PURPOSE: Marketing communication practitioners in higher education have not yet identified specific subgroups with similar characteristics within the prospective student (target) market, and do not always know which preferred sources learners consult when deciding on a tertiary institution for further or higher education. In addition, little is known about prospective students' information needs when deciding which institution to attend. As a result many tertiary institutions still use one message in one medium for all target markets. The aims of this paper are: to determine if sub-groups exist within the student recruitment market that need tailor made persuasive messages; to determine the preferred sources of information gathering for prospective students that influences their choice of tertiary institution; and to determine the information needs of prospective students that influence their decisions to select an institution of higher education.
DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH: A stratified random sample of 19 schools was drawn, from which a total of 716 successfully completed questionnaires were used to conduct factor and cluster analyses to determine information needs and source preferences of these respondents.
FINDINGS: Ten factors under the VARCLUS procedure with high eigen values were grouped together with the following labels: university, college, employability aspects, course content, student experience, sporting aspects, financial aspects, direct sources, media sources and social sources. Five sub-groups clustered together with the K-means analysis, labelled: have lots, aspiring have lots, little direction and new lifers.
RESEARCH LIMITATIONS/IMPLICATIONS: A limited amount of literature is available on the current use of media and sources by the target market. Decisions on the choice of a tertiary institution for higher education are most probably influenced by socio-economic circumstances in a developing context, like South Africa.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS: An integrated and well co-ordinated media and message strategy for each of the various sub-groups should be specified for an IMC plan to be successful.
ORIGINALITY/VALUE: This is one of the few research articles on media and source preferences of potential students in the Cape Metropolitan. The cluster analysis revealed five clusters of sub-groups that have specific media and source needs to make the decision on furthering studies at tertiary level.