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Welcome to Hartpury: How does a university attract new first-year students through marketing communication strategies – with specific reference to open days

Author Names: Anastasia Noble (BA (Hons) Equine Business Management) and Mike Green



The use of marketing strategies as a tool to recruit potential undergraduate students is prevalent within higher education institutes. The ever-rising competition amongst universities to fill their places requires their marketers to implement precise and targeted marketing approaches to promote their open days. The application of strategic marketing needs to be employed through the use of the marketing mix, integrated marketing communications mix and marketing segmentation. Hartpury University Centre uses these tools to engage with prospective students at open days and increase the demand for their services. The study followed an inductive approach by using a mixed-method strategy in an explanatory sequential design. The main results were taken from one focus group with six participants formulated of third-year sports undergraduate students; it was further backed up with quantitative data from a questionnaire given out to prospective sports undergraduate students on an open day. A sample of 50 respondents were invited to take part in the questionnaire to represent the target audience on the open day. The research collected from both data sets followed a thematic analysis. The findings concluded that the main motivation for students to apply for Hartpury University Centre were the vocational opportunities, and the campus facilities. Additionally, the data showed the most effective marketing communication strategies to recruit prospective students were word-of-mouth marketing and personal selling through student interaction on open days. Further study targeting larger higher education institutes with a different demographic than Hartpury University Centre would be valuable.


1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background

The UK Higher Education industry has declined in the last three years, with the overall application rate of people applying standing at 559,000 – a 0.9% reduction from January 2017 (UCAS, 2018). However, higher education is still in demand and is deemed to increase an individual’s development and long-term economic growth (King, 1995). Therefore, the importance of considering effective marketing strategies, such as, McCarthy’s 4Ps Marketing Mix, Marketing Communication Mix and Marketing Segmentation, is required to increase the application rate. This is a key factor to ensure that there is brand awareness and motivate students to apply for university.

Marketing strategies for higher education institutes differ from other industries since they are involved in service marketing, which offers intangible components that cannot be ‘felt’ or ‘tasted’ before purchase (Moogan, 2011). Mazzarol (1998) focused on the nature of services as ‘people based’ and emphasised the importance of relationships with consumers. Students now increasingly view higher education as a ‘service’ because they directly pay for their education like a consumer, (Higgins et al, 2002).

The development of the smartphone has changed the way marketers communicate with their customers who are increasingly consuming information and making purchasing decisions online (Kietzmann et al, 2012). The combination of the Internet and traditional media allows the application of hybrid media, which increases interaction between users and media products by merging the new and old media techniques thus simplifying a user’s access (Louho et al, 2006). The use of social media for marketing is the most engaging type of public relations, being interactive and involving real time content (Bîja, and Balaş, 2014). By taking a hybrid media approach to marketing it will allow universities to create an effective bond with the parents and the students with the brand (Moor, 2003).

Hartpury University Centre is a specialised higher education institution and has students working towards degrees in the fields of animal, agriculture, equine, sport and veterinary nursing (Hartpury College, 2018b). The contrast between the overall decline in applications to higher education to Hartpury University Centre’s own application data  is surprising as the university saw a 5% increase, more than 1,650 students, applying to their 2018/19 degrees (Hartpury College, 2017). The rising number of young adults applying for higher education, has increased pressure on marketers to establish effective communication strategies for their target consumers.

The development of the study relates to the limited research available on the motivation of students choosing to go to university based on marketing strategies. By specifically utilising a specialised institution, such as Hartpury University Centre, this will create an understanding of what strategies are used, and evaluate the motivations of students choosing exclusive courses compared to other universities. By establishing clear aims and objectives, it will provide clarity to the reader and ensure that the study is current and relevant.


1.2 Dissertation Concept

This study aims to understand what attracted both prospective sports undergraduate students, and actual third-year sports students to apply and study at Hartpury University Centre, and additionally, to investigate what marketing communication strategies were effective in recruiting these students. The project will use a mixed-method approach on participants at the Hartpury University Centre. It will be conducted through a questionnaire and focus group to investigate how the university creates brand awareness for their open days through particular marketing strategies.


1.3 Research Aims and Objectives

1.3.1 Aim

To understand how Hartpury University Centre, achieves their recruitment targets of attracting new undergraduate students through their integrated marketing communication strategies.


1.3.2 Objectives

  • To understand the effectiveness of open days as a marketing communication strategy.
  • To identify which current marketing strategies are effective in creating brand awareness.
  • To understand the motivations of students in choosing Hartpury University Centre for undergraduate study.


2.0 Literature Review

In this chapter, the existing literature around strategic marketing, integrated marketing communications mix and marketing segmentation will be examined. This will highlight the deficiencies in existing literature currently available surrounding the effectiveness of university open days.


2.1 Strategic Marketing

Marketing is no longer a strategy but a requirement and a company necessity. According to CIM (2015), marketing is “the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”. Grönroos (1997) follows a similar definition, however, he looks at the relationships between customers, parties and how to create a profit from these interactions. Marketing is a valuable asset for businesses because it allows them to set objectives and aims to reach a target (Kotler and Armstrong, 2016). Marketers influence consumers, through an exchange between the company and consumer, whilst Blythe (2013) believes that consumers co-create value – however, they do not act a certain way for marketers.

To ensure a company is meeting its profit potential Ansoff (1957) created four strategies – market penetration, market development, product development and diversification – to allow a business to continue growing. According to Lynch and Smith (2007), the matrix identifies options the company has for its products to see whether it has the potential to diversify, or the possibility to withdraw.  If a company is a small-to-medium enterprise (SME), it is suggested that it should avoid direct competition with larger firms because the firm may have limited resources or skills, and instead should develop closer customer relationships (Storey and Sykes, 1996). For continued growth and to be able to compete with other firms, organisations must choose product development and market development (Perry, 1987). However, in a study based on SME food producers by Watts, Cope and Hulme (1998), there was limited support for Perry’s (1987) hypothesis on product and market development being the favourable growth strategies. The respondents preferred to engage with new customers with their existing product range, rather than new products with existing customers.


2.2 The Marketing Mix

Ivy (2008) describes the marketing mix as a tool which allows an institution to generate a reaction from numerous target markets, and increase the need for their service. The original marketing mix was formed by McCarthy (1960) which consisted of the 4Ps – Price, Product, Place and Promotion. It is a useful framework to create long-term and short-term strategies for companies (Palmer, 2004). The usefulness of the marketing mix depends on the resources the firm can offer, and each element impacts the others when only one element is focused on (Low and Kok, 1997).  Therefore, organisations must choose the best combinations of elements to achieve objectives and set marketing targets to complete (Felicia, 2014). Rafiq and Ahmed (1995) found that there is dissatisfaction towards the 4Ps framework, with 84% of UK’s Marketing Education Group (MEG) feeling it was a deficient marketing tool. However, MEG respondents had been using a modified version of the 4Ps. The study indicated that 51% of respondents thought that the marketing mix was unsuitable for services, not-for-profit organisations and industrial marketing because it would be problematic (Rafiq and Ahmed, 1995). The reason why the 4Ps were considered problematic for services, is because it can become unusable and challenging to use when applied to their marketing strategies.

The original 4Ps founded by McCarthy (1960) did not provide enough information for certain industries, specifically service firms, therefore, the 7Ps was developed. The 7Ps involves Price, Product, Place, Promotion, People, Process and Physical Evidence (Shirahada and Kosaka, 2012). According to Bitner and Booms (1981), the elements included in the 7Ps vary both in reliability and precision; Product and Physical Evidence are the most precise, while Process is the least accurate element in the mix. The addition of expanding the 4Ps to the 7Ps was well received by 58% respondents involved in Rafiq and Ahmed’s (1995) study – showing that a significant proportion of the group thought the framework was more useful than the 4Ps, and more of them were using the 7Ps. Conversely, a weakness of the 7Ps framework is that it is more complicated to use, and some marketers believe that the new variables can be incorporated into the original 4Ps.


2.3 Integrated Marketing Communications Mix

The marketing communications mix is a blend of advertising, sales promotion, personal selling, public relations and direct and digital marketing (Kotler and Armstrong, 2016). Niculescu (2000) grouped each promotional element into either direct or indirect action and communication or stimulation objectives – which allows marketers to recognise different promotional tools. However, Lendrevie and Lindon (1997), decided to group the elements into four categories: “promotional tools, other tools of marketing with powerful promotional content, the organisation and its staff, and sources outside the organisation”. The formation of the promotional mix made by a company must be conducted if they want to outperform their competition by using the elements of the mix. By using these elements, a company is able to achieve their strategic objectives by reaching their target audience, their purpose and the resources available to promote their products (Matei, 2014).

Mintzberg (1973) found that managers spend nearly 80% communicating with colleagues and customers.  For efficient communication, the receiver must understand the message from the sender. To create a successful company, effective communication is required between managers and employees to ensure that a company will produce a creative workforce (Spaho, 2012). The Communication Model starts by having the sender encode a message which is received creating a response and gives feedback to the sender, whilst having interference by different types of ‘noises’ (Copley, 2014). Anand and Shachar (2007) believe that there is noisy communication within marketing and the receiver cannot understand the message the sender is conveying. The miscommunication within marketing means that senders do not have control over what the consumers see, therefore, they should provide more information to overcome that problem.


Figure 1: The Elements in the Communication Process (Kotler and Armstrong, 2016).

Figure 1


When a communicator chooses the channel of communication there are two types – personal and non-personal. The personal communication channel involves the word-of-mouth influence focusing on associates, friends and family (Kotler and Armstrong, 2016). According to Buttle (1998), word-of-mouth marketing is a major influence on “what people know, feel and do” and it is more influential on the consumer’s behaviour than other marketing communication tools. Day (1971) found this method of communication reliable, flexible, and nine times as effective as advertising because it raises awareness and is more important than traditional advertising. Traditional advertising is decreasing in effectiveness, especially in the younger demographic groups, and word-of-mouth is currently creating a “buzz” and becoming the new promotional tool (Keller and Berry, 2003). Word-of-Mouth endorsement can be described as free advertising as the corporation are not paying receivers to provide feedback about the corporation. Word-of-Mouth feedback may be uttered either before or after a purchase – which is an important source of pre-purchase information because it provides a positive testimonial of the company to increase brand awareness. A limitation of using word-of-mouth is a company may receive negative feedback from customers – for example, a dissatisfied customer is likely to tell twice as many people as a satisfied customer (Technical Assistance Research Program (TARP), 1986). Desatnick (1987) also found that if a customer is dissatisfied, they would tell at least another nine other people.

Digital and social media marketing are becoming the new face of advertising evolving with more prominence in companies’ marketing strategies (Lamberton and Stephen, 2016). Both elements are involved in the hybrid communications model. Hybrid media is described by Lynne et al (2014), as the “strategic use of traditional and new media marketing communications tools to communicate the message in a more effective way”. Eid and El-Gohary (2013), discovered that Internet marketing and e-mail marketing are the most commonly used and most successful e-marketing tools for small businesses. This indicates that digital and social media are fantastic tools to cost effectively ‘reach’ both an international audience or highly targeted market segment using less time, effort and money. Nonetheless, small businesses are capable enough to use digital and social media marketing to promote their brand, engage with customers and become sustainable (Taneja and Toombs, 2014). Another concept within hybrid communication is consumer-to-consumer (C2C) which is defined as an e-commerce model where transactions are conducted electronically from one consumer to another (Leonard, 2011). By enabling consumers to have easy access, e-commerce is making the supply and demand of products more efficient in comparison to traditional C2C commerce (Yrjölä et al, 2017). A limitation of C2C for a company is how and why it is being used, and what motivates the consumer to engage with C2C e-commerce (Chu, 2013). A concern of hybrid media is the effect appears to be small and indirect, however, it impacts the attitudes towards the brands and “feeling” component of attitudes towards the brand (Aylesworth, Goodstein and Kalra, 1999).


2.4 Marketing Segmentation

Kotler and Armstrong (2016) describe market segmentation as “dividing a market into smaller segments of buyers with distinct needs, characteristics, or behaviours that might require separate marketing strategies or mixes”. Marketing segmentation plays a key role in consumer diversity, as businesses are starting to recognise the products and services their competition offer to consumers (Martin, 2011).

Wind (1978) identified two approaches to market segmentation – post hoc and a priori – the latter is important for a firm’s marketing strategy since the firm chooses the variable(s) of interest and then classifies the consumers according to that specification. Hoek et al (1996) found by following the a priori approach, that it cannot guarantee all segment members will respond equally to the variable(s) of interest. This is considered to be a traditional approach to segmentation (Ahmad, 2003). Hence, a company must include a marketing mix and consumer responses to receive the required results.

Market segmentation is significant, however, Cahill (1997) argues that organisations have over-segmented markets and therefore some products should not be segmented as it will be expensive. Wright’s (1996) study found that empirical results from two detergent sales show the failure of segmentation and it did not lead to higher sales, as no specific groups of customers preferred a particular brand. This shows the unpredictability of using segmentation, highlighting that it depends on what market it is being used on and if the theory is being applied correctly.

Martin (2011) explains that market segmentation is comprised of four segments – geographical, demographical, behaviour and psychographic. These four segments are effective for businesses to develop communication strategies and gain interest from desired consumers. Martin (2011) clarifies that geographical segmentation signifies a market divided by location and if the consumers in the region have similar wants and needs. In a study looking at the genotypes and geographical segmentation of Arabica coffee with Self-Organising Maps (SOM), it was able to predict the quality of the beverage through segmenting the different locations and the compounds in the coffee beans (Link et al, 2014). This technique is feasible for the agriculture industry, although, it is not practical for other industries because it needs to be applied to clustered problems and is only widely used elsewhere in finance, natural science and linguistics (Kohonen, 2013). The limitation of only using a geographical segmentation is the segmentation base of consumers is quite limited and it can be restricted by physical and/or economic considerations (McDonald and Dunbar, 2012).

In the wine-related lifestyle (WRL), a suitable segmentation method is a priori approach for demographic variables, as their responses would be split into homogenous sub-groups (Bruwer and Li, 2007). The limitations of demographic segmentation, certainly in WRL, is it lacks the predictability of consumer behaviours and it is inadequate to describe information of the wine target segments (Wedel and Kamakura, 2000).

Kotler and Armstrong (2016) describes psychographic segmentation as buyers in divided segments based on their lifestyles. In order to measure psychographic segments, organisations must conduct empirical research on buyers by classifying their lifestyle and capturing the psychographic data (Ahmad, 2003). Wells and Gubar (1966) created a life-cycle to allow consumers to be divided into nine linear stages allowing a company to understand which consumer to target when creating a product or launching new products to a new industry. The restrictions of using psychographic segmentation in a business is the huge scope of psychographic information, as there are a variety of different aspects involved (Kaže and Škapars, 2011).

Blythe (2013) defines behavioural segmentation as “dividing up a potential marketing according to the behaviour of its members”. By separating consumers into behaviour categories, it is a reliable and useful way of segmenting. Sampson (1992) formed three groups that could divide buyers who are looking for benefits when purchasing products; functionality seekers, image seekers and pleasure seekers. The limitation of behavioural segmentation is a company does not understand why a customer is buying a product, and therefore needs another marketing model to understand the behaviours of their customers (Dietrich, Rundle-Thiele and Kubacki, 2017).


Figure 2: Major Segmentation Variables for Consumer Markets (Kotler and Armstrong, 2016)

Figure 2 mark


3.0 Methodology

The purpose of the methodology is to explore the various techniques and methods used, and aims to comprehend the different philosophies to fulfil the study. Crotty (1998) depicts methodology as the process which chooses certain methods and links the chosen method back to the desired results. Therefore, at the end of this chapter, the researcher should be able to find which chosen method answers the aims and objectives of this study.


3.1 Research Philosophy

It is advised by Klenke (2016) to understand the philosophical foundations of the study, as it is not possible to conduct a thorough study without understanding the philosophical assumptions, research design and research strategy. Khin et al (2011), explains that once the researcher appreciates the philosophical stances, the ‘journey’ towards collecting data will become instinctive and it will enhance the study. Philosophy assists with removing obstacles that are hindering the study in progressing further and act as an under-labourer to find knowledge (Bhaskar, 1978; Locke, 1996).

Wisker (2008) describes a research paradigm as a “set of beliefs about how elements of research fit together, how we can enquire of it and make meaning”. The main paradigm of inquiry in this study is interpretivism (epistemology). This will be discussed in further detail together with the researcher’s philosophical stance that supports this study.


3.1.1 Philosophical Stance and Paradigms of Inquiry

The different terms, ontology and epistemology, are the various philosophies that are involved to ensure that the correct philosophy is chosen, and the study is correctly researched. Bryman and Bell (2015), describes ontology as a theory that focuses on the nature of social individuals and can be studied objectively (objectivism) or subjectively (subjectivism). Ontology questions the assumptions of researchers regarding how they think the world operates and particular views (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2012). If the study followed an ontological philosophy, objectivism implies that a social phenomenon shows the researcher external facts that is beyond our reach (Bryman, 2015).

Conversely, epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge embedded in the theoretical perspective within the study’s design (Crotty, 1998); and it enquires into researching the nature of reality and the nature of the social world (Hitchcock and Hughes, 1995) – it therefore entails in knowing, i.e. how we know what we know. The study will be primarily following a qualitative approach; therefore, it will be following an interpretivist paradigm since the researcher wanted to be fully involved with the subjects that are being observed (Burns and Burns, 2008). The use of interpretivism allows the research process to move effortlessly between the participants and researcher – as it is an adaptable study (Burns and Burns, 2008). The two paradigms are linked to the qualitative method; hence, there will be no large sample sizes, as that would be leaning towards a positivism stance in a quantitative method (Klenke, 2016). By adopting this interpretivist stance, the researcher may find surprising findings from the social context studied, since the term is all focused on the study of the social world (Bryman, 2015).

The study will be conducted through an interpretivist epistemological approach. The focus group held by the researcher with six participants will be conducted, which will provide the researcher with qualitative data that will generate a number of key themes to answer one of the research’s objectives.


3.2 Research Approach

3.2.1 Research Methods

This study will be following a methodological triangulation strategy, also known as a mixed-method strategy. Mixed-method research has two main characteristics – it involves the collection and analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data in an epistemological approach (Creswell and Plano Clark, 2011). Greene, Caracelli and Graham (1989) highlighted three main reasons why a researcher would choose to do a combination of quantitative and qualitative, expansion, initiation and development. By choosing the mixed-method approach, the study will be following an explanatory sequential design, where the quantitative data findings will be used to expand and follow up the results of the qualitative data (Creswell, 2014).

The study will be primarily using the qualitative method for the research data collection. Jacob (1987) describes the traditional qualitative research as a holistic ethnography, ecological psychology and cognitive anthropology approach. According to Hogan, Dolan and Donnelly (2009), qualitative research is an approach based around people’s words and actions when a researcher is looking at their culture and behaviour. Quantitative research involves numerical data while qualitative data remains in words, and the researcher can make direct observations through a focus group. Consequently, qualitative researchers do not carry out hypotheses at the beginning of their studies compared to quantitative researchers (Gay, Mills and Airasian, 2006). Therefore, this method is suitable for the focus group in this study, which will give reliable data. Using a focus group supports Hays and Singh’s (2012) theory that utilising qualitative research can investigate the intended phenomena in a natural setting where the information can be obtained easily and directly observed in the form of words (Morrow, 2007). Hence, the appropriate reasoning for choosing the qualitative method is to discover the perceptions of Hartpury University Centre from students.

The use of an open and close-ended questionnaire creates an empirical approach to achieve the quantitative research objectives (Cottrell and McKenzie, 2011); hence, the data is represented as numbers and statistics (Burns and Burns, 2008). Haverkamp and Young (2007), explain that quantitative designs are linear which leads to the development of theories, opposing qualitative designs that begin with experiences. According to Cottrell and McKenzie (2011), this is a traditional form of research because it is more reliable, and the researcher does not interfere with the subjects. A questionnaire needs a large sample size to allow for more dependable data to be gathered (Patton 1990, p. 169). Hence, the reason why the research is following an explanatory sequential design; as the analysed results from the questionnaires are explained further within the focus group (Watkins and Gioia, 2015).


3.2.2 Inductive Approach

The researcher has utilised an inductive approach to develop a principle from the data by creating awareness from the information collected (Cottrell and McKenzie, 2011, p. 6 – 7). According to Creswell (1994, p. 19 – 20), the process of qualitative research involving the inductive approach is that the researcher builds a foundation of aspects from abstractions, concepts and theories from the collected data. Conversely, a deductive approach comes from a general theory and narrows down to a particular statement (Bergdahl and Berterö, 2015). The inductive approach is suitable for this study, as models should emerge from the research (Gray, 2013).


3.3 Research Strategy

3.3.1 Sampling Method

Saris and Gallhofer (2007), describe sampling as a “procedure which selects a limited number of units from a population in order to describe the population”. The population of interest for the study are sports students – prospective undergraduate students and third-year students – either considering applying for a place or who are already studying at Hartpury University Centre. The first population, prospective students, are able to provide the data needed to understand why open days are effective. The latter population, were selected since they would be able to give an opinion of what specifically motivated them to choose Hartpury University Centre.

The study follows an explanatory sequential design; hence, the questionnaires were administered prior to the focus group. The quantitative research approach, was conducted on three Hartpury University Centre open days to gather data from prospective undergraduate sports students. The sampling method chosen for the questionnaires was convenience sampling, also known as opportunity sampling, as it allows the researcher to select accessible subjects to do the study (Marshall, 1996). By following this method of sampling, the participants involved in the questionnaire were easily accessible and  in the proximity of the researcher as they were attending an open day at the university (Schwandt, 2001). Marshall (1996) clarifies that it is a more thoughtful and justified approach to selecting participants, however, it is the least rigorous sampling technique. By having easy access to the different participants, the researcher was able to identify which qualifying candidates would be suitable for the survey through face-to-face contact, for example, all of the prospective sports students (Teddlie and Yu, 2007; Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2016). Patton (1990) explains this sampling method allows for a larger sample size because the respondents will be readily available for the researcher, therefore, they will help to elaborate the data needed for the focus group (Creswell and Plano Clark, 2011).

The qualitative approach followed the sampling method of purposive sampling to select its participants. Purposive sampling is a non-probability form of sampling where the researcher needs participants relevant to the study (Bryman, 2015). Hood (2007) created a generic inductive qualitative model, also known as generic purposive sampling, based on open-ended questions and emphasizes on the generation of theories. The main feature is the researcher handpicks the cases to be included based on their judgement of the required characteristics (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2018). According to Teddlie and Yu (2007), it provides a greater depth, however, less breadth to the study than a probability sampling method. Consequently, the focus group must stay homogenous in forms of background, not attitudes, to avoid disruption within the group – hence, the reason why the chosen participants will be third-year sports students (Morgan, 1988; Murphy, Cockburn and Murphy, 1992).


3.3.2 Questionnaires

Based on the data needed to answer the research question, it was decided to conduct questionnaires with prospective undergraduate sports students on a Hartpury University Centre open day. The questionnaires were distributed at three different open days at Hartpury University Centre – one in October, November and December (Hartpury College, 2018c). This allowed the researcher to obtain the desired number of respondents to successfully answer the questionnaire and assist with the study. The questionnaire was self-administered to remove potential bias in responses(Brace, 2008). The questionnaire allowed respondents to read each question independently (Bryman, 2015), and was more convenient and a quicker way to answer questions. Therefore, the questionnaires were administered in a quick ‘delivery and collection’ fashion (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2009).

The questionnaire featured nine questions, which comprised personal information, age, gender, religion and current situation, and questions about the open day, what course were they interested in, and what aspect of the open day did they find helpful. Over the three open days, prospective students completed 50 questionnaires. According to Patton (1990), sample size gives the study a purpose of inquiry and what information will be useful, hence, the decision to visit as many open days as possible to get as many responses as possible.


3.3.3 Focus Group

Due to the data needed for the research and the philosophical stance of the research question, a focus group with participants would be the most effective route to gather the needed data. According to Green and Hart (1999), the venue impacts on the data collected as the formality of the group varies with the formality of the setting the discussion is set in. Hence, the chosen venue was at Hartpury University Centre in a room free from interruptions and background noises that may otherwise spoil the audio recording.

There was careful consideration in the group composition when selecting participants for the focus group to encourage a discussion. Therefore, each participant was checked prior to the focus group on how they found Hartpury University Centre, for example, an international student and a student who went through UCAS clearing. By using a pre-existing social group, it provides a more ‘natural’ setting for the discussion; however, there may be impacts of over-disclosure (Bloor et al, 2001). Additionally, using a pre-existing social group brings interacting comments and encourages participants to share experiences, which challenges any discrepancies in the data (Kitzinger, 1994). The most common source of failure in focus group research is ensuring attendance; however, it can be higher if the group consists of a pre-existing social group (Morgan, 1995). To guarantee the participants would attend, there were reminder phone calls on the day of the focus group to remind them of the established meeting venue and time.

It is advised to have a focus group between six to eight participants as an optimum size to ensure that people have enough time to express their views (Morgan, 1995). The study had six participants consisting of two female and four male respondents. Due to the size of the group, the audio recording was strategically placed to ensure that all could be adequately recorded. Before the focus group started, the researcher experimented with the recorder by asking each participant to identify themselves and then checking the audibility. The discussion was recorded on two audio recording devices to ensure there were no pitfalls during the study and to help with the transcription later.

The whole discussion lasted 15 minutes with an average of 13 questions, including probing questions asked to the members. The questions were based on Hartpury University Centre and improvements to the open days. Each question was well received and, as previously mentioned by Morgan (1995), the group size allowed each participant to express their views. Once the focus group was finished, it was transcribed in full which is more complex than other qualitative methods (Bloor et al, 2001). According to Silverman (1993, p. 124), there cannot be a perfect transcript of an audio recording because people do not speak in neat planned sentences.


3.4 Research Design

3.4.1 Reliability and Validity

The reliability of the data is to guarantee that the measurement of the data yields the same answer as the very start of the study; and validity is to ensure what you are observing and ‘measuring’ is correct (Kirk and Miller, 1986). LeCompte and Goetz (1982) explains that there are two types of reliability and validity – internal and external. The prolonged participation of the applicants involved in the questionnaires and focus group allowed the researcher to certify that there was a high level of similarity.

The reliability of the data collection for the questionnaires was achieved through attendance and the notion that there is consistency with the questionnaires through the test-retest method (Charles, 1995). If the study were to be repeated, the research instrument would show consistency and conclude it is a reliable and valid procedure.

The internal validity of the focus group was achieved by recording on two digital machines, and stored on a password-protected computer meeting the requirements of the Data Protection Act (1998). By carrying out the focus group, it ensured whether the researcher should accept the quantitative data, and trust the quality of the validity of the answers from the participants from the focus group. There is a low external reliability in the immediate results because there were subjective and individual beliefs within the responses from the focus group. Additionally, there is a bias in the focus group regarding the researcher because of the personal knowledge and involvement relating to Hartpury University Centre open days.



3.5 Ethics

The research follows the ethical inquiry of descriptive ethics which describes ‘what’, and ‘how’ people do the things they do, and asks empirical questions (Sugarman and Sulmasy, 2010). The ethical concerns that are inherent in this study are to guarantee that the participants from the focus group and questionnaires remain confidential and are protected from harm – to protect all who gave information to the study. To safeguard the data, it will be protected by the Data Protection Act of 1998, and the audio from the focus group will be stored securely within a password protected computer. The researcher will follow the Data Protection Act to guarantee that the information is used fairly and lawfully (Government UK, 1998).

In order to address the qualitative approach, the questionnaire answered by prospective sports students will ask for their voluntary and informed consent to take part in the study. This is to ensure there is minimal risk towards the participants and for the participants to understand the project (Rudestam and Newton, 2015). As it is an open day, there will be under 18s – therefore, at the end of the questionnaire it will ask for a parent’s signature for their consent. To avoid any negative consequences from under 18 participants, the study will be following the Children Act 1989 – “an Act to reform the law relating to children” (Government UK, 1989).

The focus group involves third-year students who are aged over 18 and in full time education at the university. To overcome the issue of receiving consent by the prospective students and the focus group participants, the questionnaire will have a statement asking for their consent, and the focus group will sign a consent form. The consent form given to the focus group participants explains what the study entails, the risks, the benefits, what they would have to do and the final consent form to sign if they agree to participate. During the transcribing, the researcher will ensure there is confidentiality of participants’ identities by creating pseudonyms of P1, P2 etc. (Creswell, 2014; Frankfort-Nachmias and Nachmias, 1992).


3.6 Data Analysis

Descriptive statistics are helpful to analyse data because they describe the characteristics of the sample in the project, and addresses the specific research questions (Pallant, 2013). The categorical variables, such as gender and region, will be shown using frequency distribution. The ordinal variables, such as how they heard about Hartpury University, will also be shown using frequency distribution. To ensure the necessary data is gathered, the equipment required is a paper questionnaire to hand out to respondents. The data will then be entered into Microsoft Excel, calculated and formatted into the required frequency tables.

The focus group’s epistemological stance will be following a thematic analysis, which extracts key themes from the study’s data. However, it is a diffuse approach as it defines few core themes in data (Bryman, 2015). Tuckett (2005) defines a theme as a recurring idea or topic discovered within a certain text. When the researcher is searching for themes, it is recommended to look for repetition as it is the most common way to identify themes; and similarities and differences in the transcripts through the way the interviewees discuss the different topics (Ryan and Bernard, 2003). By applying Miles and Huberman’s (1994) thematic conceptual matrix to the data, it will be following the inductive approach of the study and identifying key themes from the discussion. By using a thematic approach to analyse the data, it will help the researcher to understand the feedback from the focus group, and answer the aims and objectives of the study.


4.0 Results

In this chapter, the data collected will be presented from the above chosen methods. The researcher will use a thematic approach to process the data to recognise key themes within the focus group. Similarly, the questionnaire uses descriptive statistics and the data will be grouped in frequency tables. The data will be analysed from both the focus group and questionnaire, be linked back to the objectives of the study and become the fundamentals for the discussion. There was one focus group and 50 questionnaires that were successfully collected.


4.1 To understand the effectiveness of open days as a marketing communication strategy.


4.1.1 University ‘Interaction’

From the thematic analysis of the focus group transcript, a reoccurring theme was the interaction with current students that undergraduates were exposed to at Hartpury University Centre open days. The current students involved in the open days partook in subject talks – depending on what course they were currently studying. This is a tool used at Hartpury University Centre to allow for prospective students to engage and ask questions to present students. Participant 2 states the following: ‘… I found it very helpful to speak to the students’.

Participant 4 also stated that it was ‘very good’ to have met current students because it ‘massively influenced my decision’ to come to Hartpury University Centre. Therefore, the use of subject talks and tours involving present students were helpful to involve prospective students too, as Participant 4 says, ‘getting used to the university environment’ was very beneficial.

Another aspect used at Hartpury University Centre are welcome talks – these are designed to inform and help the prospective students to make the right decision on what course to choose and whether it is the right university for them. This is seen in Participant 5’s statement: ‘When we were all sat in MDC1 and they told us all about the different classes and modules they had going on – it helped me to decide on what I wanted to do’.

Consequently, this shows that some participants preferred the engagement of students, while others preferred more in-depth information on their chosen course. This shows that the different aspects used on the open days are beneficial to different prospective students.

The frequency table from the questionnaire, shows similar results to the focus group as the prospective students found the subject talks and tours the most helpful. However, the welcome talk was the least helpful out of the four aspects available on the Hartpury University Centre open day. Surprisingly, no one in the focus group praised the value or usefulness of the information zone.

table 1

Table 1: A table to show which aspects prospective undergraduate students found helpful at the Hartpury University Centre open day.


4.2 Identify which current marketing strategies are effective in creating brand awareness.

4.2.1 Campus ‘Environment’

The second theme was the atmosphere found on Hartpury’s campus and its facilities. The most common way people heard about Hartpury University Centre was through family or friends. The questionnaire found that over 29 people found Hartpury University Centre through family or friends; following with others already doing BTEC or A-Levels at Hartpury College or one respondent stating: ‘I found Hartpury because my dog came here for hydrotherapy at the Cotswold Dog Spa’.

Another respondent claimed that they found Hartpury University Centre since: ‘I competed with my horse at one of the unaffiliated events’.

This shows that the world class events and facilities at Hartpury University Centre attract people who are not originally looking to further their education at the university, but personal activities such as equestrian events are also a factor.

Four out of the six participants in the focus group found Hartpury University Centre through word of mouth – Participants 2 and 5 heard it from their riding instructors. The other two participants found Hartpury University Centre on the Internet.

Surprisingly, the old media techniques – emails, magazines, television – had the lowest results. The growing social media accounts of Hartpury University Centre did not attract much attention from the prospective students despite the popularity of them.

table 2

Table 2: A table to show how prospective undergraduate students heard about Hartpury University Centre.


The participants in the focus group agreed that the unique selling point of Hartpury University Centre is the campus and the facilities. Participant 4 explains that: ‘… the charm of Hartpury is like having a look at the facilities, and just being immersed in the sort of campus environment’.

Participant 2, who studies BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science, states that Hartpury University Centre is the largest equine college in the world and follows on by saying: ‘… there is nowhere that can compare to Hartpury with the facilities wise and in terms of the events and stuff with equestrianism’.

Additionally, an advantage of Hartpury University Centre’s lectures is that the sizes are smaller than larger universities. Participant 1 found it beneficial as it built the fundamentals for second and third year getting to know your lecturers’ well in first year: ‘… in first year, especially on the Foundation (Sport Business Management) course we had classes of about five to six students which was quite good because we had quite more a hand on approach to our lecturers’.


4.3 To understand the motivations of students in choosing Hartpury University Centre for undergraduate study.

4.3.1 Vocational Opportunities

The third theme found in the results which answers objective three, was the opportunities the courses gave students after graduation and what attracted students to the course.

Strength and Conditioning was the second most popular at the open day. The Sports Business Management degree was the fourth liked course. However, Equine and Nutrition were the least preferred courses over the three open days. Sports Coaching was the most popular degree which correlates with the high amount of people who apply for this degree.

table 3

Table 3: A table to show what sport course area prospective students were interested in.


The overall opinion from the focus group on why they chose their degree was because of the career opportunities after graduation. It was also, how Participant 1 explained: ‘… it sounded the most enjoyable course’.

In one comment made by Participant 3: ‘I think the Business Management degree just has a plethora of options to pursue once you are done’.

Both Participant 1 and 3 study BA (Hons) Sports Business Management and, therefore, have similar views that the degree would give them more opportunities afterwards. Similarly, Participant 4 and 6 study BSc (Hons) Strength and Conditioning and explain: ‘It was the course that gave me the most options once I graduate from university, different career paths I could have gone down’ (Participant 6) and ‘I chose my course because it really spoke to what I enjoy and the practicality of it, and actually getting out there and enjoying what you do’ (Participant 4).

Both Participant 2 and 5 said similar comments about their course, BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science, although not because of the opportunities it gave them after graduation. They chose it because they were indecisive on what area to go into. Participant 5 said: ‘I picked it because I wanted to, I couldn’t decide whether to do sport or equine and it combines both together quite nicely’.

From the 50 respondents, over half of them answered that they were interested in that course because of the vocational opportunities that come with the degree. Nearly 22 respondents decided to choose that degree because they had done previous study within the field and wanted to expand on that knowledge. The three open day attendees who were interested in the course because of a friend’s recommendation explained that one had a friend already studying that degree at Hartpury University Centre.

table 4

Table 4: A table to show why the prospective students were interested in their chosen course.


Concluding on the theme of vocational opportunities, it is a real selling point for Hartpury University Centre as other universities do not offer the same degrees. As Participant 6 described: ‘They don’t do your sort of typical “old-fashioned degrees”. So, the degrees they offer are really vocational and they really send you down a certain career path whether that be business, if you’re into that side of things, or more practical hands-on side of things in the field’.

Therefore, as Participant 6 summarises, the degrees taught at Hartpury University Centre send undergraduate students down the certain career paths with the unique vocational courses. This recaps that both prospective and undergraduate students are conscious of choosing a degree that will provide vocational opportunities after three years at university.


4.4 To understand the marketing opportunities for Hartpury University Centre.

4.4.1 University ‘Culture’

A theme that came up within the focus group was the university culture and marketing opportunities. A few comments from the questionnaires are: ‘They should add the modules that you would do which would be in your course in the prospectus’ and ‘There should be more subject lecturers and sports people at the open day’.

Moving away from the open day questionnaires, the focus group participants made statements on how Hartpury University Centre could improve as a university for future undergraduate students. The recommendations ranged from the Hartpury University Centre website to university’s campus. Participant 6 wanted the university to help with the final year of study: ‘I would like to see a little bit more of help in transition from university, the contact time seems to drop off significantly in third year…but a little assistance finishing off that last year of university’.

However, Participant 6 also stated: ‘I would definitely look at the employment conversion rates six months post-graduation because I think one thing that Hartpury does well is sets you up for a career path’.

Furthermore, Hartpury University Centre does not actively promote these statistics, unless an applicant actively searches for it on their website or in their prospectuses, and the university should ensure increased promotion for prospective students. Furthermore, Participant 1 believes the ‘new Hartpury website is pretty poor’ and the respondent gave a suggestion: ‘If you’re a student thinking of coming, navigating around that website is not the best. I do not know if they could do a bit more of a virtual kind of tour of Hartpury on the website because it’s a different campus compared to other unis’.

The virtual tour came across as a good recommendation among all of participants in the focus group. Participant 5 said: ‘Yeah, especially as we have the international students like Participant 3 who could not come to an open day’.

The main recommendation following those suggestions was the university culture. Participant 3 found: ‘I think first year living on campus gets really boring, when I think about other universities having a bit more stuff going on’.

This came with a proposal from Participant 6 suggesting they should increase the awareness of the Student Union (SU). The Student Union is available to receive feedback on the university experience and to develop change for students. The suggestion from Participant 6 is: ‘I feel like the development of the SU would sort a more relaxed atmosphere during the daytime. Be nice to have bit of a buzz around the SU, brightening it up and making it a bit bigger’.

This came with criticism that there is not enough space on campus for non-residential students to socialise during the day. Despite the size of the campus, the buildings take a fraction of the space of the land it owns. Both Participant 1 and 2 gave the proposal for the university to expand: ‘On campus, we don’t have a common room or anything. There’s  just the coffee shop’ (Participant 3) and ‘People just usually go to the library, it’s a social atmosphere more than a working atmosphere, because there is nowhere really elsewhere to go as a university student to have a chat, you know, with your mates and everything’ (Participant 2).

In terms of the learning and standard of teaching, there were no recommendations – however, in the BA (Hons) Sports Business Management degree they integrate an Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) course. Participant 3 wishes for the university to review what courses they integrate into degrees: ‘I think, for my course they could build better links with professional development institutions like the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst Institute) and ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants). We do have the ILM but that’s not enough I think’.

Another recommendation is the size of lectures as compared to other universities Hartpury has very small classes. However, Participant 1 believes they should try to keep the classes smaller over the three years, since it only lasts in first year: ‘…in first year, especially on the Foundation (Sports Business Management) course we had classes of about five to six students which was quite good because we had more of a hands-on approach to our lecturers and we could have more of a chat with them… I wish that sort of happened a bit more during second and third year but I suppose as the classes get bigger, it can’t really happen, but it was nice’.

The final recommendation on the teaching aspect was the launch of their Masters degrees. Surprisingly, when asked if any of them would study a Masters at Hartpury University, no one would. They all agreed that a Masters creates industry distinction, however, Participant 2 said: ‘I don’t think I would do an Equine Masters, because there’s not very much in terms of the equine industry. The science is not respected enough for a Masters to be like worth it at the moment – but maybe in the future’.


5.0 Discussion

This chapter aims to discuss and compare the themes found in the previous chapter with the study’s objectives. Being an inductive study, the researcher will evaluate the collected data and results from the focus group and questionnaires, alongside relevant literature discussed previously in the literature review. The findings here will lead to an overall result for the research and determine if the topic needs future examination.


5.1 To understand the effectiveness of open days as a marketing communication strategy.

A key finding from the research was that all participants found the interaction with current students on open days as a ‘well-received’ marketing communication strategy highlighting the benefits of a ‘personal touch’. This communication is useful because listeners must concentrate on the information provided which enhances the comprehension given to them (Daly and Vangelisti, 2003). This indicates that Hartpury University Centre should involve students as part of their open day planning to keep both parents and prospective students engaged with the campus and degree choices available.

The advantage of having a ‘main’ rather than multiple campus locations is it allows for a central point of study. Baldry (1999) explains that the physical environment for teaching affects the qualities of the work experience suggesting vocational opportunities and the campus environment were the main reasons students choose to study at Hartpury University Centre. The campus covers 360 hectares, an ideal size for a student who wants a university feel, however, not too overwhelming (Hartpury College, 2018a).  According to Hajrasouliha (2017), a ‘well-designed’ campus requires a “mixed, compact, well-connected, well-structured, inhabited, green campus in an urbanised setting”. Hartpury University Centre is able to occupy residential students and the focus group found that all of the respondents described the location as, ‘nowhere that can compare’. By holding an open day, it allows a student to see all of the features that Hartpury University Centre can offer creating an effective marketing strategy.

Hartpury University Centre provides sports students with exceptional facilities from pitches to sport performance laboratories (Hartpury College, 2018d). Côté et al (2016) found that providing athletes with modified sports facilities allowed them to develop an integrated relationship with their activities and settings that creates a positive sports experience and facilitates personal development through sport. Burton et al (2011) suggests a modern sports environment produces a self-determination climate for the athletes, and creates positive social relationships (Coakley, 1980). According to Palma et al (2013), it is important for a host destination to provide cultural facilities and venues to attract and prolong the stay of the personnel. Therefore, it is important to hold events both indoors and outdoors to increase attendance (Silberberg, 1995).

One of the aspects that allows prospective students to visualise and ‘get used to the university environment’ was through campus tours. McGunagle (1997) reinforces that a campus tour is a vital part of an open day as students and their families can obtain knowledge of the university. A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy creates a company-customer relationship and enhances the performance of the university, improving the relationship of prospective and current students (Rigo et al, 2016). CRM is a consistent strategy for a university to personalise and tailor open days, managing all of the aspects a company uses when interacting with their customers (Buttle and Maklan, 2015). Ambassadors and current undergraduate students contribute to the prospective student’s application decision through interaction on campus tours (Klein, 2004). Hartpury holds campus tours every 30 minutes to ensure that applicants and their families do not miss out. Qian and Yarnal (2010) found that guides were motivated to provide tours, offering visitors rich and personal information about the university. If the university selects undergraduate students who are passionate, it can influence decisions, and therefore increase students applying to the university (Dessoff, 1994). One participant in the focus group explained that ‘it massively influenced their decision’ to come to Hartpury especially being able to talk to the current students.


5.2 Identify which current marketing strategies are effective in creating brand awareness.

The research gathered from the questionnaires and focus group, highlighted key marketing techniques used to attract prospective students and create brand awareness. This concept is important in a specialised university, as brand image can develop name recognition within specialised agriculture, sports and equine fields (Christodoulides et al, 2015; Hoyer and Brown, 1990). Hartpury University Centre has successfully created awareness through a unique campus ‘environment’ and as the largest equine college in the world, alongside sporting excellence – for example, the Gloucester Academy and Hartpury RFC.

The main marketing strategies seen in promoting Hartpury University Centre were elements of the Marketing Mix, elements in the Integrated Marketing Communication Mix (IMC) and word-of-mouth. The marketing mix is used as a marketing tool to recruit students from various target markets (Ivy, 2008). The elements highlighted from the research are product, promotion, people and physical evidence. The elements of people and physical evidence were successfully integrated on the open days supported by Ivy (2008) who explains that staff, students, materials, buildings and facilities establish brand awareness. Hartpury University Centre’s unique selling points are the campus, facilities and its exclusive degrees. A respondent found their degrees were not ‘your typical “old-fashioned degrees”’, which enticed them to enrol. The promotional element helps develop and influence the purchasing attitude of potential customer’s (Munteanu, 2006). A promotional strategy at open days enables people to talk about experiences and the use of the website has contributed to the organisation as they continue to build their brand (Bîja and Balaş, 2014).

To create a popular brand, a company should follow the Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) mix, as it comprises all of the components of the company and reinforces the brand’s message (Payne and Holt, 2001). This allows a university to segment their target consumers and recruit their students personally (Moore, 1999; Ebenkamp, 2000). To reiterate, IMC is a blend of personal selling, public relations, advertising, sales promotion and direct and digital marketing (Kotler and Armstrong, 2016). The results found that personal selling and digital marketing guaranteed strong brand awareness. Olariu (2016) describes personal selling as a direct face-to-face communication with the sole purpose of making a sale. This is a significant aspect on open days because there are campus tours led by student ambassadors, and university lecturers who are there to speak to applicants. This allows applicants to experience the campus environment and ‘the charm of Hartpury’. By using this promotional strategy, it remains effective in engaging with the consumer and ensuring awareness is still present in the target market. Hartpury University Centre also uses digital marketing through four social media pages. Direct and digital marketing is aimed at specific consumers with the end goal of creating a lasting relationship and gaining instantaneous responses (Kotler and Armstrong, 2016). It is currently the most efficient tool to reach potential customers and, therefore, the easiest influencer for brand awareness (Kannan, 2017). Kneblová (2009) found at Brno University of Technology that a university website was the most effective way to reach prospective students – however, this current study found word-of-mouth was the most successful to reach prospective sports students applying for Hartpury University Centre.

Word-of-Mouth (WoM) marketing is a form of viral marketing and has strong credibility as the information given to the consumers is subjective and persuasive (Phelps et al, 2004). It was the most effective to create brand knowledge as four out of six participants found Hartpury University Centre through WoM endorsements highlighting the campus environment as the main talking point. An advantage of using WoM is it is a free promotional tool and consumers are actively seeking information on the relevant brand (Leigh and Thompson, 2012). The efficiency of WoM allows a company to target consumers through multiple exposures e.g. competitions held at the Hartpury equestrian arena, and hydrotherapy for both dogs and horses, therefore creating brand awareness for Hartpury University as a centre of excellence.


5.3 To understand the motivations of students in choosing Hartpury University Centre for undergraduate study.

A significant finding in the study were the motivations of students choosing undergraduate degrees at Hartpury University Centre because of its vocational opportunities. The main attraction for the third-year students for choosing their courses was ‘it gave me a plethora of options to pursue’ and ‘it sounded the most enjoyable course’. According to Virtanen et al (2014), a vocational course has two aspects – theoretical and practical. The participants found Hartpury University Centre gave them the best preparation to enter the workplace because of the opportunities available to them.

The motivation behind a student’s choice is derived from the consumer behaviour model (Alkaabi et al, 2017). Consumer behaviour is the actions people carry out to purchase a product or services (Blackwell et al, 2001). It is important for Hartpury University Centre to understand that the behaviour of the current students is vital for accurately targeting the correct students and creating relevant and appealing degrees. By correctly promoting open days, it motivates prospective students to attend a university open day and the open day allows for a consumer to become involved with the product (Reeve, 2008; Solomon, 2006). A sport open day’s consumer behaviour model is similar to a sport consumer behaviour model as they both involve three phases – input (external forces), internal processing (psychological forces) and outputs (Funk et al, 2016). A sports consumer becomes motivated to attend an event through word-of-mouth, attends the event and forms an attitudinal outcome based on the experience (Funk et al, 2016).

The main motivation for applying for university was for the vocational opportunities; however, the benefits of attending Hartpury University Centre are ‘the small classes which allow a “hands-on” approach with lecturers’. Graduating with a good degree, allows students to raise their future income due to the education obtained and improved abilities (Becker, 1964). Vocational opportunities are the deciding factor on the human capital a student will gain from their degree, since an employer will be willing to pay according to the contribution he believes can be made to the firm’s productivity (Blundell et al, 1999). It is common to attend university, as many jobs view it as a requirement (Trusty and Niles, 2004). One participant who described the courses at Hartpury as ‘really vocational’ noted this and that they align you with a certain career path.


6.0 Conclusion

The current study found that the main motivation for both prospective students and third-year students to apply for undergraduate degree courses were the world class facilities, campus and the vocational opportunities available at Hartpury University Centre. The campus facilities viewed on open days were considered the main attraction because there is ‘nowhere that can offer the same facilities’ as Hartpury University Centre. The specialised degrees were seen as particularly attractive by students to the university, as very few universities offer comparable vocational courses to those available at Hartpury University Centre.

The findings showed that the most successful technique to recruit prospective students was through personal selling by student interaction on open days, and word-of-mouth (WoM) marketing and endorsements. The research found that it was ‘very helpful’ to talk to current students as it allowed applicants to gain inside knowledge of the university, visualise the experience and provide greater understanding of their specific course. By allowing students to talk to prospective students, it facilitates Hartpury University Centre in reaching their target allocation for students applying for their undergraduate degrees. It was shown that the development of WoM marketing was established through people that had either studied at or visited Hartpury University Centre before, or knew someone who had visited previously. The creation of free WoM marketing was due to the unique selling point of Hartpury University Centre’s world class facilities and campus ‘environment’ – people who had heard about the university were already aware that it is the largest equine college in the world and famous for its sporting excellence.

To conclude, the key findings are not what the researcher originally assumed as it was thought that applicants had found Hartpury University Centre through direct and digital marketing channels – not word-of-mouth marketing. This was interesting as it was assumed that direct and digital marketing would be the primary channels for efficiently attracting and informing potential applicants about open days at Hartpury University Centre. In the study, it was established that the main motivation for students wanting to apply for Hartpury University Centre were the vocational opportunities the degrees gave them after graduation.


6.1 Limitations

According to Denscombe (2010), constraints related to time and resources are common in any study. Time constraints only allowed the opportunity to collect data at three Hartpury University Centre open days, and to hold only one focus group. This meant that the sample size in the research was reduced and therefore, some viewpoints could have been missed. There was an absence of resources, since there was only one researcher – if there were a team of researchers more data would have been gathered on the open days, and more focus groups would have been held. Had there been additional time, it could have become a longitudinal study by observing the participants over a longer period of time, such as an entire year.

One limitation that hindered the research project was that it was held at a specific institute, Hartpury University Centre, to obtain the responses from the specific target market for the focus group and questionnaires. The selected university can only produce a certain set of results which will be unique to that institution compared to another university. Another constraint for the researcher was the limited literature review available on higher education institutes and the motivations of students wanting to apply for higher education.


6.2 Recommendations for Further Study

A recommendation for future research is to incorporate a similar methodology, however, the researcher should target a different higher education institute in a longitudinal study and sample students who are interested in more academic degrees. Further research could include different demographics, such as undergraduate and postgraduate students, and utilise separate male and female focus groups to allow different themes to be observed and compared. To ensure the reliability in results, the researcher should have a bigger sample size and more focus groups.



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