Kelly Shannon, vice president of marketing and communication, stands behind Saint Mary’s brand.
Saint Mary’s is rolling out the results of a branding refresh in June, and yes, there’s a new logo, but Shannon explains that branding is so much more than a logo: “A brand is the sum total of all of the images and feelings that someone holds about an organization and its services or products,” she said. “A brand is our promise, and our audiences determine whether we deliver on that promise.”
Higher education is more competitive than ever, with universities and colleges all going after fewer students. “We are mindful that we don’t have endless resources to tell our story and get that story heard,” she said. “Our challenge, which is fun to take on, is telling our story in a creative way to interest and captivate those we are trying to reach. It comes down to three ‘c’s: being consistent, clear, and compelling.”
What is a brand?
“A brand is not what an organization says it is, it is what our intended audiences experience, perceive, and believe,” she said. “What is the experience that our students have, students who range from 17 to well into adulthood or even retirement? While each student has their own educational experience, there are common outcomes and benefits that we want all students to have at Saint Mary’s.”
Further, she said the brand is shared and solidified at every major touchpoint, from the website, to a campus visit, to every interaction a potential student or current student has in the classroom and with staff and faculty across the university. According to Shannon, we are all brand ambassadors. “Branding starts internally,” she said. “If we all know and tell our story consistently, we have a great opportunity to make the case to a prospective student about ‘Why Saint Mary’s?’ ”
Strong university brands also have alumni, employees, and current students who express their pride, ownership, and passion for their school. According to Shannon, “Alumni pride goes a long way toward building awareness, excitement, and affinity for a school. One of the leading indicators of a strong brand is the answer YES to the question: would you recommend this (organization, company, product, service, program) to someone else?”
Time for change
The rebranding process began a year ago. The process is lengthy, mainly because of the research done with current and prospective students, faculty, staff, and alumni to help define the brand.
“Our external partner, who is also doing our web redesign, did extensive quantitative and qualitative research,” Shannon said. “They then created a visual identity that represents the attributes important to our community. A lot of listening goes into creating your visual signature in the marketplace. Because a brand is what our audiences say it is, the messages must be true, authentic, and relevant to them.”
As you noticed on pages 4 and 5, Saint Mary’s is launching a new logo and updated seal. Additionally, new fonts, overall photography and design looks were established, and a new color palette is being unveiled. For the first time in its history, Saint Mary’s primary color is navy blue.
“Our primary colors remain red and blue but we’re leaning more heavily into blue,” Shannon said. “The blue is bold and classic, yet contemporary. And it stands out in a market where many universities in our competitive set have red as the lead primary color. As a university with a long legacy and strategic vision, we want both to acknowledge the strong heritage and say we are agile and responsive to the needs of our future students.”
Ever mindful of financial resources, the new logo and seal will roll out in phases. The branding effort was funded through reallocation of existing marketing funds so did not require additional funding.
“Walk the campuses and you will see branding everywhere, so we have to be very planful about how we launch the new visual identity without having it being financially onerous,” Shannon said. “A brand drives reputation, which in return drives revenue (enrollment, giving), so phase one is getting the new branding in front of external audiences.”
Also, still to come, is a brand new web redesign, slated to roll out by fall.
“The new website’s primary audiences are our many and diverse prospective students — from traditional undergrad and transfer students to adult bachelor’s completion seekers to graduate and professional learners,” Shannon said. “Best practices in website design call for excellence in content, navigation, and design. How do we provide a prospective student, wherever they are in their learning journey, to quickly find what they want? Too many clicks and they are gone, so what is the easiest and most intuitive navigation? Does the design entice and tell our brand story? Does it compel them to stay on the site and visit other areas? And is the content clear, relevant to what they want and need, and interesting?”
Shannon explains there are five brand pillars that describe who Saint Mary’s is and what sets it apart.
- Lasallian Catholic values create real value.
- Faculty and staff are all in for every student.
- A community that cares.
- Education that’s within reach.
- Practical, hands-on education for the real world.
“Those pillars should be familiar,” she said. “We hope this is exactly the experience our alumni had as students. Part of the refresh is a recommitment and a refocus and actually stating our brand clearly and concisely.”
Shannon believes now is the perfect time to refresh the Saint Mary’s brand. “We, and all of higher ed, are facing challenges, with declining enrollment due to COVID-19, and with a smaller pool of potential undergraduate students on the horizon,” she said. “New branding, a new website, and cleaner, crisper messaging increases visibility. The goal of branding is to provide a clear and positive sense of what we offer. When a prospective student is researching or deciding on colleges, we hope to have caught their attention and interested them. If our brand resonates with their values and the outcomes they are seeking, we should minimally be in the mix of their decision making and hopefully the ultimate choice.
“Saint Mary’s has a strong value proposition, especially in our Lasallian Catholic vision of education, and this is our opportunity to articulate that well,” said Father James P. Burns, IVD, Ph.D., Saint Mary’s president. “We meet students where they are along their learning path and support them with excellence in a real-world educational experience that prepares them to work, lead, and serve with character and purpose. By telling our story clearly, consistently, and compellingly in a way that is relevant and resonates with our various audiences, we have a very bright future ahead.”