Rebranding WCU’s College of Business to Grow Graduate Enrollment

We Began With a Comprehensive Audit, Research, and Diagnosis of the Current Marketing and Brand Strategy at WCU’s College of Business

Next, we executed a mood board, look book, brochures, landing pages, and more branding assets. 

We created a marketing strategy, media plan, and executed new campaigns to increase enrollments. See some of the work we did for the College of Business | Western Carolina University. 



Watch this Video to See What We’ve Done for Western Carolina University 👇👇👇

The strongest memories are emotion-based and the ones you remember the best. 

Our goal with each university re-branding project is to convey and connect with your prospective and current students on an emotional level.

We dug into the data, asked the right questions, tapped into trends, gathered insights to clarify their story, and found their throughline in all the data we evaluated before tackling WCU COB’s brand redesign.

WCU Deliverables + Objectives from the Marketing Plan Deliverables:

  • Set of actionable recommendations on how COB can transform its marketing function to unlock enrollment growth.
  • We identified the most valuable channels to use to grow graduate tuition revenue.
  • We created a blueprint on how to forge deeper bonds with prospective students.
  • We identified pockets of waste where COB was getting lower returns on its marketing investment, along with recommendations on how to fix this.

Award-Winning Campaign and Creative

Our work with Western Carolina University’s Graduate School was selected as the winner of nine prestigious awards from the 38th Annual Educational Advertising Awards.

We Won Gold Awards 🥇 🏆 for:

  • Programmatic Brochures
  • Integrated Marketing Campaign
  • Email Marketing Designs
  • Facebook Content
  • Google Search Creative
  • Logo and Letterhead design

We Won Silver Award 🥈 for:

  • Online Display Ads

We Won Bronze Awards 🥉 for:

  • Total Digital Marketing Program
  • Outdoor Advertising

See One of WCU’s COB’s New Programmatic Brochures

About Western Carolina University (WCU) College of Business (COB)

Western Carolina University is a regional university situated on a 600-acre mountain campus in Cullowhee, with an instructional graduate school location at Biltmore Park in Asheville, North Carolina.

WCU COB provides a diverse range of graduate degrees and certificate programs for early-career students and working professionals.

The Challenge:

To Increase Graduate Enrollment Rates at WCU’s College of Business

WCU Rebranding Deliverable Miro

A Video Walk-Through of the Strategy Work We Did for WCU

Universities like WCU often focus most of their marketing and brand strategy on undergraduate enrollment. 

The large focus on undergraduate enrollments can be a significant challenge for graduate colleges within the university system to get the needed marketing focus and investment dollars to attract new students into their specialized certificate and degree programs.  

WCU’s College of Business is committed to growing their enrollments and reached out to Ellison Ellery Consulting to help them achieve their enrollment growth goals. 

They set an objective to grow their graduate enrollment rates and achieve their enrollment targets for each semester. To accomplish their goal, WCU’s College of Business hired our company, Ellison Ellery, to assist them in establishing a sub-brand under the overarching WCU brand. 

The purpose of the sub-brand is to help the College of Business connect with working professionals interested in career advancement through higher education programs. This sub-brand is responsible for growing enrollments for its five graduate programs.

Why Did WCU Hire Our Agency To Help Increase Enrollment Rates?

At Ellison Ellery, we work outside your university’s day-to-day organizational structure allowing us to uncover insights spanning different departments that are often too challenging for schools to discover independently. 

Additionally, we have a 20-year track record of helping universities grow enrollments. Our agency helps universities improve student enrollment and onboarding experiences to delight prospective students and improve yield. 

We can accomplish this because our perspective and processes are far less influenced by status quo university politics, departments, and personalities.

Starting with a Discovery Audit

Rebranding WCU COB Case Study

We Began With a Comprehensive Audit, Research, and Diagnosis of the Current Marketing and Brand Strategy at WCU’s College of Business.

Before creating a new brand strategy for the COB, we needed to understand their current marketing approach, strategy, and budget allocation.

So we kicked things off with an in-depth discovery engagement.

We did a deep dive into what their competitors are doing and how they are positioning themselves. We conducted interviews with WCG’s College of Business faculty and also conducted a student workshop.  

Often schools request agencies to jump right into executing tactics like SEO or paid search without conducting thorough research beforehand. This can be a costly oversight. 

The Director of Graduate Programs for Western Carolina understood the importance of conducting a thorough audit before an agency could work on its branding, messaging, and marketing strategy. 

For WCU COB, we reviewed a vast array of data points, including reports from WCU, qualitative research, and survey data. We did a thorough review of the COB’s SEO reports, and paid media reports, along with speaking with faculty members personally.

As storytellers, we look for the story within the data. We searched for the meaning in their different systems, processes, and fragmented data. 

We also created a summary document that clearly articulated our findings and why a change was needed to achieve the university’s enrollment targets.

And while it’s important to know what happened to cause lower than expected enrollments, it’s even more critical to get insights on how to fix these issues to drive higher enrollment rates and tuition revenue in the future. 

We Secret Shopped The Admissions Enrollment Process

A secret admissions shop allows a university to understand its enrollment process and uncover possible areas of friction.

We filled out inquiry forms as if we were prospective students and documented the entire chase process, including documenting each of their lead nurturing emails and its send cadence.

Qualitative Research: We Spoke with Students and Graduates

Student Journey Mapping - Understanding the Why

We Ran a Student Workshop To Find Out Why Students Enroll At WCU COB.

When we facilitate a student workshop for a university, our goal is to understand better why your students enroll in your institution (in their words). We also work to get your students’ views of your institutional or programmatic value propositions. Universities are often not asking their students enough of these types of questions. 

Ellison Ellery often proposes a multiprong approach to uncover a university’s buyer personas and validate them through quantitative research. 

Do you truly know why students pick your program over another university’s program? 

During these student workshops, we aim to get to the heart of what are student aspirations? Hint: It’s not always to make more money! 

We also hosted two qualitative studies for Western Carolina University College of Business

  1. Twenty faculty members from the COB attended a workshop to better understand their programmatic value propositions, their thoughts on their graduate programs, and the type of educational experience offered to students. 
  2. We hosted a second student workshop inviting various students from their on-ground and online programs. We wanted to capture better why they chose WCU COB, how their experience was, and understand their “why”.

If your institution serves different populations like military, corporate partners, and students from diverse backgrounds, it is important to understand if their pain points and motivations differ by segment. You must start asking your different prospective student segments several questions to understand their “why” and document how each population segment may be similar or different to better understand their specific motives and pain points. 

Your institution must develop strong prospective student personas. Our agency can help your university run qualitative studies and develop Higher Ed personas

We also want to get to the heart of your prospective students’ paint points and start documenting them.  Our goal is to have rich, authentic conversations with your students to understand their “why.” One of the biggest takeaways from the student workshop is that WCU COB is North Carolina’s best-kept secret. 

Our agency created this graphic for WCU to highlight an insight pulled from the student workshop. We also included who said the quote from the student workshop.

The Importance of Better Understanding Your Students

We also use student workshops to review messaging and how the messaging is resonating with different student populations. 

To lead with empathy, we need to understand pain points. 

When we are trying to better understand a prospective student’s pain points in the workshop, we are trying to tap into your student’s sense of survival — not necessarily literal survival, but universal human needs such as the need to conserve time and resources, the need to build social networks and gain status within them, the need to accumulate resources and give some way, and the need to have a sense of meaning in our lives.

WCU is creating an impressive new brand campaign, Living Western, but the campaign is targeted at undergraduate students, showing them what it would be like to attend WCU, live on campus, and be one with their beautiful scenery. 

We asked graduate students if this campaign would resonate with them, and they said no.  Online and graduate students working full-time with families didn’t feel this campaign resonated with them. They said it probably would have resonated if they were younger and still looking for the “traditional college experience”. 

WCU Brand Workshop Miro Board

Next, We Came Up With A Brand Strategy Blueprint For WCU COB Based on All of The Data We Had Accumulated

Once our marketing audit and analysis were complete, we could see what needed to be done to accomplish the COB’s objectives. The next step would be to create a new brand strategy for the College of Business. 

This brand strategy is a blueprint to help the COB present itself to the world authentically and consistently. The blueprint contains five main areas:

  • Brand Heart: The core of your brand (why you exist, what you do, how you do it). The brand heart was established through brand story workshops held with faculty and students. The student and faculty workshops were incredibly insightful.
  • Brand Messaging: The way you talk about your brand. We created a College of Business brand messaging guide. This guide provides value propositions based on their different target audiences and how to communicate to each audience effectively. 
  • Visual Identity: The look of your brand. We created new visuals for the COB, including a brand mood board and look book to leverage when creating new campaigns and content. We are in the process of creating new marketing materials, including paid search landing pages, social media display ads, and programmatic brochures for the College of Business to use for years to come. 
  • Marketing Strategy: We created a comprehensive marketing strategy and actionable plan, along with 90-day sprints towards short-term objectives.  
  • Marketing Execution: We developed marketing assets and began utilizing these assets in our campaign execution across the COB’s marketing channels.

Establishing The Right Brand Message for WCU COB

A brand is a living entity

The next step was to create a comprehensive messaging strategy for the Western Carolina University College of Business to leverage in future brand communications and marketing materials.

We created a brand messaging guidebook for WCU COB. The messaging guide documented the COB’s unique value propositions and identified COB brand personality traits, how to best apply those traits in internal and outbound communications, and how to craft compelling and authentic messages for your graduate programs and stakeholders.

We developed clear, consistent, value-driven messaging based on extensive research of their institution (and its competitors) and student interviews. We also customized the value propositions to speak to prospective students at different stages of the enrollment funnel.

To create a brand identity that is recognizable and captivating, we developed their brand personality, brand attributes, mood boards, and brand messaging maps. Then we add visual examples of how to speak to your audience across multiple channels. 

The first step in building a distinct brand for the College of Business was to embrace what makes WCU COB unique.

The messaging guide included brand traits, brand personality, audiences, value propositions, and how best to communicate their value propositions.

We Developed New Messaging and Value Prop Messaging

Establishing WCU COB’s Visual Identity

Your brand should reflect your prospective student audience, and it should ignite your messaging strategy.

Project Objectives:

To provide WCU COB with a more distinct brand presence that aligns with Western Carolina University’s (the university as a whole) brand guidelines. 

We leveraged what the university was already doing and their current rebranding campaign– to create a subset brand for the College of Business. 

We created several creative briefs for this project. Our internal designers then took the strategy documents and creative briefs and designed a few versions of their mood board. Our team then reviewed each iteration and made adjustments before presenting the final version to WCU. 

Once we presented the final mood board versions, we had multiple rounds of discussions with COB leadership and made a few additional requested revisions. Here is the final mood board for the College of Business.

Next, we created a lookbook to show how the individual mood board design elements can be used in future creative, designs and COB marketing campaigns.

Creating A Marketing Strategy That Gets Results

First, we evaluated their previous marketing efforts and enrollment process to provide recommendations on how the process flows, messaging, and which marketing channels should be adjusted. 

We dug into the data, asked the right questions, tapped into trends, gathered insights to clarify their story, and found their throughline in all the data we evaluated.

We are ensuring the new brand personality, messaging, and visual identity will be integrated into everything the COB does moving forward.

Rebranding WCU COB Case Study

Setting Up Better Marketing Tracking | Marketing Metrics + Attribution

We are firm believers that you can’t improve what you don’t measure! And for that reason, we are also working with the COB IT department to improve campaign tracking and attribution and develop a conversion feedback loop to enhance marketing channels to drive more conversions/enrollments for each enrollment term. We will help WCU COB accomplish these goals by creating new landing pages, thank you pages, social media ads, and Google ads to improve their return on investment and drive more enrollments from their marketing dollars.

WCU Rebranding Case Study

The WCU College of Business Marketing Plan

While WCU’s Marketing Plan is proprietary to WCU COB, we can share these high-level elements. 

The marketing plan we have outlined is a strategy for the entire year and includes a comprehensive 30/60/90-day marketing plan for the first semester. 

The first 90 days are broken down into weekly sprints and monthly micro-goals to create a nimble plan that can be iterated for future quarters based on results.

We leverage powerful project management tools and online collaboration tools to keep everyone in the loop on the project’s progress and to facilitate regular check-ins and progress updates.

Final Results: Coming Soon!

While it’s too early to share our final results, we can share Western Carolina University College of Business’ excitement to work with us and their desire to grow our relationship. WCU COB has expanded the project’s scope since kicking off the relationship. 

We will continue to update this case study with results as new enrollment data comes in each period. They have three enrollment cycles a year.

More About Ellison Ellery and Why Universities Choose Us To Help Improve Their Enrollment Rates

Meet Our Hardworking EEC Team!

Over the past 20 years, we’ve performed countless qualitative studies and technology evaluations, set up focus groups and user-testing, and audited dozens of enrollment funnels.

All that work adds up to a unique level of expertise in higher ed marketing. That’s why our clients keep coming back, and why we grow primarily by referrals. 

We help universities with their rebranding campaign, paid media management, and search engine optimization (SEO is the act of improving your website). 

Whether rebranding your entire university or promoting a specific graduate program, our team of top-notch creatives and seasoned marketers can help you bring your message to the people who matter most: future students.

We are a strategy-first agency. Once the research and strategy are set, our agency can help you deploy your marketing and adhere to each channel’s best practices, whether that is paid search, content strategy, search engine optimization, or web development. 

We gather insights, dig into the data, ask the right questions, and unearth trends to find the best way to improve your enrollment story. 

Let’s start growing together! Schedule your Free University Marketing Assessment.

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