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The Black Scholar Fund

challenge: conduct a competitive audit

role: ux researcher

duration: December 2021

designer note: I spent the duration of this project identifying competitors, researching pre-identified key categories and comparing competitors results.

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audit goals.

The Black Scholar Fund is a new funding resource to the HBCU scholarship space. A pre-launch audit of competitors was conducted to see how they fit into the market and where they can improve in hopes to give students, and donors alike, a more streamlined experience when applying for scholarships. The following research questions were proposed: ​

  1. Are we attracting the audience that we say we are targeting (scholars & donors)?

  2. Is our website easy to navigate?

  3. How does our user flow compare to competitors?

  4. Is our process streamlined for both donors and scholars, alike?

  5. How does our product look and feel?

  6. Does the design complement the product?

understanding the competition.

I began by identifying the key competitors for The Black Scholar Fund: HBCUWeek, The Urban League of Phila, The Phila Foundation, Ron Brown Scholars, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, The United Negro College Fund and Scholly. 

After establishing 7 key direct and indirect competitors I started by identifying key categories that would be compared which were chosen based on a conversation with stakeholders about what this research would inform (business model and website design):

  1. Business (product offering, size, cost)

  2. Target audience

  3. Value propositions

  4. First impressions

  5. Website interaction

  6. Visual design

  7. Website content

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understanding the key findings. 

The findings suggests that while there are strong players in the HBCU scholarship space with overlap in the targeted audience, they all have a unique product and positioning. Research findings reveal that each leverages (brand) partnerships - donor gifts - to provide additional dollars to with the exception of one, the Ron Brown Scholars program. Research also suggests that each competitor focuses on what they do well as it relates to award dollars, but that they also have diversified their efforts in various ways with most (5 out of 7) providing awarded scholars with some sort of additional perk for being apart of their community: an event, internships, jobs, in school supports, resources and more. 

All competitors had a web presence via a site, but not all use social media to promote their efforts (see: Ron Brown Scholars). 

Websites were all very much aligned, and on brand. However, some websites required digging to find the scholarship application (The Urban League of Phila) - on one site scholars must download an application (Scholly). The older, more established the entity (TMCF, UNCF, Ron Brown Scholars) the longer the narratives and  wordy the content. 

There were a range of tones used varying in degree from friendly to serious, but all organizations were personable and direct in their messaging. 

next steps. 

I'd use this research to review both the website and product structure to determine what adjustments, if any should be made prior to launch. I would also leverage common use language and structures from the competitions to align with what is already proving to work well.

 

Examining markets (e.g., regions or scholarship types) that aren't heavily saturated as a way to increase visibility and differentiation would be beneficial to inform the path forward. When paying close attention to organizational strengths, we find that partnerships are a heavily used common thread, so I would begin to map target partners ahead of launch that can be pursued pre, during and post.  

None of the site offered their platform in any language outside of English so I would take a close, long look at accessibility features and how to best incorporate into design. 

Lastly, if not covered already I would conduct target user interviews and also conduct a usability study for the existing platform to further inform and accompany the results of the competitive audit.