Visualizing the geographic distribution of wealth in the K-12 market

Kirk-Chritton-100One of the challenges in K-12 sales and marketing is identifying the differing factors that drive purchasing decisions within distinct segments of the market. The enrollment and area wealth of an institution are among the largest influences on purchasing patterns.

Education database companies have provided enrollment and local demographics for decades, but now data visualization tools make it easier to understand what this looks like in the real world. One way to think about these attributes is in a simple matrix diagram.

Wealth/Enrollment Matrix

That approach, however, is extremely abstract. To get a more nuanced view of the relationships between wealth and enrollment, I’ve created the video below that visualizes the characteristics of Ohio school districts on a map.

The height of the bars represents district enrollment while the color represents the wealth of the surrounding area. Dark red bars are districts in the least wealthy areas while dark green bars are the wealthiest. I’ve animated the visualization so that the bars appear from the lowest to highest wealth.

Rather than simplistic diagrams or grey rows of data, this visualization brings a number of demographic realities to vivid life:

  • For the most part, there are two types of districts affected by low wealth. High enrollment central city districts are immediately apparent and typically get a lot of media attention. Perhaps less expected, however, is the wide swath of low income, low enrollment rural districts across southeast Ohio. Both of these types of districts face extreme challenges, but you can be sure that the resources and responses of the institutions are very different.
  • Northwest Ohio also has a number of small rural districts, but they have a much more diverse distribution of wealth.  A small district serving a relatively more wealthy population is certain to have different characteristics than its more challenged counterpart.
  • Larger districts at the high end of the wealth spectrum are much more likely to produce strong response for most education marketers. The animation makes it clear that these are far from randomly distributed: they are clustered around city centers, like suburban rings of Saturn.

The basic takeaway is the importance of realizing that the K-12 market is not monolithic; it’s comprised of a variety of types of school systems that are each worth a distinct sales and marketing strategy. Here are some potential action items suggested by the visualization:

  • Consider using separate sales representatives and featuring separate products for urban and suburban districts. They may be in close proximity, but these districts have very different purchasing influences. Central city districts are highly focused on addressing core requirements and must work within stringent state and federal guidelines. In contrast, the wealthiest suburban districts are mostly locally funded; they not only have more money to spend, they also spend it on a broader array of products and services.
  • Low income, rural schools may have low potential individually, but there are a lot of them. Plus, they have distinct needs that your competitors may not be addressing. Remember that Walmart got its start serving small rural towns that were ignored by other chain retailers.
  • For email and direct mail offers, segmentation is key. Do your offers appeal more to educators in one type of school system than another? MCH can help you evaluate your existing sales data to craft segmentation strategies that leverage the different factors that influence K-12 purchasing.

We will continue to explore education and institutional marketing trends, bringing you data visualizations that reveal new market trends.