It started with conversations—and plenty of them. Conducted last fall by Pensacola, Fla.-based idgroup USA, a series of dialogue sessions with approximately 180 alumni, faculty, staff, students and community leaders asked participants to describe the university as they now see it and as they aspire to see it in the future. From hours of comments, questions, opinions and blue-sky thinking, the idgroup team winnowed common themes to help define The W’s core values and characteristics.
Through its qualitative research, the team also discovered recurring themes about how stakeholders envision the future of the institution.
“You cannot create a cohesive image unless you’re clear about who you are,” idgroup’s Mona Amodeo told an audience who gathered in the Connie Kossen Sills Auditorium in January to learn the results. “This process is about reflecting, engaging all voices and taking time to learn the unique associations that are The W.”
President Jim Borsig undertook the exercise with idgroup, a respected communication and marketing firm, to ensure that all constituencies had a voice and a role in the process.
“We wanted the story that we tell as a university to be a true reflection of the identity of this institution,” he said. “It is very important that our message and our culture be authentic.”
The results, Amodeo said, “tell us who we are and who they (our competitors) are not, a process essential to differentiating The W from its competition.”
The W’s story, Amodeo told the public forum, is that of One Long Blue Line, an iconic W phrase that she describes as “embracing the past, the present and the future generations of this university.” It is about evolving as an institution to provide student access—a goal since The W’s founding in 1884.
“You’re unique in the marketplace,” Amodeo said. “The W provides a quality public education in an environment usually associated with a private college. It is the choice for students who aren’t attracted to the complexity of larger public universities.”
From the dialogue sessions, the idgroup team identified core values expressed by constituent voices. These, combined with strengths and institutional aspirations identified by the groups, will lay the foundation for strategic communications going forward.
Core values include: Respect, integrity, diversity, honesty, community, quality, love of learning, leadership.
Culture• The W is known for its intimate setting; history and traditions; and “like family” attitude.
Physical environment• Unique in the marketplace, The W provides a walkable, open campus; a large number of buildings on The National Register of Historic Places; and a geographic location in easy distance of its host community, Columbus.
Social/Psychological Environment• A campus known for its Southern hospitality, The W has a commitment to each student that closely aligns with its mission; a strong sense of service; a familiar tradition; and a closeness with faculty that allows building relationships that last.
Quality of Instruction and Academic Excellence• An experienced faculty; an institutional reputation for strong academics and program offerings; strong peer interaction; and a favorable faculty/student ratio.
Tuition value and access• The W provides affordability and access, as well as multiple scholarship opportunities for its students. Leadership and Community Service Opportunities• Through a focus on leadership and service, as well as other student programming, The W provides many opportunities for personal growth.
Aspirations• To encourage “big-picture” thinking, idgroup asked participants to look years ahead. From a long wish list of ideas, the group identified key areas of strategic focus articulated by dialogue sessions.
Dialogue session participants believed that key areas for moving The W forward are:• Ensuring stakeholders are unified.• Creating stability of leadership.• Focusing on image development.• Increasing emphasis on student life.• Considering feasibility of athletics; increasing intramural participation.• Dramatically increasing private giving.• Developing additional student leadership opportunities.• Increasing community involvement.• Providing measures of quality assurance throughout the institution.
Specific measures in each category, while articulated by the sessions, will be developed in strategic planning efforts that consider resources, timetables and institutional priorities, Borsig said. Among these are enrollment goals, plans for a comprehensive fund-raising campaign, infrastructure improvements and types of student programming.
“What we have is a big list,” Amodeo said in her presentation. “You can’t do everything. You will have to prioritize and determine strategic directions.”
One immediate action, however, is to develop marketing materials based on feedback about strengths and culture.
“Our message is that The W provides access for all students,” Borsig said. “It was founded on the daring idea that in 1884 an underserved population—women—deserved access, and we continue to focus on access for students of the 21st century.”
He added, “We want our marketing and our image to embrace everyone. That is The Long Blue Line of today.”
Borsig’s sentiments are captured in the brand promise developed from the sessions by idgroup. Brand promise, Amodeo explained, is the organization’s statement to the marketplace that reflects the identity of an organization.
MUW’s brand promise does exactly that:
“Individuals are celebrated, yet together become The One Long Blue Line.”
Using the brand promise and feedback from all sessions,The W’s story is captured in its brand narrative below.
“The narrative captures accomplishments of the past and the greatest hopes for the future of the institution,” Amodeo said.
It will be used as a foundation for marketing communication materials.
Since our 1884 founding, The W has been an original. A special place where we believe that being different is good... for us and for our state. We have charted our own unique course by responding to the needs of the times, staying grounded in our values, and always looking ahead. Our past, present and futurehave a common thread: sometimes it’s necessary to embrace daring ideas to achieve a worthy mission.
Classy, but not a flash in the pan, we have grown stronger through many seasons of change. The historic charm of our campus may suggest a genteel southern spirit, but make no mistake: our history is proof that The W has the determination to persevere and prevail.
While our mission continues to evolve, we maintain the core values of our founders: we believe every individual has unique gifts to share with the world. We believe every individual can grow and flourish in the personal, learning centered environment of The W.
As we turn the page on the next chapter of The W story, we forge a path forward that builds on the rich history and core strengths that have always defined us. The future is ours to create. The W will make its way as a distinguished, vibrant institution that provides a globally relevant and regionally competitive educational experience for those seeking a different public university experience.
We also will build a name for ourselves as an agile university, firmly rooted in tradition but ready to respond—as we have throughout our history—to the changing world and opportunities around us.
We will strengthen our focus on developing leaders who will set the pace for the future, providing unique programs and learning opportunities that define a graduate of The W.
We proudly stand on the shoulders of our forebears, celebrating our rich and textured past. We look with great anticipation to our vision of the future—a community—defined by our traditions.
We are proud of the many contributions of this wonderful institution—its tenacity in the face of challenges and its creativity in meeting them. It is an institution that will continue to be grounded in tradition, and it will continue to be big enough to embrace the generations of women and men that make up The One Long Blue Line.
As we always have, The W will continue to celebrate the promise of each individual. We will continue to dare, to question and to challenge. Inspired by the words of Eudora Welty, we will subscribe to the radical idea that all serious daring starts from within each of us.
Culture, tradition, history, accomplishments, aspirations— all generated a possible campaign theme for marketing The W of today. It embraces the core values, strengths and goals articulated throughout the dialogue sessions, as well as the spirit of Welty’s quote: To Dare. To Dream. To Achieve. The phrase also is a call to action, Amodeo said.
Following months of listening, discussing and analyzing, the idgroup has helped The W lay the foundation for gender-neutral strategic communications and marketing. The work will now begin.
The complete report is available on the web at www.muw.edu/idgroup.
1100 College Street Columbus, MS 39701phone: 662.329.4750 or 877.462.8439