A FACE YOU CAN TRUST
Southern State Community College (SSCC) came to me in a transitional period of self-reinvention. They were in the process of adding new degrees, a new academic calendar, and new campuses. They wanted to reinvent how the world saw them. They needed a new face.
Since its founding in 1975, Southern State has provided close-to-home convenience, a supportive community experience, and a tuition rate that is one of the lowest in the state. All of these things were important and needed to come through in the rebrand.
I was contracted by the SSCC marketing department to lead the brand redesign, establish a new design language, and author a launch campaign that coincided with the start of the new school year. I lead the branding work, produced all major deliverables, presented them to the client, and collaborated with their team on the launch campaign.
WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU DO? WHY DOES IT MATTER?
These are the three questions that a brand needs to answer, plainly and unambiguously, to establish the foundation for everything that follows. These questions will help uncover what differentiates you from the competition.
At first the answers were less than satisfactory, but with some back-and-forth we were able to lay the proper foundation. SSCC’s differentiation lies in the fact that they are an affordable, accessible, and inviting establishment of higher education.
IDENTIFY THE TARGET
Knowing SSCC’s market niche was the cornerstone for everything else. It enabled us to develop target personas that laid the foundation for the logo development, and everything that followed. I love to involve the client as much as possible in these early phases, as they know their market and target better than I do, and it’s my job to extract and use that information. We held an ideation session and eventually narrowed in on three target personas: The Scholar, the Dreamer, and the Adventurer. Due to timing constraints, we decided to flesh out the personas in tandem, with the SSCC marketing team taking on the Scholar and Dreamer, while I focused on the Adventure.
The first concept, which I was most excited about due to its flexibility, was an iconic representation of Ohio (where the college is located). This mark places the institution geographically, and distinguishes it from other Southern State colleges around the country. The shape is versatile: It could be a heart, an open book, a shield or crest, or even home base. Focused on the Scholar persona, it was meant to put students at ease and make them feel like college is an extension of their familiar surroundings. This was intended to make the (sometimes) stress-inducing transition as harmonious as possible. In the earlier iterations (seen above) I was coupling the mark with a lightweight font to further play up the contrast and emphasize the mark. Later, I chose to balance the visual weight of the mark by mixing bold and book weights, while giving more prominence to “Southern State”.
The second concept was focused on the rural roots of the college, which is located in several of Ohio’s most pastoral counties, and was geared towards the Dreamer persona. The mark, with its intertwined tree branches (replacing the “T’s” in Southern State), was meant to convey both strength and gracefulness. Overall, the logo communicates that SSCC is Haven for Learning.
The third concept was all about positioning SSCC as the guiding point for students. It played heavily to the Adventurer persona, acting as a compass and waypoint for determining the direction of the student’s future. The icon had a clean, but detailed nature that spoke to sophistication and self-exploration. In hindsight, the execution was a little too upscale/elegant for the target audience, which resulted in it being less approachable than the other themes.
After presenting the concepts we quickly agreed to move forward with the first concept, which we were calling The Ohio Mark. From that meeting, I set out to refine the mark and explore color options.
MAKE THEM FEEL IT
A constant fear that I have on any rebranding project is: How is what I’m creating going to be received by the loyal fans of the brand? I see rebrands fail to take this into consideration all the time, and they often get skewered. A rebrand can be well thought out, strategic, masterfully executed and still fall on deaf ears, so to speak, of brand loyalists. Audiences want more than logic; they have to feel it.
Marketing has evolved in recent years, from cookie-cutter to customization. The goal now is to have your targets identify with your brand, on a personal level. This behavior spawns a type of tribalism and intense loyalty for your product.
I was able to apply this thinking when designing SSCC’s color palette. They have four campuses and I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to create sub-tribes within the main brand by designing variations of the main logo for each campus, with its own color scheme. The colors would also help differentiate them on the college’s website, with campus-specific event posters, allow for color-coded class scheduling, etc. In the end, these personalized tribes helped our rebrand be accepted and adopted by new and old students, alike.
BUILDING A BRAND
By staying true to the foundation that we laid at the start of the project, the rebrand was a great success. I executed on a design that modernized SSCC’s look while clarifying their message—internally and externally. The new design was accessible, inclusive, personalized and professional.
After an overwhelmingly positive reception of the brand redesign, SSCC asked me to expand the scope of our work together to cover an array of marketing materials, including (but not limited to):
· Business cards, letterhead, and other internal collateral
· Department-specific variations of the master logo
· Department brochures
· Annual performing arts event booklet
· Open house and other mailer materials
· Apparel for the college gift shops and sports teams
· College mascot logo redesign
· Connect external marketing campaign