potential.  It is important to note that parents love seeing evidence of strong alumni networks, which they perceive can contribute to graduates’ career success.
  3. Potential for personal growth is also critically important, and as such parents look closely at extracurricular opportunities, and the extent to which their child could identify and pursue their individual interests and passions. They also assess intangible culture factors including values, spirituality/religion, character development, love of learning, and where their child will “fit”.  While these factors can be difficult to articulate, they are what parents point to as distinguishing public schools from independent schools, and independent schools from each other.

In sum, the schools that are able to meet their enrollment goals are those that can make the case that their graduates are better off for having gone there. 

Do you have questions about marketing an independent high school?  Give us a call or shoot us an email and let us know how we can help.

For more information please contact Elizabeth Cohen at [email protected]/215-545-0054 ext. 103

jewish community studies

If You Ask, We Answer: Part 3 – Jewish Community Studies

Continuing our series about the common questions that our clients ask us:  our first post focused on the higher education sector.  This was followed by our post on the healthcare sector.  We now turn our attention to the world of Jewish community studies.

For 35 years and counting, The Melior Group has been in the business of answering questions for our clients.  And, while the techniques and methods we use to answer those questions have changed over time, many of the questions have not.

So when it comes to our clients in the Jewish community – Federations, synagogues, Day Schools and social services organizations – what kinds of questions is Melior answering, and how are our clients using the information?

At the most fundamental level, our clients want to know how they can make their Jewish communities more vibrant and their members more engaged.

Jewish communities these days often find themselves struggling to be relevant to their members.  While the needs of some in the community may be well-served by traditional communal institutions, new strategies and approaches are needed to combat decline and ensure long-term survival.

By using a consumer behavior approach to understanding community needs, interests, behaviors and attitudes, our work provides new insights into what makes these communities “tick”, and how best to leverage those insights to build stronger communities.  Community leaders want to know…

  • What does our community “look like” – demographically, attitudinally, spiritually, emotionally and even philanthropically?
  • What’s working and what’s not – programmatically and institutionally?
  • Where are the gaps? What do we need to do better?
  • How well do community members understand what we do? How can we better engage those at the margins of the community?
  • Where is the community headed?

The answers we provide have been used by our clients in a variety of ways, allowing them to:

  • Make informed policy decisions
  • Set priorities
  • Launch, grow, and sunset programs
  • Determine funding allocations based on credible data, not instinct
  • Bolster community planning efforts
  • Amplify development efforts

Though our findings can sometimes surprise, they provide a starting point for community soul-searching and ultimately, strengthening.

In addition to the questions we ask, our rigorous approach to figuring out who we need to reach in order to gather the information clients need, and determining the best methodology for gathering information, is central to our work.

Our research can help Jewish communities, their agencies and institutions, explore all of these issues and more.  Give us a call or send us an email and let us know how we can help.

For more information, contact Sue Levine at [email protected] or 215-545-0054 x107.

define a brand

The 5 Aspects That Define A Brand

In our work with brand development and tracking of branding effectiveness, we have to accommodate the five aspects that define a brand.  We conduct research to understand whether there is congruity between what the brand is – and says it is – and the perceptions of the various targeted market segments.  This research can be conducted with both internal stakeholders (employees, board members, “friends,” professionals) and external stakeholders (customers, consumers, opinion leaders, other professionals).

The 5 aspects are:

  1. Brand promise: what consumers will actually get interacting with you and the feelings they will have in the “relationship” with you.
  2. Brand elements: the tangible and the intangible components that work together to clearly and consistently communicate the aspects of your brand.
  3. Brand persona: how consumers judge and evaluate you before doing business with you and, subsequently, establishing a relationship.
  4. Brand perceptions: how consumers comprehend your brand… and does it actually reflect/represent what you want it to.
  5. Brand expectations: every interaction with the brand matters, and must be what consumers expect.

We believe that a brand must be clear, reliable, consistent and believable to both internal and external constituencies.  The branding research that we conduct explores these aspects with that in mind; we then make recommendations for minor and major shifts based on the perceptions of all types of stakeholders, and work with clients to refine and/or refresh the brand.

For more information, contact Linda McAleer at [email protected] or 215-545-0054 x104.


True or False: Without Data You’re Just Another Person With An Opinion

“Without data you’re just another person with an opinion.” 
– W. Edwards Deming

At The Melior Group, we live and die by that quote.  It is how we sell our services:  we believe, deep in our bones, that information/data can help move an organization toward where it wants to go.

The longer I work in marketing research, the more that quote has taken on another meaning.  I have learned that our clients’ opinions, which are usually based in anecdotal evidence and intuition, are also often correct and borne out in data.  Upon delivery of our findings, we usually hear some version of the following:  “this information doesn’t surprise me.” 

When I first started out in this business, my face would fall when a client would say that.  I thought a statement like that was a criticism,  a veiled message that the client did not value what we had done and felt they hadn’t gotten their money’s worth.  Today, however, I have a different perspective.  Head nods and lack of surprise at our findings are comforting signs that we did our job right.  I feel unsettled when a client says, “this is news to me…I am completely surprised by what you have found.”

My change of heart starts with confidence in my clients.  If they are doing their jobs right, then they have a sense of what is going on with their customers, their employees, their brand, etc.  They work there, after all.

So have I just talked The Melior Group out of business with my assertion that our clients already know what will be revealed in the data that we gather?  Absolutely not.  If data collection is done well (and this, we know, is critical), data provides validation and proof… it is defendable.  It is the bulwark of evidence that organizations need to move forward.

Just because “without data you’re just another person with an opinion,” doesn’t mean that your opinion isn’t right.

For more information please contact Elizabeth Cohen at [email protected]/215-545-0054 ext. 103


Traditional Market Segmentation Has Met Its Match – Meet “Personas”

“Market segmentation” is typically defined as a process of dividing consumers (or businesses) into groups based on some shared characteristics, such as demographic profiles, lifestyles, common interests or needs.  It is an extremely useful tool for targeting these groups and developing strategies and tactics to effectively reach them by assuming that different market segments are motivated by different things.  This has worked effectively and has been a successful process since marketing was a “wee thing.”

Today, by actually understanding more about these consumers and businesses and what they represent, we can do an even better job of target marketing… reaching them in a way that expands the data about the segment into descriptors of the people who “reside” in the segment.  We can go beyond data and create personas, bringing to life the people for whom strategies are created by providing sketches of the people representative of key segments.

Consider a wealth management firm looking at ways to reach a target audience…


By adding behavioral, opinion, motivational and attitudinal dimensions to market segmentation development, marketers are better able to know what makes customers and prospects tick, what they need, what they are willing and able to buy from them (and competitors), and how to tell the target segments their story. Personas are more than the sum of data points – they are the vehicles that bring your target market to life.

In future posts, we’ll explore more on this topic – stay tuned!

For more information, contact Linda McAleer at [email protected] or 215-545-0054 x104 or Sue Levine at [email protected] or 215-545-0054 x107.

focus group

Let’s Focus Group It

I’ve been designing and moderating focus groups for three decades.  What an amazing idea:  put 10 of your best customer prospects in a room or 10 of your target “personas” in a room or 10 of the people you hope will vote for you or buy your product or service… and have them discuss why your product or service is best, how it could be improved, what it means to them to have it, what your competitors are doing better than you, how they hope your product or service will change their lives.

I used to resent the use of the title phrase “let’s focus group it,” determining that it demeaned the science and value of the group dynamic.  But, I’ve changed my mind.  Keeping “focus groups” front and center to help organizations understand “consumer” behavior is what I hope for.

This blog post came to mind when I saw this charming comic (I love comics!) about focus grouping in the 16th Century.

focus group

Six Chix comic by Isabella Bannerman, published in The Philadelphia Inquirer

But, from the point of view of the experienced moderator (me), I say this:  let’s not misuse these great tools and presume that they are quantitative survey samples or polls.  Focus groups work best when you need to hear the “whys” behind the numbers or the choices, when you want to learn what will really impact people choosing your product or service.  And, you need a moderator who knows how and when to ask the “whys” and help people consider their choices… because understanding that contributes to design of effective marketing communications, strategies, product concepts, and reasons-to-choose/benefits.

Let’s talk more about how we design and moderate focus groups for optimal results.

For more information, contact Linda McAleer at [email protected] or 215-545-0054 x104.

Melior sign

Have you checked out our new website?

Our new website is here and we’ve been receiving positive feedback! After 33 years in business, we knew it was time to refresh our brand. The new look of our website now reflects our business: professional, sophisticated, thoughtful and rich in content.

The Melior Group is a strategic consultancy with extensive industry experience and deep roots in research. With this in mind, we created a new tagline: “Information. Intelligence. Insights.” We think this tagline fits us perfectly, and as you can see, it is part of our new logo.

We hope you take some time and explore our website, learning more about our work, and how we utilize insightful market research to help you transform questions into answers and strategic decisions. But before you leave our blog page – if you’re not already a subscriber, you can sign up on the right-hand side to get regular updates from us.

We hope you enjoy our new & improved website!

For more information about The Melior Group, contact Elizabeth Foley at [email protected] / 215-545-0054 x111

community studies

Community Studies: What Makes Your Community Thrive?

We all belong to various communities, but we may not understand what defines them or what makes them thrive. Oxford Dictionaries defines community as: A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.”

In our experience, this definition begs further consideration. At Melior, our work often centers on exploring what truly defines a community, understanding what community means to people, and identifying drivers for assuring that the community thrives.

Why is it important to understand your community? Many leaders of mission-based organizations and government programs are wondering about the drivers of “thrivancy” and what makes the communities they serve special and unique… the factors that define them, make them worthy of support, and that represent their values.

We have worked with communities across the country, where our studies have been used to contribute insight into the distinctive drivers of growth and prosperity, health and well-being, and overall quality of life. These descriptors define the unique and complex characteristics of each community, which helps our clients can carry out their missions and meet the needs of their communities, developing successful programming and services for the future.

Community A vs. B vs. C: They Couldn’t Be More Different

Recently, we examined three different groups: Community A, Community B, and Community C. We asked each community the same type of question, and the results in each were different:

Community studies graphic

How Can Each Community Promote “Thrivancy”?

In exploring the quality that each community sees as vital to “thrivancy”, its members and leaders have the opportunity to best serve the community’s needs, and foster that quality within their community.

Community A chose “diversity”, signifying that these people value access to multiple ideas and options, and living among people of varied backgrounds. Knowing this, the community leaders could benefit their members by offering programming that promotes diversity, such as immigration support services, an inclusive interfaith dinner, and community lectures from guests sharing different viewpoints.

Community B chose “respectful leadership”, indicating that the community members value polite and considerate behavior from their elected and appointed leaders. In order to ensure this type of relationship, community leaders could organize regular town hall meetings to elicit feedback, and volunteer opportunities where everyone works together and leaders are integrated into the community.

Community C chose “quality of life and family-friendly initiatives” as the most necessary drivers for their community to thrive. Therefore the leaders of this community could focus on services surrounding wellness, transportation, and education, and emphasize family-friendly programs such as safe walking paths to schools and an annual carnival in the park.

Community A, Community B and Community C all have very different ideas about what elements are necessary for their community to thrive. Thus, the members and leaders of each community should not take the same actions as one of the other communities.

Rather than comparing themselves to or emulating other communities, each community should respond to their members’ specific thoughts and values. From small to big, there are actionable steps Communities A, B, and C can take to build stronger communities.

How Melior Can Help You Engage Your Community

Clearly, the drivers that define “community” and “thrivancy” are different between Communities A, B and C, as are the reasons these drivers were rated so highly by community members. And that’s an important point to this endeavor: it’s not only knowing how members define their own communities, but why they do so.

The Melior Group is highly experienced in community studies and identifying community drivers. We utilize state-of-the-art methodologies, incorporating creative approaches to gathering community-based information. We also analyze the data specifically with the goals of our clients in mind, offering insightful, action-oriented information. Our clients are thus able to address community concerns and ensure that their community will thrive.

The key takeaway is this:  it’s important to know the drivers that make your community thrive, so you can best position your organization to carry out its mission and meet your community’s needs.

For more information on our work, please visit our Government/Civic Entities page or Mission-based Organizations page or contact Elizabeth Foley at 215-545-0054 x111 or [email protected].

Insight and Analytics in the Age of Big Data

Technology has enabled us to track vast amounts of data where we collect an overwhelming volume of response analytics, customer, and market data. Big data can tell us every move a customer or prospect makes. How do you use the data to make meaningful conclusions that can influence strategy and tactics?

On April 1st, we joined members of the American Marketing Association and the Marketing Research Association on the 45th Floor of the Comcast Center to grapple with this question.

After a short meet and greet, the group settled into a beautifully appointed conference room over looking the Philadelphia skyline. Event panelists included Kathleen Brunner, (President & CEO, Acumen Analytics), Jim Multari, (Executive Director, Market Planning & Research, Comcast), Aaron Maass (Founder & Owner, Maass Media) and was moderated by Lisa Dezzutti, (President & CEO, Market Connections, Inc.).

The panelists agreed that analytics should not be departmentalized and that traditional market research can lend significant insight and meaning to analytics. Jim Multari suggests that finding ways to collaborate across areas and combine resources can produce unexpected and valuable insights. For example, when you get people together across finance, acquisition, sales, user data, and they get to talking about research and analytics – new ways of thinking about the business can emerge.

Emily Nydick, Market Research Associate of The Melior Group, felt that each member of the panel provided great insight about how to move beyond “analysis paralysis.” By presenting complex research findings to clients in ways that breakdown information and highlight key points, the information becomes easy to understand and grasp for informed decision-making.

With a continually increasing data overload, it becomes ever more important to find the sweet spot at the intersection of analytics and traditional market research. Aaron Maass confirms it is hard to get good data – and the difference really comes from being able to ask good questions.

One of Melior’s hallmarks is presenting the research learnings in an easy-to-read format; we make sense of the data for our clients; and present information in reports that are easy to follow and are usually ready for distribution by our clients internally. We create user-friendly documents…and all are custom-created for the needs of each client.

While keeping business objectives top of mind, a proactive effort to marry market research with analytics in a way that distills down the information needed to tell the story – will produce the best results.

For more information or to request a proposal, please contact The Melior Group at (215)-545-0054 or [email protected].

You think they don’t know you, but companies have never known you better…

Invisible Customer, very valuable to companies

By Reshma Bennur

It is easy to believe in this world of impersonal online transactions that companies you buy from don’t really know who you are – they don’t recognize you by face or voice.  The truth is companies have never known their customers better.  Companies might reduce customers to account numbers, lumped in a database with several thousand other account numbers – but with one click, they can access or buy all sorts of information about a customer – purchase history, personal information, financial credibility.

Business sense dictates that companies that have the wherewithal to gather all this “private” information, use the data to further their financial gains – use it to predict future purchases, identify cross sell opportunities and inform marketing initiatives. While gathering customer data is effective when used for marketing, it only works well when customers don’t know this strategy is being employed.

Take the recent example of Target – the big box store swamped select customers with discounts and coupons on baby products.  These were not customers who had babies or baby registries, but customers whose purchase behavior indicated that they could perhaps be pregnant. Target conducted extensive data mining and predictive analysis to identify who these customers might be.  Not surprisingly, customers reacted negatively – it disturbed people to think that Target somehow thought they were pregnant. Customers felt manipulated, spied on, and angry.

When Target became more subtle in its marketing efforts, continuing to promote baby items to select customers, but this time intentionally mixing up the ads for baby items with ads for unrelated items (like ads for a lawn mower next to coupons for a crib), customers no longer felt spooked. And they happily used the coupons.

Customers want to believe that the discounts, coupons and privileges they are being offered are a reward for their loyalty, not a result of calculated purchase predictions.  In Melior’s research on the invisible customer, we learned that only 9% of customers value receiving customized recommendations of products/services of interest, while 50% of customers value receiving discounts and coupons on products and services.  Why? Customized recommendations are considered akin to “selling” – making customers wary by highlighting the fact that their behavior was tracked, analyzed and used for possible financial gain.  The same recommendations repackaged as discounts and coupons are seen as a benefit – as a special opportunity to buy.

So in the enthusiasm to implement marketing strategies based on data mining and predictive analytics, keep in mind that customers want to feel valued for their loyalty not openly targeted for promotions based on their behavior without feeling that the reward came with a price – no longer being “invisible” to a marketer.