Old Brand New

Columbia College Chicago launches a brand strategy.

“Brand” can be a thorny subject – the word often carries corporate connotations; wrongly synonymous with a logo or tagline. Starbucks, Nike and the Kardashians are brands that millions of consumers know, and with that knowledge come billions of dollars of revenue, likes and followers.

But students are not consumers in a relationship with a corporate entity. Rather, they are students who will have a life-long relationship with their college. So why a refreshed brand? The reality is that private, tuition-driven institutions need to remain competitive in the higher ed marketplace. Columbia’s brand needs to be effective and authentic to its educational purpose. And students are both a brand’s primary audience and its most sustainable ambassadors.

In Columbia College Chicago’s 125 years, there has never been a formal brand strategy. The challenge with the brand was that it needed to accomplish three things simultaneously: honor our past, capture the excitement of our school now and provide something to aspire to as we move forward.

“The brand is a way of telling our story to the world. It’s an organizing principle, a way of pulling everything together to tell a consistent story so the world can appreciate who we are and what we do for our students,” says President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim.

“Sure, there tends to be skepticism. But what’s exciting about the brand is that it’s not about limiting but focusing our message.”

Old wordmark:

 Columbia wordmark          

New wordmark:

Columbia wordmark

The adjustment to the wordmark is not drastic. The subtle shift is, yes, by design. The new wordmark is bolder and more legible for mobile users.

“Generally, the branding of a school isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. You sort of just go with it. But as a Design student I feel it's important to be in tune and curious about things like this because [it] falls in line with what we're taught in the classroom,” says former Manifest Creative Director and senior Monique “Nikki” Doron.

The brand is the result of the school’s collaboration with Ologie, a brand consultation firm based out of Ohio. Their work with the college came out of months of research and thoughtful strategy. A key component to the brand message is the idea of creative tensions.

An example of creative tensions:

beauty and grit tension bars

“The brand is bold. It’s not restrictive. It allows for creative space to exist,” says Dr. Kim.

Two examples of print ads:



So how do faculty and staff go about implementing and working with the brand? Vice President of Marketing Communications Deb Maue says, “We are going to be providing a lot of support to the college in implementing the brand. We are currently developing a brand handbook that will be available on IRIS. Also, we will be meeting with faculty and staff in each department over the next few months to help them understand the brand and how to implement it at the department level. Branding, when it’s done well, is always an evolution.”

Images sourced from Columbia College Chicago's brand awareness campaign and the brand training handout.