Putting the ‘W’ back in Western
Identity crisis reaches its end at local university
Times Staff Writer
Originally published 2013-04-25
An identity crisis has come to an end on the campus of Western State Colorado University.
Little more than eight months after implementing a name change, adopting a new logo and beginning a complete overhaul of their marketing and branding efforts, a new “W” was unveiled on Friday that Western leaders are touting as the centerpiece to a new era of education at the century-old establishment.
“This connects our history and our legacy to our future,” President Jay Helman told a crowd of about 1,000 spectators outside the University Center on Friday, shortly before unveiling the new logo. “It really makes a statement to the world that we’re really elevating this university and demonstrating that with our people, our programs and with our facilities, we are a university for the 21st century and we are the university of the Western Slope of Colorado.”
More than one year ago, then-Western State College officials announced the concept of a name change as part of a host of sweeping initiatives aimed at boosting sub-par enrollment and retention numbers in recent years. That package looked like it was being completed this past fall when a new logo and the slogan “Learning, Elevated” were adopted and rolled out across campus and beyond.
However, after about five months of market testing their new image to potential students, current associates and alumni, it was discovered that the effort wasn’t quite drawing the type of attention they were looking for, according to Western’s Director for Marketing and Media Relations Brian Barker.
“We took the opportunity to compare and contrast and take those ideas to all the different groups that are impacted by our logo,” said Barker. “The results were pretty clear, overwhelmingly clear actually, that the WSCU brand name and logo were not really the right direction for us to go.”
Barker said that the new logo — which reintroduces a singular “W” adorned with a mountainous landscape and the school’s name — was top among five options shared with more than 500 people, including 150 current high school students.
So what was wrong with the old “new” logo?
“The most important thing to note about the old logo was that the high school students that looked at it said it reminded them of a community college or technical college logo,” said Barker. “They also mentioned that it reminded them of a credit union.”
Alumni and current students, faculty and staff weren’t particularly thrilled with the fact that thew new logo and name strayed away from the use of a “W” and the name “Western” either.
The one thing that did stick from the original re-branding effort, which was overseen by marketing firm BFT International of Maine, is the slogan “Learning, Elevated.” The remainder of the brand, including logo and font that will be seen on all the university’s marketing materials, was created by the marketing firm Bearings Branding out of Denver.
“I think it’s really important that we have an icon we can all connect to,” said Barker. “When you see this ‘W’ you’ll know that this is Western and that’s something that the WSCU logo was not doing for us.”
Even the name “Western” is something that campus leaders are now trying to bring back. While there was a push away from referring to the university simply as “Western” during the initial re-branding effort, the new initiative intends to embrace the name that’s been most commonly associated with the university for decades.
“While our official name is Western State Colorado University, the word ‘Western’ describes who we are and who we have always been,” reads an informational packet issued by Barker earlier this week. “Feel free to use the abbreviation ‘WSCU’ as well, but it’s important to know that we will not be using WSCU as our official name moving forward.”
It was estimated this past August that the rebranding effort would cost the university about $300,000 to implement. That, of course, was before Western decided to change directions, hire a new marketing firm and re-rebrand themselves.
Brad Baca, vice president for Finance and Administration, said that the university will now surpass that $300,000 original estimate for implementing changes. And while a new overall cost estimate hasn’t quite been fleshed out yet, priorities will include some backtracking to correct changes that were made using the WSCU logo in the past few months.
“We’re going to have some expenses that are duplicative,” Baca said on Tuesday. “There’s going to be some duplication, but I think we’re going to try very hard to minimize that and be strategic with how we approach it.”
Baca noted that as of right now, Western has spent less than $200,000 on the rebranding effort as a whole. And there’s a pot of $100,000 that was committed to the changes by the Western State Colorado University Foundation that has yet to be tapped.
A majority of the “duplicative” expenditures will relate to signage around campus and town, producing new marketing materials and replacing things like letterheads and name tags, which feature the old WSCU logo. One major cost that has yet to be shelled out is for changes to Western’s insignia in athletic facilities, according to Baca.
“It’s going to be a process that will take a couple of months, or longer, to change out all the logos,” said Barker, who also made mention that a revamped web-site will be launched in July. “The next big piece of the puzzle is making sure our marketing pieces appeal to our target audiences.”
There will also be a hefty tag for re-stocking the campus bookstore with new gear that features the updated look. As of earlier this week, the bookstore was without merchandise that features the logo.
In terms of a time line, it will take at least another year to see all the desired changes around campus to take place. Putting a new “W” in the middle of the Paul Wright Gym floor, for instance, cannot take place until the summer of 2014.
However, just as the campus begins to ramp up its energy for the final few weeks of the spring semester, there’s a buzz concerning Western’s newest new look. And it’s a buzz that campus leaders like a lot more than what they were hearing about WSCU.
“I think something a lot of prospective students pay attention to is the spirit,” said Sara Cade, a Western sophomore in attendance at Friday’s unveiling. “The old logo, no one was really stoked on it, but now everyone’s a lot more excited and that will show when people visit campus.”
For Western leaders, it’s an excitement that they hope also lands more students in their seats for many more years to come.
(Matt Smith can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com)