An exploration of identity: Westminster College rebrands

Westminster College unveiled its new logo on Oct. 5 at an open house in the Gore Auditorium. “[Rebranding is] not what you say about yourself, but what people say about you when you're not in the room,” said Sheila Yorkin,Westminster’s executive director of integrated marketing and communications. Photo by Chloie Dale.

Westminster College unveiled its new logo on Oct. 5 at an open house in the Gore Auditorium. “[Rebranding is] not what you say about yourself, but what people say about you when you're not in the room,” said Sheila Yorkin,Westminster’s executive director of integrated marketing and communications. Photo by Chloie Dale.

For many, college is a time for self-exploration and trying on different identities—and as an institution, Westminster College is no different. The college is currently in the process of rebranding its identity to attract more students.

The college worked with the branding firm Struck to develop its new identity, which will be unveiled during the fall semester.

According to Johanna Snow, Westminster’s director of brand marketing and strategy, the college began researching firms for a rebrand in August 2015.

“We are halfway through at this point,” Snow said. “It will be fully out in the wild by next fall. It's not going to be anything drastic or scary; it is going to be exciting.”

Sheila Yorkin, Westminster’s executive director of integrated marketing and communications, said the main goal of the rebrand is to align Westminster’s community with the same narrative as the college’s brand identity.

“It's a pretty big investment and we have budgeted that through the course of the last couple of years,” Yorkin said. “It is money that's not in the general operating budget for the college; it is contingency funding for allocation of dollars from President Morgan for special projects that would not be going towards core things for the college.”

Yorkin said the new brand was developed through a process of self-discovery and redefinition.

“[Rebranding is] not what you say about yourself, but what people say about you when you're not in the room,” Yorkin said.

Yorkin said the change was motivated by the college’s desire to focus on the things Westminster does best.

“We are done with development phase, so we know what the key message is going to be and we know what the visual identity is going to be,” said Snow, the director of brand marketing and strategy. “It will be different, but it is going to align better with what our true brand position is, should be and always has been.”

Snow said she believes the brand will reflect a more modern, younger feel that is more authentic to Westminster than the current look.

Westminster College invited the Westminster community to an open house in the Gore Auditorium to view the college's new brand. The college began researching firms for a rebrand in August 2015, according to Johanna Snow, Westminster’s director of brand marketing and strategy. Photo by Chloie Dale.

Westminster College invited the Westminster community to an open house in the Gore Auditorium to view the college's new brand. The college began researching firms for a rebrand in August 2015, according to Johanna Snow, Westminster’s director of brand marketing and strategy. Photo by Chloie Dale.

The team did a lot of internal work, led by Lisa Gentile and the provost's office, before engaging with an outside firm, according to Yorkin. This preliminary work included interviewing faculty and students about what Westminster does best, what makes students happy in the classroom and what attributes the college wanted to highlight.

“We interviewed a lot of firms around the country,” Snow said. “Many of them specialized in higher education marketing. We also interviewed several firms locally who did not specialize in our industry, and we landed on Struck because they were local and because they didn't focus on higher education.”

Struck chose Westminster’s rebranding project because it stood out as something new, according to Alex Fuller, a creative director at Struck who is currently working on the rebrand.

“When we say rebrand, our intention is not to change what Westminster is; in fact, it wouldn't be possible for us to do that,” Fuller said. “The goal of a rebrand is to take the outward expression of your identity and shift it to evolve into more accurate representation of who you really are.”

Fuller said she incorporated her personal background into her professional approach.

“I have a liberal arts college education background as well and I believe strongly in that system and have a lot of respect for it,” she said. “At one point, years ago, I took a class at Westminster. We have a lot of respect and love for Westminster itself.”

Fuller said she believes Struck is motivated by unique challenges Westminster’s rebranding posed—an attitude that drew the college to the firm.

“Our goal was to have someone help us find our true selves,” Yorkin said. “We hope that it's a more compelling story. We hope it makes our alumni feel proud, our students, the whole community and even the community that is not a part of Westminster.”

Despite the rebrand, Snow said some things will be familiar, including the college’s colors.

“The purple and gold will still be there—maybe a little teeny bit different,” Snow said. “There is going to be some other colors mixed in a little bit and the logo will look different. All that stuff is important because it's a visual representation, but it's the conversation about ourselves that we really want people to be talking about.”

Members of Westminster College's Sugar Town ensemble 'sing in' the college's new logo. Westminster hosted a brand unveiling on Oct. 5th to introduce the new re-brand. Photo by Chloie Dale. 

Members of Westminster College's Sugar Town ensemble 'sing in' the college's new logo. Westminster hosted a brand unveiling on Oct. 5th to introduce the new re-brand. Photo by Chloie Dale. 

The rise of online courses and other forms of electronic education pose an enormous threat to colleges across the country, according to Roger Dooley, a magazine contributor and the founder of Dooley Direct, a marketing consultancy company.

“The school’s brand must attract the necessary quantity and quality of students while still operating in the traditional college or university style,” Dooley wrote in an article in Forbes. “Branding is imperative to begin building an identity that transcends the physical campus.”

According to Dooley, this means colleges must brand the in-person experience and differentiate themselves from competing institutions.

“Historically, college brands have taken decades, or even centuries, to develop—it’s no accident that many of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. can trace their origins to the eighteenth century,” Dooley said. “A college or university that wants to build its brand today can’t afford to take the organic approach that worked for Harvard and Yale.”

The Struck team came to Westminster to give design students in the multimedia tools and production class a sneak peak of the college’s new brand on Sept. 15.

“Most of the people in the class have heard of [the rebrand] but I don't think people really knew much about it,” said Alex Boissonnas, a communication major in the class.

Boissonnas said he was attracted to Westminster after he visited the campus and didn't think Westminster’s branding made a huge impact on his decision. However, he said he is looking forward to the rebrand.

"I think it's going to be really good,” Boissonas said. “I think that Westminster is a really cool college in a really great place. The main thing that is missing is a really good, cohesive identity, and I think this will get the ball rolling.”

Snow said students and faculty will see the communication office begin implementing pieces of the project next fall, and the rebrand will be revealed to faculty and staff on Oct. 5.