Who are you? What makes you unlike anyone else? What is your core, your essence? On what can others always rely, based on your values?
University of Northwestern has been asking itself similar, probing questions. The goal: to understand who we are in order to identify and develop our unique brand. Brand? At a college? Isn’t a brand something for breakfast cereals and electronics stores?
Branding is essential to colleges, too. Knowing the heart and soul of Northwestern will help us communicate and connect with new students. A strong brand means that whenever University of Northwestern is mentioned, a distinctive image or idea comes instantly to people’s minds. That image can influence decisions—and the ability of the college to attract students who are a good fit for our campus.
The Business of Branding
Branding makes sense from a business perspective. Brook Berry, vice president for marketing and enrollment, points out the large number of Christian colleges in the nation and region. “Why should prospective students and their parents choose us? More than ever, we need to let people know who we really are and what sets us apart among all the other colleges out there. Northwestern has something important to offer—a commitment to excellence and a passion for Christ. The logo supports the brand as a kind of mission shorthand.”
No two colleges are alike yet often they use similar words to describe themselves. To truly communicate, we need to dig deeper and offer more.
Tunneling to the Core
Discovering the brand means drilling down to the core essence of an organization. The metaphor of a “brand” is ironic because it conjures images of a red-hot iron applied to an institution. That is, in fact, how many people think of branding—as a logo, brochure style or style manual. But “the business of branding is more than polishing the apple,” said David Erickson, associate professor of business. “Instead of coming from the outside, a brand is determined by what’s inside.”
Finding the actual distinguishing “interior” takes work and long-term commitment from staff and faculty. Once determined, a brand becomes the central promise, a handshake, that we, as an educational institution, can give to our audiences. It can be eloquently expressed in visuals and content. “Messages will not be successful if they do not reflect the core beliefs and mission of the organization,” said John Printy, assistant professor of art and graphic design. “Strong brands build on and reinforce the experiences of an organization’s audiences. And that is why they can be so effective.” A planned palette of colors, typography, photo styles, language and more all help to communicate the brand and tell the UNW story.
What is our Story?
Jesus Christ is and has always been at the center of a University of Northwestern education. Northwestern holds to this timeless message and builds upon it. In addition, four pillars of the Northwestern experience have been identified by the college as central to our brand.
Unfurling the Brand
While launching a new identity can happen relatively quickly, building a brand takes time. “People need to see and hear messaging repeatedly until it becomes second nature,” said Marita Meinerts, director of marketing and communications. “Getting to that point is essential. Knowledge of our brand is so important when we speak to prospective students, but it’s also vital for enrolled students, staff and faculty. It creates a connection—starting internally and extending out to alumni, parents, churches and the general public.”
The core brand helps academic departments and faculty members showcase their own unique attributes in context. From that agreed-upon core comes a springboard for each department’s achievements and communication. The message of department excellence is supported by a strong and consistent college brand. Professors can continue to build the creativity and integrity of their departments. “Our goal is to develop a common lexicon,” said Berry. ”We are excited about the future as we spotlight Northwestern and help people shed any inaccurate assumptions. We’re an exciting academic institution and more people need to know what makes us special.”
Watch for the unfolding of the brand as we seek to reach our audiences with a bigger view of Northwestern.
WHOLEHEARTEDLY CHRISTIAN – University of Northwestern has an unwavering commitment to biblical truth and Jesus’ Great Commission. Our distinctive Biblical Worldview Curriculum is a distinguishing feature that helps students think deeply about their purpose in the world.
Students experience this aspect of a Northwestern education through prayer in the classroom, Christian fellowship with other students, Bible studies, daily chapel and the everyday experience of learning from professors who are fellow believers.
ACADEMICALLY EXCELLENT – Northwestern offers world-class education to prepare students for their God-given future. We’re an intimate college with a big worldview and high academic standards for students.
Our faculty is one of University of Northwestern’s greatest assets, a “great brain trust” available to students. UNW professors are prominent scholars, experienced professionals, Fulbright scholars, recognized leaders and published authors.
FOCUSED ON COMMUNITY – Students become one of the family. Instead of feeling isolated on a large campus, they are immediately connected with others and embraced. They build friendships with professors, student development staff and warm and welcoming fellow students.
This concept of community is integral to a Christian college. God works through circles of friends, associates, professors and staff to root students and help them grow to their fullest potential.
ENGAGED IN THE WORLD – Being a Christian is enlarging. University of Northwestern encourages students to reach out by serving and connecting with people in powerful and tangible ways.
The tagline “Light the Way” powerfully encapsulates our students’ purpose in the world. Coming to University of Northwestern isn’t about staying secluded behind the gates of this beautiful campus. It’s about becoming Christlike servant-leaders in the world. Students are given abundant opportunities to experience the concept both intellectually and in practice.
"Branding is more than polishing the apple. A brand is determined by what's inside."
by David Erickson
What is our brand at University of Northwestern? The simple answer is the integration of faith, learning and living. Said differently, we want our students to secure knowledge as a basis for action. What kind of action? Action that leads to the reality of life in their chosen professions integrated with a living Christ who is transforming our lives and academic disciplines. A brand is a person’s gut feeling. When a large number of people have the same gut feeling we can be said to have a brand. Branding is not what I say about the college, it’s what others say it is. Our job on the faculty is to make sure our disciplines are not adequate in themselves, but that Jesus Christ and His truth guide us in every aspect of study. This is what I believe students want at University of Northwestern.
David Erickson is associate professor of business at University of Northwestern.