What Value Prop Resonates with Online Business School Students


Founded decades before Harvard, William & Mary is the second oldest institution of higher learning in the country and a cutting-edge research university. Four U.S. presidents were educated at William & Mary, earning them the name “Alma Mater of the nation.” Today, William & Mary continues to be ranked among the top public universities.

Woman sitting at a desktop learning


As William & Mary’s School of Business launched online MBA & MSBA Programs, they needed to stand out in a crowded space. They turned to Next Step to understand what their prospective students care the most about so they can leverage Behavioral Science to clearly communicate their value.

What we did:

  1. Qualitative Interviews

    We started by talking with students and professors to get insight on their experience. Understanding what people value most about William & Mary’s online business school gave us some authentic themes to explore:

    • Networking/Community Even in Online Space
    • Balance History and Innovation
    • High Touch Experience
    • Online as Better (Reframing Perceived Stigma)

    We reviewed these findings with the client and refined them into 3 different value props. The 4th test was a control value prop, which used their existing language.

    Value Props we Tested

    • History
    • Community
    • Interactions
    • Excellence (Control)
  2. Quantitative Testing

    We looked at open rates for emails as well as surveys completed.

    • Emails Sent: 228,707 (Including Reminders)
    • Emails Opened: 53,978
    • Emails Clicked: 335
    • Surveys Completed: 91

    So which messaging resonated most?

    Survey Results:

    “Interactions” was unambiguously the preferred answer. This value prop does well across the board — when rank-ordered, A/B tested, and within-subjects.

    Email Test Results:

    • “Excellence” Worked well for getting people to open the email, but the control language never resonated beyond this point.
    • “Interactions” Although it was the strongest performer for survey completion (a big ask of users) it didn’t perform as well in the email. It may be that the message does not boil down to 3-4 words very well.
    • Community: In the middle.
    • History: Last. Any version of “history” might be played out.

What’s Next?

William & Mary now has a much clearer understanding of what resonates most with potential students and can confidently deploy marketing initiatives using high-performing messaging.

When you know what your audience genuinely cares about, you can optimize their entire journey — from top of funnel to conversion.

  • Shirin Oreizy
    Shirin Oreizy
  • JoAnne Tobias
    JoAnne Tobias

Curious how Behavioral Science can guide your users?Contact us today.

Please confirm you are not a robot.

receive our newsletter