In the past few weeks I have had the pleasure to connect with Thomas Mills via a previous blog post. Thomas is a special projects adjunct faculty member at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Kalamazoo, MI, and a leader in his institution's brand development efforts. As a higher education brand consultant I am always on the look out for success stories. Today, Thomas takes time out of his schedule to share their story.
"As a passionate advocate for the community college educational model, I feel very privileged to describe a recent Kalamazoo Valley Community College branding initiative. I would like to nominate the school as a bold and innovative Brand Champion.
"Early in 2008, Kalamazoo Valley began taking steps to define and secure it’s position as a highly differentiated, educational brand – based on the organization’s reputation, long history of academic excellence and core mission, vision and values.
"School administrators realized that the long-term viability of the school would be based, in-part, on continual recognition as a “first choice” in Michigan’s higher education marketplace and, that branding would be a key tool in accomplishing this objective. A brand oversight committee, led by college President, Dr. Marilyn Schlack, began to identify Kalamazoo Valley’s unique brand position based on extensive, research conducted by a national firm.
"In May 2009, an internal six-member creative team was formed to visually capture and implement the brand experience (defined as “engaging students”) across all visual media used by the school. This synergistic team conceived and is now working with the entire college community and key stakeholders, to explore and embrace what conceivably could be a new conceptual approach in branding – an evocative, visual representation of brand essence (or promise) that transcends the realm of traditional, brand-supportive iconography.
"Initially, we (the six-member branding initiative team) followed a traditional re-branding approach by designing and considering over 200 new potential logo options for the college. But, a brand is not a logo, it's the collective experiences of people (consumers), who interact with or use a product/service and is a shared, common thought or idea in their minds that form the essence of a brand.
"Deciding not to use a clichéd tagline and a traditional logo, we created instead,
a ThoughtMark™ (.edyou™), a LogoType KalamazooVALLEY (the school's name) and an AccentMark KV, as mutually supportive elements of a branding toolkit. The team reasoned that, in order to build upon favorable student attitudes toward the school and elicit positive, brand-supportive behavior from school employees, a traditional, static, two-dimensional logo would be ineffectual at best.
"Extensive online research, looking at thousands of colleges and universities throughout the U.S., made us very familiar with the edu suffix used for every collegiate Internet domain name. In a moment of creative epiphany, we realized this element, (edu), could be adapted as .edyou™ (pronounced dot ee-dee-you), to effectively reflect Kalamazoo Valley's faculty, staff and administrators’ dedication and commitment to students – the core finding of our market research. It was a defining moment, where we were able to bring the school's brand to life, based on positive student perceptions, and give it a visual representation.
"The ThoughtMark™ was designed to be evocative of the brand promise, 'engaging students' and the unique twist to this visual element is it's duality. .edyou™ is both...a visual statement to students that they matter most – and that, as they themselves indicated repeatedly in our research findings – the faculty, administration and staff at Kalamazoo Valley consistently show their approachability, dedication and
commitment to every student’s success. It's suggesting that, it's your education, it's all about you (the student) and it can also be construed as an important question – it’s your education, what will you do with it? ...and, it’s a visual reminder to all the dedicated school employees that, because the school is a service organization, that they are directly responsible for living the brand every day and at every point of contact, in order to strengthen and fulfill the brand promise. And, at Kalamazoo Valley, it's really all about – both you (the student) and you (faculty/staff/administrator).
"These insights were derived by listening to our students and the school’s employees to define our strengths and understand just what makes Kalamazoo Valley Community College unique. Perhaps the branding methods and ideas used by this community college can serve as inspiring examples for other colleges and universities. Kalamazoo Valley has already begun to see the benefits of branding as a powerful differentiation tool in a highly competitive market."
Adjunct Special Projects Faculty – Lead Designer/Branding Team& Advanced Graphic Design Instructor for Kalamazoo Valley Community College, independent communications professional and President of MillsIdeas, llc, an innovation center and creative think tank.
Thomas, thanks for allowing us the opportunity to learn more about your work and your institution. You are the Brand Champion of the Day!Rex Whisman