Category: Integrated Communications
Campaign: University of Northern Iowa
Agency: Edge Partnerships


The University of Northern Iowa (UNI), one of Iowa’s three public universities, selected Edge Partnerships through competitive bid to undertake a complete rebranding of the University in 2010. After extensive research, Edge completed and implemented the University’s strategic branding plan.

The campaign involved a number of important components, including qualitative and quantitative research, positioning, key messages, strategic branding plan, internal communications and an external launch. For the first time in the University’s history, a major investment was made on Web-based strategies to reach the targeted demographic. The external launch included traditional and online media, social media strategies and development of a microsite to drive prospective students to UNI.



To successfully brand an organization, due diligence was taken in thoroughly understanding the consumers who will ultimately decide the University of Northern Iowa’s success or failure. Valid research and considerable, thoughtful analysis proceeded the branding initiative.

UNI, along with its branding agency, performed its due diligence in terms of research and analysis. During the course of 18 months, the following research was undertaken in preparation for a UNI branding strategy:

  • Noel-Levitz, December 2008 – A UNI leadership-commissioned study examining UNI’s marketplace image and its opportunities as well as recommendations for communicating to the student marketplace.
  • Image and Brand Research, June 2009 – A comprehensive research initiative undertaken by SimpsonScarborough to determine UNI’s positioning in the market and, subsequently, assist in developing a positioning statement.
  • UNI & Its Competitive Environment: By the Numbers, July 2009 – Completed by Shashi Kaparthi, director of UNI’s Office of Institutional Research and Associate Professor of Management Information System, provides a quantitative analysis of data, including academic quality, program demand, market share, competitive factors, student demographics, and consumer awareness and perception.
  • Focus Groups of UNI Internal Audiences, January 2010 – Qualitative research was conducted through focus groups of current students, university staff and faculty.
  • Survey of UNI External Audience, February 2010 – Quantitative research was conducted using an online survey of prospective students, parents of prospective students, community leaders and UNI alumni.
  • Survey of Prospective students, September 2010 – Quantitative and qualitative research was conducted of more than 1,000 Iowa high-school students to determine impact of creative materials.



Edge Partnerships, a marketing and public relations agency, was selected through competitive bid to plan and coordinate all aspects of the University of Northern Michigan’s rebranding initiative.  Specifically, Edge was responsible for the following deliverables: strategic branding plan, internal communications plan, external launch plan, creative development, media planning and placement, and measurable outcomes.

After a thorough review and analysis of the research noted above, Edge first developed a master work plan for all of the campaign. A detailed work plan outlined tactics and strategies, assigned responsibility and set deadlines for accomplishing a successful launch.



Edge truly believes that for an organization to truly live its brand, its internal audiences must understand, accept and reflect it in everything they do, especially in their interactions with other key audiences. That is why it is so important that the University’s brand rollout begins internally, followed by the external public launch.

Edge engaged the following strategies for the brand’s internal launch:

  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: More than 30 meetings were scheduled with all internal constituencies to succinctly explain the new brand position and concepts as well as reinforce the importance of a unified University brand.
  • Development of key messages and presentation templates so that the entire University public relations team (the keepers of the brand) and its designated “brand disciples” were consistent and steadfast during this important rollout phase.
  • Materials to reinforce messages included a letter from the president, a brand toolkit, brand style guide, article for internal newsletters, on-campus signage/banners, wearables and promotional items.
  • A previously completed inventory of all on-campus touchpoints identified venues for communicating the new brand.
  • On-campus activities were scheduled to engage key internal audiences. These included sidewalk art, building signage, wearables, and video recordings of students, faculty and staff speaking on the new brand.
  • Benchmarks for awareness of the new brand were established through informal surveying, focus groups and online surveys.

The University’s external launch into the marketplace began in October 2010. The launch allowed for thorough internal vetting and adoption by UNI’s internal audience and adequate time to produce a high-quality multimedia campaign. Again, a detailed work plan provided the specifics on the production of new brand materials.

The strategies executed for the external launch included:

  • Paid & Earned Media: Paid advertisements are among the most traditional tools for branding an organization. Through the strategic use of television, print, and outdoor advertisements, UNI launched its new brand using those outlets that effectively reach its desired demographics. Strategic media buys helped guarantee that the right messages are hitting the right targets at the right time.
  • Public Relations: From news releases and guest columns to special events and Web-based tactics, the goal of the PR effort was to create a positive image of UNI in the mind of the University’s targeted audiences. Positive, well-positioned earned media, along with participation in aligned special events, can increased awareness of UNI and all of its attributes.
  • Web Strategies: The branding of UNI had to reach beyond traditional outlets. The University’s targeted audiences characterize a demographic that not only relies on, but prefers, technology and the Internet. To that end, the new UNI brand was reflected in the University’s Web site as well as a new microsite. In addition, Edge assisted the University in fully utilizing social media outlets and other Web-based strategies to engage its key audiences.



Since launching in mid-October 2010, UNI has experienced more than 35 million impressions on Facebook, with more than 7,800 clickthroughs to the UNI microsite. On Google, UNI has garnered 9.4 million impressions, with 6,700 clickthroughs and conversion tracking. University Admissions reports that both visitors and applications have dramatically increased. Applications are currently up by 20% for freshmen and 11% for transfers for fall 2011. Individual campus visits are up almost 18% and group visits are up more than 11 percent.


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