Jan 23, 2014

Roanoke College: The Anatomy of a Brand


When you are a small, private, liberal arts college of just over 2000 students, how do you differentiate yourself in a competitive landscape of colleges with international brands, national selectivity, and NCAA division one athletics?  That was our challenge with Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia a few years back.  We completed a CASE award winning campaign with our strategic communications partner Robert Rytter that, in the end, launched a brand that drove demand, applications, and interest in the college.  It also solidified a market position and set of brand attributes that drove communication with stakeholders.

Our comprehensive research process demonstrated that this small private college competed on the front line with the likes of Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, James Madison University, and The College of William and Mary, to name a few.  What we learned is that Roanoke was the only college that shared three brand attributes that no other competitor could claim.  They included a classic college setting (it feels like a movie set for how college should look), learning first hand (including research opportunities for underclassmen), and an intimate community that focuses only on residential undergraduates (no graduate students).   Armed with our results, our strategic marketing plan produced a positioning strategy, communication and brand recommendations, and a world of creativity from the Rytter team.

Perhaps most interesting was the brand launch.  A college with great spirit but void of a mascot, Roanoke branded a website – classiccollege.com – where stakeholders could upload suggestions on the first mascot for the college.  Peppered with “failed auditions” of classic American icons, like this Vanilla Ice lookalike below, the website featured student talent in vignettes about classic college concepts.  This microsite drove interest among alumni, students, faculty, and even prospective students alike, and pushed the new brand into existence.  Check out the other videos at the site.

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