Appendix B
Episode 009 -

You’re NOT doing SWOT analyses correctly

Appendix B Episode 9, text is present that reads, "You're not doing swot analyses correctly."

What does Kristin have against SWOT analyses? Just the way that they’re typically done. 
SWOT analyses require deeper research about your institution’s competition and environment, and shouldn’t just be the result of a 30-minute brainstorm.
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Carl Gratiot:
From Bravery Media, this is Appendix B. On this week’s episode, ooh, do we have some feelings about SWOT analyses. Here are your hosts, Kristin Van Dorn and Joel Goodman.

Joel Goodman:
Kristin, why do you hate SWOT analyses?

Kristin Van Dorn:
Okay. I don’t hate SWOT analyses. I hate how they’re traditionally done, which is you get a group of people into a room, probably like 13, and you’re like, we’re gonna do some strategic planning, so let’s identify our strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities. Sorry, I did that out of order from the actual acronym.

Joel Goodman:
Yeah, A stew analysis.

Kristin Van Dorn: And they come up and they just generate a list, you know, and they’re like, our strengths are that we’re inclusive or our strengths are that we’re academically rigorous or that we have great student services. And my big question is how do you know what your strengths are?

Like, is it just what you’re putting effort towards? Because what you put effort towards doesn’t mean that you’re strong at it. For example, I could put effort towards playing better basketball games like, and I’m still gonna be the worst basketball player on the court. Like I’m just terrible at it. I’ve never met something that I’m more unnatural at than basketball, and it doesn’t matter how much effort I put in, I’m going to be your worst player, you know?

So how do people determine what their strengths are or their weaknesses? It requires so much more data gathering than intuition. And right now I think most SWOT analyses are based on intuition.

Joel Goodman:
So what kind of data gathering do you think needs to go into it? Because I think you’re right. A lot of people, I think, it’s a bunch of naval gazing.

When you get into a specific group of people and you’re like, list your strengths. Like, well, I think I’m pretty, and I think that everyone wants to be here and I think, and we have a unique message, and like, in reality, it’s like, well, there’s someone that’s prettier and there’s someone that has a way more unique message, where someone has a bunch of people that have the same message as you that you just don’t know about cause you haven’t looked at it. What sorts of data gathering do you think needs to go into making, and identifying all of these things relevant?

Kristin Van Dorn:
Well, I think for strengths and weaknesses in particular, the data gathering that you need is competitor analyses. So you need to really understand who your competition really is, and how your prospects are weighing you against your competition. What are their features and benefits? What are your features and benefits?

And then you have to analyze like what kind of information they’re getting from signals on price. Like are you expensive? Are you premium? Are you a discount brand? And like how did they figure that out with like a net price calculator? Okay. On top of that, it’s like higher ed has this whole business of working with students to kind of find the right match.

And that also includes students needing to feel like they’re eligible to be part of your brand or that you want them, and how are you signaling that without sounding desperate, you know? Or like we just need to build our enrollment, right? So I think you have to look at those ways of determining where you are in the marketplace, like what’s your position, and then decide what your strengths are based on that positioning.

Like your strengths could be, I am not as elite as an Ivy, for example, but I have really academically rigorous programs in the minds of our market, not in my mind. Right? Because my graduates go on to do really great things. They go on to elite graduate schools or they become senators or business owners or big players inside their communities. So you might have something like that, which you can actually get some data for, or you might be able to identify your weaknesses in terms of what your students are actually saying about you and their experiences with you, or what your applicants are saying didn’t work for them and why they chose another location or another institution.

Joel Goodman:
So it’s almost like if you get into the room, and you’re writing down all these strengths and weaknesses, you really need to be asking yourself, where’s the proof of this statement? Every statement that you make, say like, well, where’s the proof? Like, can I point to something that validates this thing that I think is a strength of ours or is a weakness of ours?

Or is it really just an opinion that I have based on whatever and it probably isn’t super valid if you can’t point to a specific real world example or a couple of real world examples of that thing happening.

Kristin Van Dorn:
I totally agree with that, and I think that maybe there’s either the step of research to find out what your strengths and weaknesses are before you even get to that table or that there’s a two week process of validating by looking for the evidence and sourcing the evidence, and looking for counter evidence to make sure that you’re not biasing yourself towards what you already think.

Then, let’s talk about opportunities and threats. Okay, so opportunities and threats, you could tell I’ve given this a lot of thought, like those are not, like, those need to be steeped in policy and trends. You need to know what’s going on at the state level, what’s going on at the federal level. And where you are positioned to take advantage of opportunities and how you can kind of instantiate yourself against threats.

So you need to do a lot of environmental work to understand where you are and understand the factors that are gonna affect enrollment. So right now, I think a lot of people just say that their threats are that there’s maybe new players in the market or there’s the college down the street.

Joel Goodman:
Right. It’s always the college down the street.

Kristin Van Dorn:
Yes, or that people are trusting higher education less and maybe attending less, but there might be other threats that are more policy driven. So think about a nursing program where you’re going to have new accreditation requirements, and right now you’re not meeting those requirements as is, so you have to spend a lot of time, not only changing your program, but also signaling that those changes have been officially made, like, so that takes up your time and bandwidth. You have to look at what your legislation at the state level is doing, where their focuses are, what matters to them in terms of higher education cost, or what matters in terms of the underserved populations that they’re trying to get more access to, like there’s just, it’s a broader discussion than what you could probably come up with and write on a sticky note in the moment.

Joel Goodman:
Do you think that there are other approaches to getting at the same results that you would get from a SWOT analysis?

Cause you know, I mean, everyone likes a four-quadrant grid, I guess, but are there other ways to go about identifying a path forward that you think might be more helpful than going through a SWOT analysis? Or do you just think that the SWOT just needs to be configured correctly with the data side of it?

Kristin Van Dorn:
So I’m more of an advocate for, it needs to be reconfigured, and so it needs to be steeped in actual data and findings that the SWOT analysis is the result of some deep research and time spent learning about your competition and your environment, and not the result of a brainstorm.

It opens up what your research is gonna be. and who’s gonna go on what fact finding mission. And then the other side of it is translating the results of that analysis into actual actions. And I think that’s something that teams are not necessarily the best at doing either. It’s like you find out that like, okay, our brand is maybe, vulnerable to an erosion of our market share because a lot of our competitors have really similar features and benefits, but then they’re also offering X, Y, and Z on top of what we’re doing.

Or they’re offering all these things online at lower cost, and ours is in person and residential. Like you have to look at what is potentially gonna erode what you have or what are the opportunities you have to erode someone else’s market share?

And I think once you have those ideas in place, then how do you pivot and start turning them into communication messaging and then messages that appear in your web copy, messages that appear in your emails, in your social media. Like how do you turn them into actual action steps that you can track the results of?

And I think that’s a separate process altogether, because that would be looking at the logic of we do these things, we stop doing these things, and then these are the impacts we expect to see. We’re gonna know that through the outputs that happen after those activities, and that’s a process in planning as well.

Carl Gratiot:
Thank you so much for listening to Appendix B. If you’ve got thoughts, we’d love to hear 'em on Apple Podcasts or on social. And just so you know, we’ve got fun video versions of these episodes on our YouTube channel. And finally, if you’re trying to figure out how to use the last of your year-end budget, we at Bravery just wanna let you know about our new service offerings.

They’re all rooted in research, designed to build on top of each other, and each of them can be tailored to the specific needs of your institution. We’d love for you to check 'em out at

Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.