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Lipman Hearne Research—Executive Summary

Introduction and Objectives

In October 2006, Lipman Hearne and Case Western Reserve University engaged in a brand identity research project. The overall objectives of the project were:

  • Measure and evaluate the implementation of the University's visual identity, in order to ascertain the logo and mark's utility, quantify the degree of acceptance among the university's constituencies, and determine effect on philanthropy, development, recruiting and national recognition.
  • Reexamine the information, history, principles, process and assumptions that led to the creation and implementation of the branding effort, including the logo, word mark, and the emphasis on the "Case" identifier.
  • Survey alumni, current students, faculty, staff, and administration on current references to the University as well as preferred shorthand references.
  • Create a set of recommendations for next steps based on the results of this measurement and reexamination.
Key Findings

Based on our on-site review, the current graphic identity system has generally been well-implemented across campus. The logo/mark has a strong presence on signage and banners. However, deeper inspection of these applications and some print materials reveals some inconsistencies and ambiguities in execution that need to be addressed in the identity guidelines.

In addition, it also appears to us that the current logo/mark has become a "lightning rod" and is distracting administration and leadership from important work related to institutional leadership, financial concerns, and positioning/branding work. At the institutional and school levels, it is interfering with substantive discussions about programs, research, and fundraising.

To recap the general concerns that we heard on campus:
  • Many agree that the University lacks recognition and prestige afforded to other top-tier, private, research institutions and that it needs to improve its overall marketing efforts. The visual identity, which was originally part of an overall university-wide branding initiative, took on a life of its own. Due perhaps to poor implementation and lack of follow-through, it became a "name change" rather than symbolic of a true integrated branding initiative. There appear to be serious concerns now about the University's ability to recruit and maintain high quality faculty, fundraising, and leadership.
  • There appears to be confusion among some alumni who believe that the University has either changed its name (to "Case") or has begun to do so. There is, however, recognition that more recent alumni and current students refer to institution as "Case." The apparent "renaming" of the alumni magazine (where the "Case" identifier is quite large) has served to fuel this speculation. However, many appreciate the common look and feel of University publications.
  • While the new logo has been getting its fair share of criticism, concern lies primarily among alumni about "betrayal" of Western Reserve heritage with the presence of "Case" on publications and signage, and continual reference to "Case" in communications.
  • On-campus constituents appear to believe that true branding can have a positive impact on institutional recognition and prestige. Faculty and staff believe that the branding effort begun in 1993 was misguided and wasteful of institutional resources. There are many who are now concerned that the work of the Branding Task Group (and Lipman Hearne) is also an ineffective use of financial resources. They do, however, believe that alumni giving has declined dramatically as the "Case" identifier has become more visible and do feel that it is important for a change so as to reverse that giving trend. Faculty leadership, who do spend considerable amounts of time meeting with alumni feel that this issue is a "headache" that distracts and negatively impacts their work (as one said, "this is getting in the way of meaningful dialogue").
  • There is concern that another change to the visual identity/name would be a signal of instability to constituents.
The focus group discussions with alumni revealed:
  • Older Case alumni appear to be nearly as frustrated about the name issue as the older Reserve alumni. They believe that Case Institute of Technology was ranked in the top five along with MIT and Caltech pre-federation and that the merger has resulted in a dilution of the brand, to the point where the Engineering program is barely in the top 25. In summary, they were and are unhappy to share their brand equity.
  • The Case Alumni Association is treated as a credible source of information about the University's attempt to "take over" the Association, incorporate its funds and fundraising efforts, and send it off campus. This has fueled the older CIT alumni's sense of disenfranchisement with the University.
  • Many of the older Western Reserve alumni refer to the institution as "Reserve" and consider themselves to be "Reserve" alumni. They too, are not happy with the "merger," but don't seem to be nearly as antagonistic toward the institution as the older CIT alumni. Many in the Cleveland group were donors and indicate that they give because they feel it is their responsibility as alumni to support the institution. They also recognize that Case Western Reserve University is important to the future growth and stability of Cleveland; they believe that the city needs a strong University.
  • The older Cleveland-based Reserve alumni did not look back fondly on their experience as students. Most were commuters and many worked in addition to earning their degrees. Yet, they feel strong loyalty and commitment to the institution (something not readily apparent among the CIT alumni of the same generation).
  • Younger alumni were well aware of the Western Reserve/Case bifurcation, both now and when they were students. They knew how they were classified and hewed to the divide. It appears that the University created, enabled and maintained the dividing line between the two entities long after the creation of Case Western Reserve University.
  • Alumni were very concerned about the damage to the institution's reputation due to changes within the administration. They felt that stable leadership, with a coherent vision/story, is essential to the University's future success. They were aware of the new president, but were withholding judgment until they know more.
  • Communications and outreach to alumni (alumni relations and development) do not, from the alumni perspective, appear to be well-aligned. Many claim to receive at least two, and some even more, magazines. They receive letters and email from the University, their schools/colleges, departments, and alumni associations. They get multiple requests for donations. Despite all of the communications and outreach, they appear to be misinformed about many things and may simply be passing by much of what they see because they get so much. And, even with all that outreach, the opinions of the Cleveland alumni seemed to be shaped more by the Cleveland Plain Dealer (which appears to be antagonistic, not supportive, of the University).
  • The logo looks to be a nonissue. Most knew there was one, but could not recollect what it looks like. A few of the more recent alumni in Cleveland talked about a series of squares and/or mentioned the fat surfer. One older alum referred to the "fat Eskimo." A few talked about some abstract lines and could not say what they symbolized. The institution name and lack of a coherent "story" are the primary concerns.
Focus groups with college-bound high school seniors in Chicago revealed:
  • "Name brand" is extremely important as high-ability students decide which institutions to consider for college. According to these students, name brand status must be earned through alumni success stories, clear student outcomes, challenging academic programs, and an engaged student body.
  • These students suggested that one-word University identifiers carry the assumption of prestige, but this prestige must be earned before an institution can assume to call itself by one name. These groups expressed the opinion that "Case" had not earned its way into the one-name group, so they considered that one-word moniker weak.
  • To these of students, "Case Western" was considered the most reasonable shorthand version of the name. Because the word "Case" carried, for them, the implication of a private university, the designation "Western" did not prompt them to lump the University into the group of "directional" public universities, such as Northern Illinois University. The word "Reserve" caused significant confusion—participants said that it summoned images of military, vineyards, and Native Americans—even though this name represents an integral part of the University's heritage.
  • The low levels of awareness these students exhibited toward Case Western Reserve University suggest substantial challenges in student recruitment outside the University's traditional zones. Without that awareness, prospective students will focus on the institution's location, in this case not perceived as desirable, and its "story," which these students perceived as poorly defined.
The survey research revealed:
  • Alumni registered strong pride in their degrees and affiliation with Case Western Reserve University; they also demonstrated neutral interest and engagement with the institution.
  • Alumni showed surprising agreement on their rankings of name options; "Case Western Reserve University" was most appealing across the board, and most appropriate for a leading research university.
  • However, over half of the alumni surveyed agreed that "Case" was a memorable name.
  • On-campus constituents most commonly refer to the institution as "Case." "Case" and "Case Western Reserve University" were believed to be the most memorable names.
  • Faculty, staff and administrators agreed that "a debate about a university's name negatively affects fundraising from alumni" and "a debate about a university's name is a distraction from other important work of the university."
Conclusions
Visual Identity: Logo
  • This research suggests that the anecdotal feedback concerning the Case Western Reserve University logo is a "lightening rod" for other, more serious and chronic issues related to University leadership, alumni relations, perceptions of declining quality, visibility and prestige, communication, inclusiveness, and/or transparency.
  • In focus groups, few alumni could recall that the University uses a logo. Those who could recall a logo of some sort had difficulty recalling what it looks like or its ascribed symbolism. On-campus constituents also had difficulty describing the symbolism behind the current logo.
  • The current logo does have some weaknesses. It is the subject of some light-hearted, albeit cynical jokes, which reference its suggestion of a "fat surfer." It does not suggest connections to the past or the institution's heritage, an important brand claim for Case Western Reserve University. There are also some minor technical issues in implementation of the logo. For example, the full effect of its character is compromised when used against a solid background (it loses its outer surrounding box), for example.
  • The current logo also has some important strengths. These include the following: it appears to be used consistently through out the University, providing a sense of unity and cohesion to communications materials; the logo acts as a unifying graphic element in the system; there is some evidence to suggest that it is considered "dynamic" and "contemporary," important brand elements; is it simple, bold, and easy to reproduce in all sizes and media; and it is distinctive in the competitor set.
Visual Identity: Name
  • The current visual identity system and its implementation provides for some contradictions and built-in ambiguities. Most importantly, while the intent of the system was not to suggest an official name change to "Case," the system, as implemented (most notably in campus signage), appears to do just that. In addition, the scale of "CASE" to the full name "Case Western Reserve University" provides the suggestion of an eventual fade-out of the full name.
  • Previous recommendations advised against displaying "CASE" as it would suggest an acronym, which could be confusing in the marketplace. The current "CASE" (cap "C" with small cap "ACE" works to suggest an acronym.
Naming Conventions
  • There is no doubt a strong relationship between brand loyalty and giving. There is also evidence to suggest that Western Reserve (and perhaps Case loyalties) have been negatively affected by the suggestion that "CASE" is dominant.
  • There is also evidence to suggest that the further one moves away from the Case Western Reserve circle of friends, the less "CASE" alone is understood enough to assign meaningful (and positive) brand attributes. The University's ambition to be recognized as a leading research university, both nationally and internationally, requires more than good naming conventions on communications materials.
Recommendations
Develop a true brand positioning strategy:

Branding is more than creation of a logo, a tagline, or the visual integration of a diverse array of marketing materials. It is also more than a creative advertising or public relations campaign. These things are all essential, but at its core, branding is about product differentiation and marketing strategy, executed in a manner that truly sets the institution apart in the marketplace. A branding initiative must take into consideration constituent wants and needs, their knowledge and understanding of the institution, and their understanding of the competitive environment. The 'Case' or 'Case Western Reserve University' brand exists in the minds of constituents; it is not necessarily what the University wants them to believe about it. Shifting attitudes, opinions, and behaviors requires an investment in development of a brand marketing strategy and implementation plan that addresses of needs of key constituents both internal and external to the institution.

The University has two options for dealing with the current logo.

The first option is to allow it remain a core component of the system with minor modifications. This will allow the revised logo to fit seamlessly into the existing branding system. The second option, which stems from the strong opinions among institutional leadership that the logo is ineffective at best, and at worse is a visible symbol of chronic woes and strategic marketing missteps, would be replace it with a new system.

The implications associated with a new system include the following:

  • The University would be required to initiate a serious, formal design development process to create the alternative (which is likely to take four to six months)
  • If done in an objective, open, systematic and transparent manner, it could be expensive
  • The process would expose University leadership to new criticism and skepticism
  • The process would demand new recommendations backed by sound, objective testing
  • The redeployment of a revised system, institution-wide, could be quite costly

Modify the name logotype: The current logotype contains some contradiction and built-in ambiguities. The August, 2003 Talking Points Regarding the New Identity state: "Although the logo represents our decision to shorten the common reference to our name to 'Case,' the official name of our university is still Case Western Reserve." There is ample evidence on campus that suggests otherwise (e.g., signage that employs the logo and "CASE." In addition, the relative scale of the 'Case' logotype as compared to "Case Western Reserve University" display suggests that 'Case" is dominant and that 'Western Reserve University' is an afterthought.
In addition, previous recommendations advised against displaying 'Case" as an acronym (CASE). The Cap/small cap display is strongly suggestive of an acronym.

The next-generation identity system should acknowledge that "Western Reserve University" is an equal partner in the University brand. There are well-established links between brand loyalty and giving. This review and analysis suggests that Western Reserve loyalties are negatively affected by implications that 'Case' is dominant. The further removed constituents are from the "circle of friends," the less "Case" alone is understood well enough to assign meaningful brand attributes. A new system should be developed to allow BOTH informal and formal variations of the name, re-introduce the CWRU acronym in "editorial" usage, and provide guidelines for a "stratified" system of name expression options depending upon audience.