How to Target The Test Prep Market

A few quick notes.png

Back in July, I was invited to facilitate a roundtable discussion on How to Target the Test Prep Market. The invitation was clear that I would not be expected to deliver a presentation. I fought the urge to prepare until about five minutes before the discussion, when I finally grabbed a hotel room notepad and frantically scribbled the following notes... just in case.   

Those of you reading this who, like me, compulsively over-prepare for everything will find this story all too familiar. I consider it a mini-success story that I was able to stifle the urge to prep until almost literally the last minute. Regardless, I hope everyone reading this will appreciate the content of the presentation. Content, that I ultimately condensed into bullet points and rhetorical questions that I slotted into the roundtable discussion.   

The Hotel Notepad

At the top of the page, I wrote:

"(1) How to Target THE Test Prep Market (singular?)."

As you'll see, I immediately took issue with a few assumptions inherent to the discussion's intended topic.

You can blame Terry Eagleton for my inability to let these things slide. Years ago a read Eagleton's profound and frustrating book, The Meaning of Life: a Very Short Introduction.

Meaning of Life

To this day, I'm not certain I enjoyed reading it. Even so, I thoroughly appreciated the meticulousness of the Eagleton's approach to the challenge. Eagleton spends 90 or so pages parsing each word in the phrase "The Meaning of Life" and in doing so explores all the possible ramifications of each possible interpretation. As a reader, one very quickly realizes how fraught the whole exercise of interpreting ambiguous text can be.   

I mention this book because two things jumped out at me when I began to consider the topic of the discussion, "How to Target the Test Prep Market." 

First, the phrasing suggests that there is ONLY ONE test prep market, which is not true for a number of reasons that should be rather obvious. There are many different tests for which students seek tutors' help to prepare. Each test should rightly be considered its own market, as a simple analysis of searches for SAT prep vs. ACT prep reveals:

SAT vs ACT Map

Search Data: SAT Prep (blue) vs. ACT Prep (red)

Second, students in geographically distinct markets often have so little in common that it makes no sense to consider them as a single market. Students in many Midwest states have, for better or worse, had far less exposure to the "test prep culture" that is much more prevalent in coastal states such as New York, California, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, etc.    

Search Data: ACT Prep

Search Data: ACT Prep

Search Data: SAT Prep

Search Data: SAT Prep

As you can see, the markets for SAT prep in New York and ACT prep in Oklahoma have more in common than the market for SAT prep in California has in common with the market for SAT prep in Utah. Obviously, it's hard to ignore the parallels between these maps and election maps. The ACT tests clearly dominates the Midwest, while the College Board and it's flagship test, the SAT, clearly dominate the more populated coastal states.  

Third, and most importantly for the topic of my non-presentation, populations of students vary pretty dramatically with regard to their demands and means for satisfying those demands at the local level. Even in the same town, there are distinct test prep markets. 

Fourth, even within the population of students at a single school, you'll find distinct submarkets of students who wish to prepare for the SAT or the ACT -- or both.

All of this is a very long way of illustrating the point that "the test prep market" is really a misleading idea. And if we approach the challenge of targeting the entire test prep market, we're bound to fail. 

This can be illustrated another way by considering the word "target," a word that implies a narrowing of ones focus.

You can't focus on everything. And for the same reason, you can't target everything. Targeting, like focusing, is about deciding what NOT to focus on. Targeting works the same way. Targeting is about deciding on what NOT to target. 

This process of narrowing your focus to a subset of the market is what's referred to as market segmentation.

Market Segmentation

Market Segmentation is defined as the process of dividing a market of potential customers into groups, or segments, based on different characteristics. The segments created are composed of consumers who will respond similarly to marketing strategies and who share traits such as similar interests, needs, or locations.

Thus we can see that the only reasonable way to "Target" "The Test Prep Market" is to begin by segmenting the market into submarkets. Next, we must choose which segments we will NOT to target. And only then can we proceed with the business of crafting our messaging and delivering our test prep offering to the specific portion of the market we've chosen to target.  

Apologies if you were expecting a bigger payoff in this post.  I realize that much of this is business 101.  Still, I felt that this was an important topic to tackle precisely because many professional tutors skip over this critical step when they decide to market SAT prep courses or ACT group classes. Often local test prep providers create an offering without first considering the demands of the high school students in the area.

An independent tutor on Wyzant or Craigslist can generally source enough business to survive without performing market analysis. The same cannot be said for small and medium test prep tutoring companies. A small or medium tutoring company will never grow beyond a handful of gifted tutors unless it is able to identify its specific target market and describe its ideal customer.

In our next post, we'll take a look at how tutors can use market segmentation strategies to better promote test prep services. These strategies help you to create a more compelling value proposition for the students you've identified as your target market. 

Clear-Choice - SAT + ACT + Laptop - Composition.png
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Matt McCorkle