UND shapes ‘Leaders in Action’

New brand identity chosen, work underway to share the message

Leaders in Action

After months of brand research, stakeholder surveys and focus groups, UND is moving forward with a brand identity that will revolve around the tagline “Leaders in Action.” Photo by Shawna Schill.

There’s just something about the graduates of the University of North Dakota.

They’re committed. They’re practical. They’re proud. They’re innovative, approachable and bold.

UND grads are leaders in action. They know it, they show it – now, we want to share it.

After months of brand research, stakeholder surveys and focus groups, the UND marketing initiative is moving forward with a brand identity that will revolve around the tagline Leaders in Action.

“A recurring theme I hear from alums is that UND graduates are in demand because they are prepared and committed to getting to work to make an impact, to lead,” UND President Mark Kennedy said. “They personify Theodore Roosevelt’s exhortation to ‘Get Action.’ Before UND began amplifying our marketing by upgrading our website and making significant advertising expenditures, it was vital to make a relatively minor investment to first capture the essence of what it means to be a UND graduate.”

“We’re about North Dakota, we’re about people who do hard work,” said UND Executive Director of Marketing & Creative Services Sarah Nissen. “We’re ready to take on big challenges and we make impacts on the world. We’re leaders in action. This is who we are.”

Mark Kennedy

University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy

Although the design team is not ready to release any imagery that reflects the “look and feel” of the brand – expect to see the full visual rollout in August – UND Marketing & Creative Services Art Director and Brand Manager Carrie Huwe said they’re excited to get to work on materials that feature the powerful stories of North Dakota’s trailblazers.

“The new visual design supports the brand message. The design is bold and features dynamic graphic elements that express the concept of ‘action,’” Huwe said.

Tera Buckley, assistant marketing director of web and digital strategies, said the new marketing materials will use much more than the right colors, fonts and logos. “More importantly, they will carry UND’s distinctive storytelling about our people, our place and our promise. The new website will prominently feature these stories,” she said.

Huwe adds that it’s important to know that “brand” isn’t just a tagline or set of graphics – it’s how people feel when they interact with the University.

“Who we are isn’t new; what we’re creating is a new way to express what’s already there,” she explained. “We’ve always been leaders in action. But now we have a better way to clearly and consistently share that message.”

Investing in the Strategic Plan

The investment in UND’s brand research and development will translate directly into metrics that support the One UND Strategic Plan.

A study published in the Journal of Brand Management puts it simply: “Results from successful university branding campaigns include: increased admission applications and better student qualifications; increased retention rates for professors and students; increased faculty recruitment, recognition and donors; and increased graduation rates.” All of these benefits add jet fuel to the power of the plan.

“Leaders in Action expresses what makes the UND educational experience unique. Our graduates not only know the theory, but they have been in action – delivering healthcare in simulated medical settings, deliberating in a mock courtroom, making discoveries in laboratories, building a robot, teaching in classrooms, flying a plane or operating an unmanned vehicle,” President Kennedy said. “Goal One of our strategic plan commits UND to embed these experiential learning opportunities in every degree.”

UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tom DiLorenzo added that the brand message will not only recruit, but also retain the best of the best, driving the action items of Goals Two and Three.

“What we’re trying to show is that at UND you will get your college degree, but you’re really going to be able to effect change wherever you go out into the world,” DiLorenzo said.

Why Leaders in Action?

After assessing more than 500 survey responses from UND stakeholders this spring, the branding firm guiding UND to its fresh persona led several weeks of more intimate focus groups in which prospective and current students, alumni, staff, faculty and others discussed and evaluated many branding options.

The Leaders in Action tagline tested well across all groups and was chosen unanimously by students who thought it showed UND was committed to giving them the skills they needed to be leaders. The focus groups liked that the phrase encapsulated what differentiates UND from its competitors – a community environment driven by the development of people.

UND’s audiences and stakeholders have been confused, Nissen said, because the institution doesn’t share a single, consistent personality.  President Kennedy agreed that a solid brand message was paramount to making One UND work.

“Leaders in Action is meant to be the glue that unites and gives voice to UND’s other branding elements,” President Kennedy said. “Our academic logo reflecting our unrelenting passion that no matter how frigid or harsh the weather; our eternal flame is always lit and always in action, bending to the winds of change, but never surrendering to it; our Fighting Hawk logo embodying the determination to rise above expectations and challenges to find a path to victory that has always been the trademark of UND athletics.”

Implementation plan

When the full design of the Leaders in Action brand comes together later this summer, the community won’t notice everything changing at once. Most visual updates will be made gradually, on the typical marketing timeline.

“As we start to live the new brand, new things will come out,” Nissen explained.

Buy-in from staff and faculty will be important to make the new brand work. The UND design team will be assisting other marketing and design staff across campus in applying the new elements to their communications, offering training sessions in the fall that will outline the new identity guidelines.

“We’re excited and we’re hopeful that people will grab onto this and really jump on board, because this is going to elevate UND in ways we’ve never been able to before,” Nissen said.