Competitors and Collaboratives Unite
The Network of ELCA Colleges and Universities, an organization that represents participating colleges and universities associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, wanted to better reflect their existing student body and more effectively reach prospective students with their brand. Neuger Communications Group was tasked with creating a new brand and website for the organization.
The collaborative’s website was stale and difficult for users to navigate each participating institutions’ offerings. As they looked to rebrand and refresh their website, they wanted to ensure each college was authentically represented while also tying in the blanket theme and identity.
The Communications Challenge
Their former brand, “Why Go Lutheran?,” was outdated and no longer seemed to resonate with a new generation of prospective students. There are 26 ELCA colleges in the United States. Currently, 20 are members of the collaborative. All of these members are partners but some compete for the same students. We needed to ensure the rebranded materials proportionately and fairly represented each college’s unique offerings while still reflecting the value of the collaborative.
In late 2018, we conducted phone interviews and distributed email surveys to 41 students currently enrolled at ELCA colleges and universities, as well as prospective high school students, to capture the essence of what they value and were looking for in their postsecondary experience. We also tested the new Imagine Colleges brand with them to see how well it aligned with what current and prospective students hold to be true about Lutheran higher education:
Imagine what you have to offer our world. You are an amazing and unique human being and the 26 colleges and universities of the ELCA Collaborative have designed their philosophies, their campuses and their education to specifically help you imagine a better world … not only for you, but for everyone you impact.
We confirmed the branding worked with the target audience, and so we began rolling out the Imagine Colleges brand.
We started with the website with the goal of having one consistent message and theme throughout: academic excellence, extraordinary experiences, campus involvement, and service and stewardship. Limiting the page count for easy navigation and including an interactive map experience to show the geographic reach of the collaborative were two main goals. The website, imaginecolleges.org, launched in June 2019.
We also worked on designing the organization’s first-ever lookbook, a printed piece that profiles each participating institution, drawing on their strengths and successfully presenting each as authentic while tying in the blanket theme. Schools provided the photography, while our team executed design and content, coordinating revisions and sign-off from the participating colleges. Our team refreshed the collaborative’s SEM ads and launched Spotify ads, weaving in the new look, design and messaging into online advertising channels to ensure consistent messaging for better brand loyalty.
The result was a modernized website with an enhanced user experience and a printed lookbook that profiles each institution.
The lookbook was finalized in December 2019. Each participating school submitted the names of key feeder high schools as well as independent college counselors, and we mailed individual copies to these target recipients.
The campaign was further supported by advertisements on Spotify targeted with unique, creative copy to both parents and prospective students. These advertisements are updated quarterly and continue to run.
By leveraging the combined resources of multiple schools and the expertise of Neuger Communications Group, individual colleges are paying less than $3,000 to cover the full costs of the campaign (and additional support services).
Colleges are able to directly track the results of the campaign and report positive engagement with the website. Search engine and Spotify analytics demonstrate higher-than-average click-through rates and positive results for the campaign. Additionally, the multi-year effort continues to evolve with greater focus on the target population and remains fresh with updated creative.