They say a brand is what a brand does, but what if your audience doesn’t fully grasp exactly what your brand does?
Name no longer reflecting the impact your institution makes or what it embodies? Colours no longer manifesting the true spirit of your school? Communication not clearly articulating your institution’s value proposition? Then, something’s got to change.
That’s what Olds College was facing – a brand that didn’t represent what it actually is: a leader in agricultural education, and a catalyst to producing talent and research for Canada’s agricultural industry.
What they said: We need a new corporate identity and brand framework to clearly articulate the college’s value proposition and promise.
Olds College, an agriculture-focused higher ed. institution in Olds, Alberta, struggled with recruiting right-fit students, faculty and industry partnerships. The culprit? Its brand perception. Olds College was being misinterpreted as a college for farmers (and eventually their children) to study, with a regional focus on rural Alberta. Today, Olds College has become a leader in agriculture technology, leading the way in solving real-world problems in farming, food and land.
Olds College desired a rebrand for the college – a new name, visual identity and a comprehensive brand framework to reflect what they bring to the market today. This shift in positioning would allow for Olds College to broaden its appeal beyond local students to students from urban areas in the province and those interested in studying or researching agriculture technology within the context of a growing industry, nationally.
Demand for these programs is growing but options are limited. There isn’t one institution that is top-of-mind for ag. tech programs in the country. Olds College saw this as a window of opportunity to make Olds College (or, insert new name here) synonymous with agriculture technology. And it goes beyond higher ed. Olds College boldly wanted to lead the shift in perceptions of the agriculture industry (it’s not all farmers in overalls doing the heavy lifting) and accelerate the adoption towards where agriculture is headed – innovative technology and practices that will make farming better.
What we heard: The Olds College community needs to have a voice in the outcome.
Olds College internally floated around naming options but it was important to them that all Olds College stakeholders were given a voice in the outcome. So, to validate their initial direction they required an objective third party (enter ED.) to provide a valuable role in talking with their community.
We conducted extensive community consultation with both internal and external stakeholders to better understand perceptions of the Olds College brand, and to evaluate support for a name change for the college.
As an engrained institution with a rich history, Olds College expected at least some resistance to changing the institution’s name. But through ED’s consultative discovery process, we demonstrated that Olds College stakeholders were very open to the change.
ED’s consultation process also uncovered there was a difference in perceptions and experiences of Olds College between current students, faculty and staff compared to alumni and long-standing board members. Those with the more historic perspective of Olds College were surprised to hear of the innovative, globally relevant technological breakthroughs happening at their college. They were now ‘caught up’ with present-day Olds College and became even stronger advocates for the college. It was also revealed that stakeholders felt the existing logo did not match the associations and perceptions of the Olds College of today.
After comprehensive stakeholder consultations, our team conducted an evaluation of competitors in the market. This review was intended to ensure the Olds College corporate identity and logo development would be distinct from competitors.
Concurrently, we developed a strategy and recommendations on name selection. After some exploration, and in consideration of stakeholder feedback in discovery, we recommended adding a qualifier to the college name – Olds College of Agriculture and Technology. This validated the college’s initial direction at the outset of the engagement. And this recommendation reflected the community support for change evident in consultation, without forgoing the college’s history.
Selecting the name was just (a big) half of the engagement. We needed to provide support to socialize the idea with new marketing assets, guidelines and a detailed roll-out plan. We developed a brand platform strategy for Olds College, which included an articulation of a brand essence and voice informed by insights gleamed from the discovery process. This was used for inspiration in ideating designs and execution of a new brand and corporate identity (including a new logo).
For the logo, as most post-secondary institutions tend to be change-averse, we presented options using Olds College primary colour palette with maroon and gold. We went further in our exploration and presented an alternative option which was a much larger departure from their existing logo. Expecting the college to default to one of the options with colours more tethered to their past and a more subtle change from the current logo (like most tend to do), they unexpectedly selected the bold choice. This reinforced what we learned during our discovery – that this is a college truly ready for change.
With the name, logo and brand platform work completed, we moved to create a complete brand package that included designs for a roster of marketing materials and standards manual to guide Olds College in seamlessly executing the new brand. These tools were applied to specific marketing materials, including a redesign of the Olds College home page, and a launch video to introduce the new corporate identity and logo.
An exemplary client/agency relationship that weathered a leadership change
During the discovery process, the Olds College president resigned. Without a vocal leader championing the engagement, progress could have come to a standstill. But ED. and the Olds College brand team stepped into this role. Together we advocated and reinforced the need and desire of the Olds College community for the rebrand, as the college transitioned to a new president.
As we look back on the process, we were thrilled with the collaboration between ED. and the Olds College brand team. We received feedback on work in progress and were open to each other’s input. The Olds College brand team was very supportive in providing us with direct access (which can be rare) to their internal team members, allowing us to work directly and more effectively with designers and others who would be implementing the brand. There was a high level of trust on both sides, and a mutual understanding that the recommendations we put forward would always be in their best interest.
The new corporate identity and logo were launched publicly at the Olds College back-to-school staff BBQ celebration in August 2022, with media, industry partners, and local political representatives in attendance. The event allowed the college to introduce the new identity to new and returning students at the beginning of the fall academic term, and to prospective students via 2023 application materials.
The brand strategy and the resulting corporate identity and logo were unanimously embraced by the leadership, who participated in consultation. The response from the broader college community was also overwhelmingly supportive.
“The brand consultation underscored that agriculture is how we started; it is essential to who we are today and how we make our mark,” said Blayne Meek, Director, Marketing & Communications “And it’s our future because it’s our single greatest opportunity to shape the world in meaningful ways. Our new brand captures what we have grown to be as an applied research institution. It’s rooted in who we’ve always been — and continue to be — a leader in agricultural advancement.”