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Case Study: brand re-fresh and positioning of Waynesburg University

The Challenge: Re-introduce Waynesburg University to the world at a critical time in the school's history.

As the director of the newly created Integrated Marketing department at Waynesburg University, one of my responsibilities was to re-focus the brand during a change of presidents. 

The incumbent president was stepping down after more than two decades and the mantle was being passed to a young, energetic VP. Waynesburg University had a brand perception problem brought about by it's "dark years" in the 70's and 80's. In the words of both the incumbent and incoming presidents they had "strayed from the initial mission of faith, learning and serving." While the incumbent, President Thyreen, had successfully re-focused the school on it's founding mission, it was still known as a small party school in South Western Pennsylvania.


Over the course of a year of  meeting  with the incoming president, Douglas Lee, I came to understand the rich history the school had and the impact it had on the world in it's first 130 years. The school:

  • Was founded by abolitionists.
  • Was one of the first two colleges to award degrees to women in Pennsylvania.
  • Graduated an alumnus who was the technical director for NASA's Gemini project and was involved in the development of the worlds first nuclear-powered ship, the Nautilus.
  • Graduated several highly decorated Civil War heroes.
  • Produced governors, senators, generals and federal judges - one of whom stopped the "court packing" bill by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • Produced a graduate who founded the first women's college in Japan.

Waynesburg University faculty, staff and students are extremely proud of their heritage. Say "1849", the year of the school's founding, to anyone on campus and the sentiment is understood, but articulating it is another matter.

Prior to the re-brand there was a yearly discussion on "what the tagline was going to be" for the coming year. Previous efforts such as "I am Waynesburg," and the biblically inspired "For a time such as this..." either contributed to the noise by sounding like other university's taglines, or were so obscure that they couldn't be unpacked into compelling touchpoints. 



The solution: re-establish waynesburg's "first in category" and "first mover" position while re-affirming it's founding mission.

When approaching this problem I had to find a way to not only connect the past to the future, but to connect the internal stakeholders enthusiasm and pride to the undergraduate target market. 

This was accomplished by developing a language set that could serve as a jumping off point for further brand expression in all channels of communication. This became known as the "Tradition Language."

Chief among the Tradition Language was the tagline "A tradition of Faith since 1849." Since Waynesburg University draws it's undergraduate students primarily from South Western Pennsylvania, the messaging had to put more recently founded, local and regional competitors at a disadvantage. The strong reliance on the word "faith" was an intentional mechanism used to mark the school's point of distinction when compared to other small private colleges in the region. 

Unpacking it further

The Tradition Language was adopted by University Relations, Advancement, Alumni Relations and Student Services. Each group took ownership of it and used it as a starting point to talk about the present and future as part of a single continuity. The language can be found everywhere. (click images to enlarge)