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Staff, design firm work on marketing strategy

March 13, 2008

More than a dozen UW-River Falls staff members have teamed up with Minneapolis-based Woychick Design to determine the characteristics that set UWRF apart from competing schools so it can emphasize these points consistently through all campus communications.

Town hall meetings were held at UWRF March 10 to inform faculty, staff and students about the process, known as an integrated marketing campaign.

Dan Woychick, principal and creative director at Woychick Design, led the discussions, and the firm’s designer, Seth Johnson, answered questions from audience members at the end of each session. UWRF has lasted 134 years without extensive branding efforts, “but the landscape has changed,” Woychick said.

The population of young adults is decreasing, which means schools have to be more competitive to attract students with the most desirable applications and test scores. Additionally, changes in the racial composition of high school graduates and an increasing number of non-traditional students makes it important for schools to make their branding strategy more inclusive, Woychick said.

Schools then have the challenge of retaining students who tend to move between campuses through the course of their college career.

“It’s more like dating than a marriage,” Woychick said.

The aim of the marketing campaign is to develop a distinct brand, or identity, that will help UWRF secure the attention of new students as well as potential donors.

“If you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing,” Woychick said.

While UWRF has been slow to invest money in marketing, other area campuses, including Augsburg College in Minneapolis and Minot State University in Minot, N.D., have benefited from investing more money into campaigns to market their schools. Increased visibility can mean more donations and students with higher ACT scores, among other measures of a successful marketing campaign, Woychick said.

Any brand UWRF develops will have to be consistent through all modes of University communications if audiences are to pick up on it, Mark Kinders, director of UWRF Public Affairs, said.

The marketing campaign project team includes staff members who deal with public affairs, fundraising, recruitment and print and Web site operations at UWRF to make sure all groups are involved in the marketing campaign.

Surveys of current and prospective students, alumni, faculty and staff are the first step of the marketing process.

“The information we are gathering now will ensure that those communications are very consistent with one another,” Kinders said.

On March 6 and March 10, the project team’s research committee sent out e-mails with a link to the first survey of the campaign. The survey asked respondents to select from a list the adjectives that they felt best describe UWRF.

Surveys distributed during the qualitative phase of research will ideally reach 1,000 to 3,000 people, Woychick said.

The research committee will move onto the qualitative phase, which will involve focus groups to get more specific responses.

The surveys will help the project team “better understand how different groups of people currently view UWRF,” Darryl Miller, chair of the research committee, said.

Final results will be ready for various campus committees and officials to review by the third week in April.

Once public attitudes about UWRF are better understood, Woychick and the team will determine the brand that best represents UWRF and differentiates it from other universities, according to a timeline shown at the Town Hall meetings.

The final stage of the project will involve redesigning the campus Web site and other communication modes so they reflect the new brand.

Freshman Sam Emmons said most people here seem pretty happy about their decision to attend UWRF, which makes the campaign to develop a brand for UWRF seem unnecessary.

“I thought the school was doing a pretty good job with marketing as it was,” Emmons said.

Junior Eric Johnson said he approves of the marketing campaign as long as Woychick Design sticks to the role of overseeing the project and lets UWRF, including students, have a major role in campaign decisions.

The project team plans to release a summary of research findings sometime in May.