Positioning Update for a 21st-Century Higher Education Brand

A top-notch digital experience is a must for a higher education brand. Our liberal arts college client was evaluating the need for a website redesign in order to level up its digital capabilities, bring consistencies to its brand, and deliver a smoother and more fulfilling user experience for prospective and current students. The school, part of a large public university system, enjoys the benefits of a sizable and capable marketing and communications team. But they needed an outside perspective to help them analyze their brand and better gauge if a website redesign was something they could tackle in-house.

They looked to Rowland to validate and challenge their own impressions, assess which messaging aspects were successful or needed polish, and provide greater context for a brand competing in a crowded higher education marketplace. A streamlined digital user experience is badly needed to support an education brand redefined for 21st-century priorities. We were happy to step in to augment the team’s understanding of their brand and how a new website could enable them to better reach their marketing and recruitment goals.

The extensive Discovery exercise included a digital audit, student surveys, faculty and staff interviews and brand, content and messaging analysis. Through the development of personas to capture key audiences, we were able to deliver an impactful messaging document and a solid strategic foundation to support the development of an effective, targeted brand strategy to help the team plan for a new website.

Project Goals


Define and understand the brand

Our client wanted help to rethink and reimagine what it means to be a liberal arts institution for today’s career-oriented student. The new brand messaging and positioning will lift up and support digital fluency, global awareness and a smooth transition from the classroom to the workforce. All this while showcasing the College’s finest assets—faculty, curriculum, research, opportunities and student success stories.


Assess the digital ecosystem

How do you build a great new digital experience? You start by looking at what’s stressing the current ecosystem. The digital ecosystem of any large university system is going to be complex. And this case was no different. The project required an extensive inventory of the dozens of independent and disconnected websites supporting the school’s academic offerings.


Setting the stage for improved digital navigation

The new website will feature a more holistic user experience that more seamlessly connects the school’s centers, departments and majors. And new messaging will help introduce prospective students to the myriad of possibilities a modern liberal arts education enables. Visitors will be able to intuitively explore a multitude of degree offerings and their associated academic requirements, internship and study abroad opportunities and career tracks. Additionally, the site will highlight esteemed faculty and the abundance of research opportunities available to undergraduate and graduate students.


Empower understanding of audiences

In order to create better user experiences, the school’s marketing team will need deeper, more granular insights into its diverse set of audiences. Each audience — prospective students, current students, parents, faculty, staff, etc. — has its own, distinct needs, challenges and priorities. New website content will account for those unique differences.


Four out of five employers believe that all students should obtain broad educations in the liberal arts and sciences.

Brand Analysis

How do you redefine the school brand? We started by listening to what college leadership, staff and faculty had to say about what made their school special. To our surprise, we found that many of the brand attributes identified by these groups were validated by student opinion (empirically collected and statistically assessed via student surveys). This research formed the basis for new brand positioning and messaging.

Digital Audit

The existing digital ecosystem consisted of over a hundred disjointed websites, with many diverging (sometimes substantially) from the school’s brand standards. The digital audit mapped out the fractured digital brand experience. Rowland cataloged hundreds of technical and content concerns and created prioritization for future development work.

Benchmarking and Personas

Brand repositioning requires an intimate knowledge of the competitive landscape. And a competitive analysis is incredibly useful in identifying how your peers are managing similar conversations with similar audience types. This research, combined with discussions with College leadership, staff and students, was instrumental in shaping audience personas that identified and defined new brand pillars.