Public awareness of Washington State University and its academic strengths has risen measurably during the past 27 months, according to results from a recent independent telephone survey conducted in the Spokane and Seattle regions. In fact, WSU tied with University of Washington in the category of overall, top-of-mind awareness.

The purpose of the survey, performed in the spring of 2002, was to measure public perceptions and awareness of universities statewide, and compare those results with a major baseline survey taken in early 1999.

Since the ‘99 survey, the university has launched a comprehensive, integrated marketing and brand development program and a statewide advertising campaign, titled “World Class. Face to Face.”

Results from the new survey are providing insights as to whether the university should make adjustments to its marketing and advertising efforts and where it should focus future energy.

Sally Savage, vice president University Advancement, said “WSU’s current record high enrollment provides a dramatic confirmation that our integrated marketing program is working well. However, this survey helps ensure that our marketing efforts will remain on course, consistently maximizing the university’s investment.

“Integrated marketing is a critical element to achieving the university’s long-term goals and establishing its reputation as a world class research university providing valuable face-to-face educational opportunities at affordable prices. Its success is a reflection of everyone’s efforts at the university — faculty, staff, students and administrators.”

The survey, conducted by Educational Marketing Group, an independent survey firm from Aurora, Colo., included responses from 400 randomly chosen homes. Half the participants were in the Seattle area and half in the Spokane region.

In its report, Educational Marketing Group stated that “WSU’s advertising strategy is on target and is having a positive impact on public perceptions of the institution’s quality.”

The survey focused on five key issues:

• Top-of-mind awareness (unaided recall)

• Willingness to recommend (unaided)

• Association with key quality attributes

• Importance of, and WSU performance on, key attributes

• Awareness and perceptions of WSU advertising

Of the 400 respondents, 120 were parents of students in grades 9 – 12, 120 were adults 21 years of age or older and 160 were between the ages of 13 to 20.

A few results

Here are a few of the findings:

• WSU equaled the University of Washington in “overall top-of-mind awareness” when considering both the Seattle and Spokane markets. Each research university scored a 65.8% rating for unaided recall levels. (The “overall” category includes all age groups.) Other ratings included Eastern Washington University at 31.6%, Gonzaga at 25.1% and Western Washington University at 18.3%.

• Results differed when the data was separated by region. WSU led in overall top-of-mind awareness in Spokane County with 71.5%, followed closely by EWU at 58.5%, Gonzaga at 40.5%, UW at 41%, and WWU at 7.5%. When considering the Seattle region, however, UW maintained a dominant lead at 90.5%, with WSU at 60%, WWU at 29%, Gonzaga at 9.5 and EWU at 4.5%.

• Nine out of ten respondents (89.2%) who had seen or heard WSU’s “World Class. Face to Face.” ads gave them a solid rating (3 to 5 on a scale of 1 to 5).

• WSU advertising scored highest among parents of high school students. In the Spokane area, 100% of respondents rated the ads favorably (3 to 5 on a scale of 1 to 5). In Seattle, 85.7% rated them favorably.

• In the 13 to 20-year-old segment, nine out of 10 respondents rated the WSU ads favorably. Plus, 62% of this group indicated that they would definitely or probably recommend or consider WSU based on the ad campaign. The lowest ratings for the ad series came from adults 21 or older, who still gave an 81.8% approval rating.

• More than half of all respondents who had seen WSU ads (53.4%) said they would recommend or consider WSU based on advertising. In addition, 84.4% of those who had seen or heard WSU ads indicated they had been positively influenced to some degree by them.

• Long term, one of the most important challenges for WSU is to convert the public’s increasing awareness of the university into a willingness to recommend it to friends and relatives. In the Spokane area, WSU is the leader, with 56.5% showing an overall willingness to recommend. EWU falls close behind with 47%, followed by UW at 42.5%, Gonzaga at 38% and WWU at 8.5%. In Seattle, the UW reigns with an 81.5% overall rating, with WSU at 33%, WWU at 24.5%, Gonzaga at 11% and EWU at 3%.

“To achieve equal top-of-mind awareness levels with the University of Washington in about a year, and to do that in the UW’s own home territory, is nothing short of amazing,” said Bob Brock, president of Educational Marketing Group. “That kind of progress is on a par with the best marketing programs that I have seen at any institution. It certainly marks a very strong advance.

“Another highly notable accomplishment,” Brock said, “is that the public’s perceptions of WSU regarding quality improved in all 15 of the quality indicator categories that we measured. We don’t normally see that kind of across-the-board improvement, and that is extraordinary.”

Brock said the most significant gains the university made were in establishing and strengthening its “World Class. Face to Face.” image among 12 – 20 year olds, which was the university’s primary target audience. However, he added, the university still has work to do, particularly in the Puget Sound area, in reaching influencers (parents, high school counselors and teachers), opinion leaders (civic leaders and legislators) and business leaders.

“The university’s position in the marketplace is exactly where we hoped it would be at this point in time,” Brock said. “However, there is still a lot of work to be done. Marketing is not something you do for a certain period of time and it’s finished. It’s always ongoing and always making progress.”