Eastern Kentucky University, a regional university with liberal arts and pre-professional education offerings, has a lot to be proud of. But a gap in vision, communication, and energy tore the campus apart. After the 2013 recruitment of their inspiring president Michael T. Benson, we were hired to uncover the shared values and competitive brand opportunities to set a strategic foundation for unifying branding. The Eastern community encompasses diverse groups, each group with its own unique set of perspectives. Faculty, staff, students, alumni, and residents of Richmond, Kentucky and Madison County are all key members of this community. We sought out to have meaningful conversations with each group so that they could contribute meaningfully and feel like a part of the process. Truly own their brand.
We sent out an online survey and received 1,599 responses. The questions we asked ranged from demographic to perceptual, from statistic to emotional. From there, we had in-person conversations with a range of members of the Eastern community. We learned that Eastern’s veteran program is one of the best in the country; their student population is 32% first generation; their online program is a vital resource for students who work full-time; their honors program develops exceptional students; and their satellite campuses are a touchstone in their work. We also created a regularly updated page that we publicized through in-person and online interactions with the Eastern community. Working directly with the university’s communications department, we convened a branding advisory task force composed of a diverse cross-section of Eastern community members. And finally, we engaged the Eastern community where they live – in the center of campus. We built a public installation to gauge community aspirations and values, erecting a chalkboard in a heavily trafficked area. These varied viewpoints were critical in the development of our strategic recommendations.
At the end of the engagement, we delivered a comprehensive document reviewing our process and the strategic conclusions uncovered. These conclusions included shared values, widespread perceptions, existing brand equity, and differentiating themes. The result was a strategic foundation for branding communications and design. And a completely immersive experience.