As the pressure to attract new students and enhance their reputations has grown, colleges and universities across the country are facing the challenge of differentiating themselves in the minds of prospective students, alumni, business leaders, and the public. To this end, the University of Rhode Island has launched a branding initiative to begin the renewal of its cherished URI brand.
Through this initiative, URI will create a consistent and powerful identity that presents our competitive advantage. Beyond just implementing a new logo or a tagline, effective brand building takes a comprehensive view of the institution and capitalizes on its strengths and unique qualities.
“It has become evident that the University needs to approach its brand or reputation in a sophisticated way, and that is why we initiated this serious and thoughtful process,” said URI President Robert L. Carothers. “Through this, we will define our distinctiveness in the marketplace, communicate our value, and tell our story in the most compelling ways possible.”
Branding is the process of determining an organization’s core strengths and communicating those strengths to its most important audiences—in URI’s case, faculty, staff, current students, prospective students, parents, alumni, donors, and government officials.
During this past year, Linda A. Acciardo, director of communications and marketing, and Ruby Roy Dholakia, professor of marketing, co-chaired a 22-member Branding Steering Committee that has led this process through its organizational, research and exploration, and implementation phases. A Web site was created (www.uri.edu/uribrand) to facilitate the sharing of information and ideas.
Groundwork for Renewal
Last August, FORGE Worldwide, LLC, of Waltham, Mass., and Jamestown, R.I., was selected to develop the brand strategy. The agency is a strategic brand-building company with a dedicated higher education division, FORGE Academia. The firm has led successful brand campaigns at Northeastern University, Lesley University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, among others.
Last September, the firm began to gain greater insight into the URI brand and the challenges facing the institution today. The agency reviewed URI’s institutional information and its recent 10-year accreditation report as well as student, alumni, and donor perception studies and current University Web, print and broadcast communications.
The agency has met with more than 50 URI stakeholders, including members of the administration—the president, vice presidents, and deans—faculty, staff, students, and alumni.
The firm also considered findings from the brand research conducted last year by Professor Dholakia and Assistant Professor Daniel Sheinin. Through this study more than 1,400 in-state and out-of-state individuals participated in a telephone or online quantitative survey to understand beliefs about URI and perceptions and awareness of the URI brand. The participants included student applicants, alumni, opinion leaders, job recruiters, current students, faculty and staff.
After analyzing all of its research findings, FORGE presented positioning insights, brand messages, suggested theme lines, and brand architecture—how the overall brand will integrate across the institution. Though this analysis, the firm described the University’s challenges, barriers, opportunities, strengths, and weaknesses. As part of that analysis, the firm also shared its audit of six URI core competitors, examining their brands, key messages, and identities in the marketplace.
Comprehensive visual identity and creative recommendations are to be made by the firm this month, and creative elements will be tested with target audiences before the official brand launch in late spring.
“Articulating our core values, mission, and voice is not a simple exercise. We need the hearts and minds of our audiences, both internal and external, unified with a compelling vision of our University,” said President Carothers.