Campaign: Revitalising the La Trobe University brand
Client: La Trobe University
La Trobe University was established in 1967 and earned a reputation as one of Victoria’s leading teaching and research universities. The university provides education in regional Victoria through a network of seven campuses, as well as its primary campus in northern Melbourne.
During the last decade La Trobe lost significant visibility due to weakening brand perception in the market and the resulting lack of student demand led to a steady decline in student first preferences. The arrival of new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Johnson, in 2007 was a first step to turn the university around.
The university engaged brand and communications agency TANK in November 2007 to help revitalise its poor brand perception in the marketplace. According to Jacqui Martin, executive director, Marketing and Engagement, “Our new Vice-Chancellor understood that it was critical for the university to back a revitalised brand – both financially and professionally. We needed to be seen and to be known – and it needed to happen quickly.” TANK was tasked with redefining the university’s brand through a revitalised brand strategy, including creating a new brand identity.
The three key goals in the brand revitalisation plan included: increasing student demand and enrolments (particularly at regional campuses), increasing its selection as the first preference and, finally, improving the university’s visibility and reputation significantly.
TANK set out to work with the La Trobe University marketing team to redefine what La Trobe University was and to effectively market the university’s attributes and core points of differentiation across multi-campus locations in northern Melbourne and the six campuses around regional Victoria.
In-depth student interviews were conducted to produce user profiles as the foundation of the rebrand. Interviews with current and prospective students uncovered distinct student profile groups from each of the regional campuses. Teachers, academic staff and stakeholders were also interviewed in-depth. These insights were used to develop the core idea of ‘Infinite Possibilities’, with sub messages designed to speak to each of the student profile groups. ‘Infinite Possibilities’ links to the diverse student base and outcomes delivered by the university.
‘Infinite Possibilities’ would help to market the university’s key attributes and TANK developed a visually coherent brand across all campuses with the aim of attracting traffic to the university’s website and online environments to generate enrolments. This was combined with the university’s strategies of developing an enquiry management system and improving the university’s media profile to increase La Trobe’s market share, from competing universities including Deakin, Monash and RMIT.
A two-phase strategy was devised to achieve these aims: first, by increasing awareness and visibility through advertising and PR efforts. Analysis of media buying across the education sector identified that outdoor advertising was the least utilised media vehicle at that stage. The strategy was to ‘own’ an advertising category that was underused by competitors. La Trobe set out to dominate the outdoor advertising category and allocated most of the advertising budget to it. Strategic marketing channel selection set a strong platform to release the new brand identity to a broad target market, which was underutilised by other universities.
Second, following the awareness phase of the revitalisation strategy, La Trobe was to invest more online. Online engagement was seen as a primary place where the student demographic would have contact with the new branding.
The university’s online campaign spending majored on partnering with sites that had generated a lot of attention in the social media marketing space. La Trobe employed highly successful Facebook and Twitter campaigns, as well as becoming a member of iTunesU, all in order to drive traffic to the site and to convert enrolments. In addition, the university introduced a new prospect management system to manage student enquiries and questions. This is where brand attraction was converted to enrolments.
The rebranding process with TANK began with a market research project in order to understand the brand position in the market. These findings were the basis for much of the brand implementation.
Initially, market research was conducted through a visual identity survey and it was found that La Trobe had no coherent visuals across campaigns or campuses. The messages were inconsistent, there was no overarching strategy and, therefore, there was no clear sense of visual identity.
Further research was conducted via a brand perception analysis, which uncovered that students are highly influenced by their perception of the university offering and brand. A series of 14 focus groups and eight in-depth interviews were commissioned to understand the perceptions across various user groups. The research found that those who knew La Trobe thought it was an honest, courageous, free-thinking institution with a tradition of friendliness and care in its education delivery. They also, however, saw it as tired, rundown and in need of a makeover. For those not initially familiar with La Trobe, the perception was that it had been rarely seen or heard of and was not as memorable as other universities. This was perceived to be indicative of problems and a deficiency in quality and some people questioned its achievements. The brand was largely unknown, so the rebrand could focus on increasing visibility and reach, rather than correcting any negativity.
The third research audit looked at the perception of La Trobe in competition with its Victorian university peers. Other universities had built brands on the basis of prestige, global reach and new ways of thinking. For La Trobe, the key differentiator was its diversity and the many and varied degrees of opportunities it provides. With Australia’s multicultural community and La Trobe’s proud longstanding provision of quality education to all, it needed a unified brand capturing the essence of diversity and possibility.
These findings led to the implementation phase and to TANK’s brand solution, being the ‘Infinite Possibilities’ brand creative, which would ultimately extend across the entire La Trobe brand, expressing the potential opportunities the university offered academically, professionally and socially.
Importantly, TANK’s branding approach was to assist the La Trobe Marketing team to create the internal brand culture with staff by engaging them at every point of the creative development process. This occurred prior to integrating it with the consumer experience to ensure that the people within the organisation truly owned, understood and lived the brand values. Grounding the brand in authenticity and generating a strong core of involved brand ambassadors was important from the start. This proved invaluable in the rapid adoption of the brand internally, with ‘Infinite Possibilities’ becoming part of the staff lexicon.
The La Trobe marketing team elected to profile real students from each campus, in the visual communications, across advertising and online, to ensure that regional faces were used in regional areas to fulfil the authentic brand promise. The new identity gave La Trobe the visual cut-through it was looking for. The university suddenly ceased to look like its competitors and yet maintained a sense of both aspiration and accessibility. In order to achieve a significant increase in visibility, the visual brand was to be integrated across all aspects of the university’s marketing channels and utilised in strategic and alternative channels, aligned through all faculties and divisions. Above all, it could not be the norm in the education sector. TANK drove phases one and two of the brand redevelopment – raising awareness and proving the brand.
Equipped with a strong new brand and creative, raising awareness aimed to recapture the confidence of future students and their key influencers. Since outdoor was found to be utilised less by competitors than other media, the budget was quickly reallocated in order to dominate that advertising category.
Cost-effective brand development was achieved through the introduction of brand guidelines, located on the university intranet. These acted to ensure consistent visual brand communications for the new brand creative across multiple media channels, including business cards, web creative and display advertising. Online and offline media were integrated to ensure consistent imagery and messages. This included images, copywriting and setting the university apart from other educational institutions, in a fresh and contemporary manner.
The ‘Infinite Possibilities’ brand tagline was developed, partnered by a dynamic illuminated infinity symbol logo. This new visual brand clearly expressed the potential opportunities the university offers academically, professionally and socially. The concept was contemporary, representing aspiration and opportunity and more obviously the infinite possibilities the university opens to its students.
The university developed a strong campaign portfolio of brand collateral that translated across the gamut of university events, including eye-catching Open Day event branding, Infinity 2009: A Day of Possibilities, in multiple locations across Victoria and through all campaign channels.
The second phase of the campaign took place in 2009 involving amplifying the character of the university, adding more depth to the detail used to profile individuals in order to illustrate the brand essence of La Trobe and its people. The university embarked on a major overhaul of online activities, reallocating parts of the marketing budget to the more influential web environment. The online budget rose from about five percent of advertising spend in 2008 to 20 percent in 2009 – and rose to almost 30 percent of advertising spend in 2010 on the basis of tracked outcomes online.
TANK worked with La Trobe University from 2007 to 2010 on positioning the brand and implementing the brand communications. The result has been the significant repositioning of the university’s brand and has influenced its ranking and enrolments within the Victorian higher education market.
The redesign of all collateral and publications was rolled out, plus integrated national and international advertising campaigns, online and digital experiences and event branding.
La Trobe University became the fastest growing institution in the VTAC (Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre) domain for 2010. In 12 months, the university secured a 16 percent rise in first preferences, reversing its falling market share of recent years. La Trobe’s share of first preferences also rose to 11.5 percent up from 10.6 percent.
“It was incredibly satisfying to work alongside La Trobe University to enhance its position as one of Australia’s true innovators and thought leaders in education,” says TANK managing director Neil Shewan.
“The ‘Infinite Possibilities’ core idea is all about reconnecting the university with its reputation for radical thinking and a sense of belonging – values which are at the heart of its brand,” concludes Shewan.
In 2010, the university achieved 110 percent of its negotiated domestic targets and, in line with the improvement in enrolments, the university’s revenue stream rose, helping La Trobe to achieve an operating surplus two years ahead of schedule.
According to Jacqui Martin, “The ‘Infinite Possibilities’ brand revitalisation project delivered on all of our core objectives. Student demand rose significantly with a 488 percent increase in online enquiries in one year; there was a 200 percent increase in calls from prospective students to the university’s call centre and email enquiries rose 100 percent all since the brand revitalisation.” In addition she says, “There was tremendous growth in our prospect database from 6000 to 24,000 in fewer than two years, which is a reflection of the very strong market position achieved with the assistance of TANK’s branding work.”
The university’s social media strategy saw the La Trobe Facebook site grow from no presence to 7500 fans two years after the rebrand. The team’s achievements in social media were recognised with a silver medal in the annual collegesurfing.com awards for social media innovation by universities, ranked in the world’s top 15 university social media platforms. Downloads from the university’s iTunesU site numbered 500,000 in just eight months, while five podcasts made it into the Top 100. In May 2010, La Trobe was the only Australian university with podcasts in the Top 100 downloads from iTunesU.
There was a 300 percent increase in web traffic from 2007 to 2009, driven partly by the domination of the outdoor advertising category.
With a complete revitalisation of its brand, Martin concludes, “TANK helped to set the university on a trajectory confirming La Trobe as a forward-thinking university where students are proud to study, where staff are proud to work and stakeholders are proud to be affiliated.”