Acting on Progress: A Look at Initial Work

By The Creative & Marketing Group, May 3, 2021
Defining a brand begins with deliberate discovery. Those findings inform the brand strategy and key attributes.

Let’s take a look at some of the foundational work that went into articulating our brand position “A Place Called Progress.” This was actually the topic during the December 2020 Path to Progress presentation to the campus community, part of a monthly series focused on the work of the Marketing and Enrollment Strategy Unit (which we fondly call “MES”). 

Wait, you haven’t seen that presentation?! If you’d like to check it out, definitely click the link above.

Discovery Phase

Developing a brand platform starts with an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Or if you love acronyms: a SWOT.  

This is a multi-faceted endeavor that includes both primary and secondary sources and gathers both qualitative and quantitative data. It included a survey of the overall landscape of higher education to better understand our position in the market; and a brand perception study to compare awareness and perception of IC and other colleges and universities among key demographics.  

Interviews with key stakeholders and target audiences provided broader and deeper insights into different experiences with IC. These groups included current students and prospective students, current parents, alumni, senior leadership, faculty and staff, and other stakeholders across the campus community.  

This discovery phase guides our strategy and informs brand platform development and narratives. Other resources that were consulted include:  

  • Vision and Mission statements 
  • Ithaca Forever (our 10-year strategic plan)
  • Enrollment strategy and data  
  • Philanthropy & Engagement strategy and data 
  • SimpsonScarborough Brand Perception Studies from 2015 and 2020 
  • External marketing, communications, and web audits (conducted by Ologie and CarnegieDartlet
  • Current higher ed trends and industry analysis 

This graphic is a good example of the sort of information we uncovered. It illustrates IC’s market position in the context of other higher education institutions:

Blue circles are public institutions; yellow are private. The red circle among the clump in the upper right quadrant is us. We’re actually in very good company – those dots further up include the Ivy League schools. But we’re clustered in a sea of other colleges, some with increased reputation, more financial aid offerings at their disposal, or other key differentiators. 

The big question that emerges: how do we make ourselves stand out from all that clutter? 

Brand Strategy

It starts by taking all the insights, analysis, input, and data from the discovery phase and distilling them to develop the framework for a brand platform

This framework defines the key elements that make up any brand in any industry: the differentiating features and unique proposition to consumers, the values, the personality and character, the positioning, the target audience(s), and the criteria for success.  

Defining Brand Attributes

With the brand strategy framework in place, we zero in on the most important qualities that describe “Ithaca College.”  

Hundreds of members of the campus community provided input which we then distilled into four key attributes, each imbued with the concept of “progress.” They are:  

  • Progress Beyond the Degree 
  • Progress is Shaped by Ithaca 
  • Progress is in the Design of Learning 
  • Ithaca Leads with Progress 

Stay tuned! We’ll devote a future blog post to take closer look at these four attributes. 

In the meantime, do you have questions or feedback? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us at 

A Co-Created Process

Hundreds of faculty, staff, students, and alumni helped co-create this work throughout 2020, first in face-to-face meetings and then in a multitude of Zoom calls, listening sessions, interviews, and live feeds with team members – many across the country:

  • Current student focus groups
  • Student Governance Council
  • Faculty focus groups
  • Deans and assistant/associate deans
  • Department chairs
  • Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity (CSCRE)
  • Staff
  • Alumni Board
  • Recent alumni
  • Senior leadership
  • Ithaca Forever committee co-chairs
  • Ithaca Forever action group co-chairs
  • Faculty and Staff councils
  • Board of Trustees