Two consulting firms help check up on the school’s identity for the first time in nearly 10 years
News | Jon Westmark
Photo for The Clarion by Drea Chalmers.
When students graduate from Bethel, one thing they find they need to do is monitor how they are perceived by prospective employers. They must make sure their resume, their cover letter and their words accurately reflect both their identity and their goals. They need to market their brand. As a university, this is something that Bethel needs to do every day with prospective students, current students, alumni, donors, staff, faculty and others.
Last year, Bethel administrators decided that with more and more marketing channels becoming available, it was critical that they were aware of their brand. That is why Bethel, in a process that began last May, is wrapping up its first branding project since 2004. On Thursday, Feb. 21, the branding agency Ologie will present its proposed brand changes to a cross-section of Bethel students and faculty, with the final implementation of the project beginning sometime in April.
According to director of web services Michael Vedders, who has previous branding experience and has been a major figure in Bethel’s re-brand, a brand is “an amalgamation of the sum of an entity.” Practically, it’s everything from how Bethel students portray themselves to the cashier at Target, to the school’s core values, to the images and typography on the website.
When Bethel College and Seminary became Bethel University in 2004, it was part of a re-branding process. Though the current project is not anticipated to be as revolutionary as a name change, it is the first “big check” with the brand since then.
Deciding when to re-brand can be difficult. Bethel’s leadership must walk a fine line between staying aware of the institution’s identity and being good stewards of its resources. With the advent of social media, increasing print prices and the development of new enrollment goals, Vedders sees now as the perfect time. “We’re at a place where our messages and our brand are like never before in history being distributed to places they’ve never been before…” he said. “In that new world, we need to figure out how we talk about ourselves.”
The project gained momentum going in September with a “discovery” period in which Ologie got to know Bethel’s identity through focus groups, surveys and a communications audit. Strategy development began in November. Through intensive surveys by SimpsonScarborough, Ologie was able to compare Bethel’s displayed identity with their perceived identity.
Vedders believes these two perspectives are essential to a good re-brand. “They say when you’re doing branding you keep one foot in where you are and one foot in where you want to go,” he said. “If you see a failure of brand it’s when a group is too much on one side or the other.”
In January, Ologie moved on to creating new copy and design to reflect both the university’s identity and its goals, which it will present on Thursday, Feb. 21 to the selected panel.
According to Vedders, Ologie found that Bethel has an unusually solid foundation in its core values and mission statements, with a high percentage of students aware of them. However, Ologie did create a new “messaging hierarchy” to help guide the marketing. The central statement describes Bethel as “a forum for dialogue and discovery so that people can lead and serve in excellence in every aspect of life.”
This philosophy is filtered into more practical applications as the hierarchy descends. Eventually, with Ologie’s help, Bethel will incorporate these messages into everything from photos on the website to talking points in presidential speeches.
Though Vedders does not anticipate an extravagant unveiling of the university’s new brand, he does anticipate a new awareness of what it means to be affiliated with Bethel. “I think that we are going to be set up to talk about ourselves for the next 5-10 years,” he said.
The benefits of understanding what makes Bethel unique go beyond the institutional level. It can help students and alumni looking for jobs, according to Vedders. “If our messages get to you, you can get into a job interview and say ‘I’m equipped to do x, y, z because here is my experience and this is how it shaped me,’” he said.
With the president’s recent acknowledgement of the university’s current financial troubles, some may second-guess the timing of the marketing initiative. According to Sherie Lindvall, senior vice president for Communications and Marketing, the funds for the project did not exceed the existing marketing budgets from any of Bethel’s schools.
Lindvall says there is no plan to rein in the project in light of the recent economics. The majority of the project has already been paid for and largely what is left to do is implementation, which is done in-house. Also, the project will be completed by the end of the fiscal year, so revised budgets for next year will not affect it.
Both Lindvall and Vedders agree that a potentially tighter budget in the future makes the project’s timing even more appropriate. “Now with budget realities hitting us, it’s even more important to understand who you are so that you can target the right audiences and spend money reaching the people who are the right fit for Bethel and care about Bethel,” Vedders said.