Improve Life = improved brand for University of Guelph

By Sharon Aschaiek | Nov. 7, 2018

What makes for a successful brand refresh of a higher education institution? Communicators can gain useful insights from the approach taken by the University of Guelph.

The Ontario, Canada-based university won a 2018 Silver Leaf Award from the International Association of Business Communicators Canada. Specifically, they received an Award of Excellence in Change Communication for its recently refreshed brand, Improve Life.

With their previous brand in place for about a decade, the university felt it was time for a review. They partnered with Toronto-based brand and digital integration firm Tenzing Communications.

The university’s goal was to better reflect its core expertise and academics with a more relevant brand promise. Also key was getting the university’s various communications and marketing teams to present the brand through a single voice and messaging platform.

Gary Lintern, president, Tenzing Communications

“The current communications didn’t reflect the amazing work and potential of the university, and didn’t really tell its story – we saw that it could be so much more,” says Gary Lintern, president of Tenzing Communications. “It was also important to have everyone at the university on the same page about the brand promise.”

Understanding the problem

The process began with Tenzing conducting a comprehensive communications audit. Over about four months, the Tenzing team interviewed hundreds of University of Guelph administrative leaders, deans, communicators and marketers to get their take on the weaknesses of the existing brand, and their views on the university’s strengths and values.

The common thread they discovered was the university’s focus on improving life in various ways. This applies to outcomes in all academic programs, and blends once and for all, the well-known strengths in agriculture and veterinary sciences with equally deep strength in the arts, engineering, life sciences and business. It also applies to its Student Life initiatives, which aim to create a safe, welcoming and supportive campus environment. This distilled core objective evolved into the embodiment of the refreshed brand – Improve Life.

Developing the brand together

The next six months or so of the brand refresh process involved liaising with a few dozen point people at the university to flesh out the new communications platform. Through a mix of in-person meetings, web conferences and phone calls, the two sides worked together to give shape to the Improve Life brand.

“The collaboration between us and the client was the really cool part,” Lintern says. “We worked as part of their team to help them take ownership of it and bring the new brand to life.”

Tenzing’s deliverables for the university included a new web portal, a distinct narrative to define the new brand, brand guidelines and 22 brand story videos, including the one below. The Improve Life brand went live in late 2017 for distribution in 2018.

The brand refresh had six objectives with corresponding metrics in areas such as web traffic, admission, industry partnerships and research funding, and the university is tracking results. Lintern says the project helped get all university staff on the same page about how to represent the university.

“I think we’re at a time where we’re seeing a lot of sameness and weakness among post-secondary school brands, and now each one is trying to distinguish themselves in an increasingly competitive environment,” Lintern says. “The more aligned and engaged stakeholders are on the inside, and the more equipped they are to communicate with the same purpose, the easier it becomes to stand out. The University of Guelph now has the platform and process in place to do so.”

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