It all started with a new profile picture.
Northwestern’s official Facebook page changed its profile picture on June 5, 2015 – its first update since 2013. The photo featured an “N” in a revamped and modern typeface, which the caption said would be used only in “very select cases” such as social media. This simple change generated hundreds of likes and comments on the new look within hours. But it was just the beginning of a rebranding process years in the making that could be key to enhancing Northwestern’s worldwide reputation.
It all started in the fall of 2013 when a committee launched by President Morton Schapiro concluded that the University should focus on creating a new brand identity. Schapiro hired Mary Baglivo, a marketing veteran and Medill graduate school alum who previously ran a major ad agency, as the University’s first chief marketing officer. As the head of what she refers to as a “little start-up,” Baglivo has spearheaded Northwestern’s efforts to streamline and enhance the University’s image across all platforms, from a new slogan with a flashy video, to a revamped website and new typefaces.
“Our goal was essentially to create a more cohesive and compelling brand platform for Northwestern,” Baglivo says.
Baglivo and other administrators launched the rebranding effort largely as a way to boost Northwestern’s reputation and make the University stand out in the face of increasingly competitive college admissions.
“It’s really all about our intellectual agenda,” Baglivo says. “We’re looking to increase the academic reputation of Northwestern, because that helps us attract the best, brightest, most interesting and diverse students and faculty and staff. If we can put together the best people in the best funded facilities, we think that we can accelerate the opportunities to discover things that will help change the world.”
The marketing team began holding conversations and focus groups with students to determine a possible message, and then used an in-depth survey to test the success of various ideas. The team settled on a message highlighting interdisciplinary work and studying across various fields.
They started the campaign with simple changes such as the new “N” as part of a more modern and cohesive font identity. “We looked like a really dysfunctional family,” Baglivo says of the typefaces and logos used before the rebranding.
The team then rolled out a new, redesigned website to highlight the new branding and message, in addition to all new admission materials and updating the messaging of the new Segal Visitor Center. They also helped launch The Garage, a collaborative space to work on group projects, as part of the brand’s focus on innovation and entrepreneurship.
But perhaps the most visible part of the rebranding effort to many students was the release of a promotional video, entitled “Take a Northwestern Direction,” which was one of the major slogans of the campaign. The video featured Kalina Silverman, a Weinberg senior, discussing unique interdisciplinary work as part of a customizable “Northwestern direction” that any student can take, played over drone footage of the campus and other flashy shots of interesting research.
“Leaving my hobbies and home behind in California, I was anxious about what my identity would become,” Silverman says of her thoughts as she started school. But, she says, she was able to create her own unique experience when she co-founded MIXED (Northwestern's Mixed Race Student Coalition) at the end of her freshman year, combining Greek life, athletics, study abroad and other extracurriculars to form her own “Northwestern direction.”
“The whole message really resonated with me and my Northwestern experience,” she says. “You can be a Northwestern student and do this and this and this, which can be totally unrelated, but combine to form your experience here.”
Now that the new identity has been created and launched, Baglivo and her “little start-up” will start to tell stories that relate to their brand and release content across various platforms that further their message of interdisciplinary work and innovation, Baglivo says. The team has also set out metrics to test the success of the rebranding, including the University’s ranking compared to peer institutions, student satisfaction levels and alumni participation rates.
They hope that promotional material, like the video, can help attract prospective students as well as uniting existing Northwestern students and alumni, Baglivo says.
“Brands can build community,” she says. “Just being part of a shared idea is powerful. When people graduate and become young alums, that Northwestern narrative should really be continued in a way that’s relevant for them to stay involved.”
For the rebranding campaign, Baglivo wanted to use Northwestern’s name as part of their new message to make it stand out compared to other schools that are mostly named after their founders or locations. She decided to use the name’s geographical direction as part of their slogan that highlights the ability to form a unique college experience.
“It is a terrible name for an institution of our caliber,” Baglivo says. “We can make it mean something.”