UNI unveils its new brand

UNI has a new look, a new message and a new brand. Here’s how and why it happened.

There are some changes at UNI you might notice this week.

There’s a new logo, sleek in its modern simplicity. There’s a new website homepage, streamlined and dynamic. In the coming months, you might notice UNI sounding different, looking different. Perhaps even feeling different.

This is all the outward result of our rebranding efforts, which have been underway for more than two years. Two years of research and reflection. Two years of asking probing, existential questions. Questions about who we are, how we are perceived, how we add value, and how we can communicate UNI’s fundamental nature.

It was a process with no precedent in our history. And as UNI approaches its 150th anniversary amid a competitive higher education landscape, we are proud to launch our new brand in the hopes that it will authentically tell our story.

“Good brands are much more than a logo. They add value to an organization and authentically reflect who you are,” said Cassie Mathes, director of University Relations. “We have worked hard to define and elevate our personality, identity and values around a unified, compelling story that will help us flourish.”

The brand launched this week with a slate of revamped communications materials featuring new messaging and a new homepage and admissions site focused on the user experience of prospective students. The remainder of the UNI website will be redesigned in phases over the rest of the year.

We are also unveiling a new visual identity, from logos to colors to typefaces. Each component within the UNI branding system builds upon our visual identity to form a cohesive experience. The athletics logo remains in place for athletics' programs and services. 

But, before we go further, let’s talk about what a brand is.

A brand is a perception. And anything a person sees, hears about or experiences with an organization contributes to their perception. A brand is also a story, one that must ring true.

A brand takes work. We started looking at how to brand UNI back in 2018, when a group of individuals from across campus came together to identify opportunities for improvement in UNI’s strategic marketing and communication efforts. President Mark A. Nook and senior leadership approved moving forward with a comprehensive brand strategy initiative.

University Relations (UR) led this effort in collaboration with college marketing managers, serving as a branding workgroup and subset of a larger Integrated Marketing Council (IMC). UR and the workgroup provided updates to the IMC, President’s Cabinet/Senior Leadership, Dean’s Council, University Council and University Advancement as the strategy and its components were developed.

“When we really started examining our current brand, we noticed inconsistencies with our messages. We were fragmented” said Jess Betts, UR Creative Services Manager, who helped lead the rebranding effort. “With our new brand, instead of fragmentation, we offer an aligned story, look and feel that adds to the image of UNI as a quality institution, working together in support of our core purpose.”

The first step was research. We partnered with UNI’s Center for Social and Behavioral Research and Strategic Marketing Services. More than 3,400 people representing 14 audiences responded to quantitative online surveys or participated in focus groups and in-depth interviews during the 2018-19 academic year.

Equipped with this research, we began to construct the building blocks of our brand, including a brand platform, messaging system and visual identity/creative direction. Along the way, we gathered additional feedback from multiple audiences to ensure what we were creating resonated as authentic.

So, what did we find? At UNI, our core focus is our students. We genuinely care for and serve them -- as learners, but also as individuals with distinctive passions, perspectives, hopes, fears and dreams. We offer support and guidance, wherever and however we can, knowing that our students are capable of achieving more than they’ve even yet imagined.

Our values define and anchor our brand, particularly through experience. They reflect what motivates employees to come to work each day and why students and donors are drawn to UNI. They are brand-specific, but reflect values found in the UNI Strategic Plan. At UNI, we believe in:

  • Challenging academics, with rigor and excellence, designed for student success. 
  • Student-first focus, embedded in our foundation and woven throughout a student’s experience. 
  • Welcoming learning environments, ones that spark curiosity and instill confidence.
  • Diversity, inclusivity and accessibility, in both learning and work environments. 
  • Freedom of expression and inquiry, in discourse, collaboration and experience.
  • A safe and caring community, vital to the health of our campus. 
  • Integrity, accountability and ethics, with the highest of standards.
  • Cultural and economic vitality, through strategic partnerships and learning experiences, in Iowa and beyond. 
  • Sustainability, building a community and campus that’s economically, environmentally and socially responsible.

And while we’ve launched our new brand, the work is not over. In branding, the work is never really over. As we move forward, it’s important that we embody this new brand, that we spread our message in every direction.

Helping to lead this effort as we move forward is the newest member of University Relations, Sara Kies, who was recently hired as the assistant director of marketing and brand strategy. Kies formerly served as the marketing and communications manager for UNI’s business college and has been heavily engaged in the branding work from day one.

“This is a significant moment for UNI,” Kies said. “The brand work has solidified who we are, confirmed who we’ve always been, but, most importantly, enlightened us to who we want to be. We’ll be louder, confident and more united in our efforts to recruit students who are unsure of their true potential. We invite everyone to join us in celebrating UNI.”

For a detailed look at the UNI brand, visit brand.uni.edu.