The stars rarely align to allow a post-secondary institution to develop their strategic plan, their marketing, and their fundraising platforms simultaneously – and cohesively. But ED was presented with this rare opportunity with then-named Red River College (RRC).
Given our position on integrating branding and strategic planning, we embraced the challenge as a chance to prove our thesis – that these two foundational initiatives benefit most from being aligned.
What they told us: Our full value to the market isn’t understood.
Early consultation performed by the college revealed that industry partners and other key market stakeholders didn’t know that RRC was designated a polytechnic institution – the only one of its kind in Manitoba, and one of only 13 such institutions across the country.
Polytechnics are distinguished by the range of credentials offered, applied research, and industry-driven course design and delivery. But while annual reputation surveys showed that RRC was better regarded for producing job-ready graduates and working closer with industry (compared to the province’s universities), industry leaders and students were unaware of the college’s designation as a polytechnic – and the value that such an institution offers.
Our solution for RRC needed to express that value in a way that was clear and compelling, as it would be applied to three initiatives:
- Theming to guide the college’s new strategic plan – the foundation of which was being developed concurrently by a specialist consultant.
- Creative direction for a new campaign for reputation building and recruitment – which would be executed by the college’s internal marketing team.
- Narrative for the college’s case for fundraising support – to be drafted by ED.
What we saw: We need to build understanding for what a ‘polytechnic’ is.
Since the strategic planning initiative had started when ED was engaged, we began by reviewing the consultation that had already taken place. We worked closely with the strategic planning consultant to understand their data and feedback, and designed a compressed interview guide that focused on a refined list of stakeholders and a refined set of questions. This ensured we would gather new information, while avoiding ‘consultation fatigue’ with interviewees.
From the consultant’s data and our follow-on interviews, we learned that stakeholders were excited about RRC being better-known as a polytechnic institution. But they were skeptical that Manitobans would be familiar with that term, much less the associated benefits. ED recommended the college conduct market research to validate that notion, and the results were clear: ‘polytechnic’ was not a well-understood term in Manitoba. Further, in our interviews, even some RRC faculty and staff admitted they had trouble describing the distinction.
To effectively leverage this unique market positioning for RRC, we needed to educate the public about what a polytechnic is – and why it matters.
ED’s work was intended to provide a foundation for other initiatives, so we began by crafting a brand narrative.
The narrative provided language that focused on the distinctive nature of a polytechnic institution in the post-secondary landscape, and the benefits such an institution delivers for students, industry, and the province. It described a proactive, nimble and responsive institution; working shoulder-to-shoulder with industry; and preparing students for emerging market demands. This forward focus provided the basis for our narrative’s theme line: In front of what’s ahead.
Armed with a narrative and theme line, we focused our attention on supporting, directing or developing the college’s three key initiatives.
We focused on providing creative direction to the college’s internal marketing team with regards to how our narrative and theme line could be applied to marketing materials. We developed a suite of look and feel and messaging materials for reference and guidance, which inspired their creative execution.
In consultation with ED, the college launched a campaign to help inform the market of the value and uniqueness of a polytechnic. Through online and broadcast media, the campaign’s video assets draw directly from the ED-developed brand theme line and narrative.
We also advised on the college’s proposed adjustment to its visual identity – introducing the notion of RRC as a polytechnic without alienating legacy audiences. Together, we introduced two new applications for the RRC identity: a formal adaptation “Red River College Polytechnic”, and a more colloquial “RRC Polytech”.
By involving the college’s strategic planning consultant in our development, we ensured that our language aligned with the operational priorities the consultant was proposing. As a result, the theme line “In Front of What’s Ahead” was used as the title for the college’s strategic plan. The college President also used the full narrative to frame the plan to stakeholders in an introductory video.
Case for support
Similarly, the narrative’s language described a desired end-state for fundraising – with your support, we will stay in front of what’s ahead. The narrative effectively framed the college’s commitments, and again the theme line was employed as the title for the case for support for donors.
The persuasiveness of the case language helped RRC Polytech raised 25% of their total fundraising goal within the first five months of their philanthropic campaign. This positions them to achieve – and potentially exceed – that total goal within their three-year campaign timeline.