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Learn how Olin Business School's brand perception survey yielded a successful flexible MBA program.

WashU Olin Leverages Brand Perception Data to Launch Flex MBA Program

Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis partnered with Hanover to strengthen its brand awareness and launch a flexible MBA program.

Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri (WashU Olin), thrives on a Values Based, Data Driven® approach to leadership along with experiential learning and innovation. Assistant Dean of Marketing and Communications Gabe Watson knew it was imperative to gain a deeper understanding of prospective students interests and perceptions to increase WashU Olin’s competitive edge in a fluctuating graduate business school landscape. 

The Challenge 

WashU Olin needed custom primary research data to better understand awareness of its brand nationally and its position among other business schools. Watson and other school leaders had previously relied on national ranking and other generic survey data, but it did not provide the depth of information they needed.  

In 2020, Watson connected with Hanover to help him gather year-over-year data on WashU Olin’s level of brand awareness, how it compares to competitors, and the preferences of prospective students. 


The percentage of prospects who would like the flexibility to work while attending a master’s program


The percentage of prospects considering a part-time MBA program, up from 32% the year before


The percentage of prospects considering a hybrid MBA program


The number of degree programs offered at WashU Olin

The Solution 

Hanover’s research team collaborated with Watson to design, administer, and analyze a custom longitudinal brand perception survey to capture vital insights about the school’s strengths and weaknesses over time. The survey was designed to answer the following research questions: 

  • What is WashU Olin’s current level of brand awareness among prospective graduate students? 
  • What are the school’s perceived strengths and weaknesses? 
  • Do external stakeholders associate WashU Olin’s different modalities (in person, online, hybrid) with differing levels of preference or value? 
  • How should the school adjust its academic programs and messaging to serve and attract key external stakeholders and compete with peer organizations? 

“Before starting the longitudinal survey, it seemed like a large number of faculty believed Olin was more well-known than the insights revealed. After starting the study in 2020, we learned that only a third of prospects in the U.S. were even aware of our school. We knew we needed to strengthen our brand awareness efforts and continue to measure the perceptions of prospective students.” 

—Gabe Watson, Assistant Dean of Marketing and Communications 

Learn more about the needs and preferences of prospective students with our National Prospective Student Survey.

The Outcome

To date, the longitudinal brand perception survey has provided three years of vital insights and recommendations to promote WashU Olin’s long-term success. Some of the findings identified in the survey analysis have led to key changes at the school, including:  

  • A marketing strategy that aligns with the needs of today’s prospective students  
  • Changes to the website to highlight faculty expertise in response to student interest in learning about faculty before making enrollment decisions 
  • Increased faculty and staff buy-in to develop new programs that meet students’ preferences for hybrid and part-time learning 

Most importantly, the findings informed Olin’s decision to launch a flexible hybrid Master of Business Administration program in 2024. The new program allows working and non-traditional students to attend classes and study in their preferred modality, while maintaining strong relationships with faculty and peers.  

Looking ahead, WashU Olin plans to continue the annual survey with Hanover to track trends, inform future strategic decisions, and explore other programs of interest.   

“Our institution needed to bring a more contemporary lens to the traditional MBA degree program. Because of the data that Hanover provided, we were able to develop and launch a new flexible MBA program that’s generating a lot of interest.” 

—Gabe Watson, Assistant Dean of Marketing and Communications  

Learn how Olin Business School's brand perception survey yielded a successful flexible MBA program.

Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis


Private undergraduate and graduate institution


St. Louis, Missouri 


Measure brand awareness to understand its market position and prospective student preferences

Promote accountability and long-term improvement for your marketing strategy with our resource, 4 Ways to Measure Marketing Effectiveness in Higher Education.

Hanover secured the data and insights WashU Olin needed to understand its market position through:




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