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Branding on the Website: Homepage

October 9, 2011

When I interviewed 14 months ago for my current position, I was critical of the university’s website. After consuming it for hours, I still had no sense of the brand or the culture of the institution. Its website was transactional with plenty of call to action buttons. But while there were multiple identity statements, the website wasn’t telling the Concordia University Irvine story.

The previous web team had put a lot of hours in redesigning the look of the site. There was no need to start over, nor the institutional will to do so. So instead of starting over, my boss (Executive VP, Gary McDaniel) and I decided we would build on the work that had been done and take the site to a new level.

But to proceed we needed talent on the web team, and we needed it immediately. We were down to one web designer and had no programmer. We turned to a website agency with which I had worked previously, Trusted Technical Solutions. I valued not only their talent, but also their experience with higher education culture and web design. One of their partners, Mark Merrick, joined us in the office, daily leading our web team. Additionally, Trusted brought with it a stable of web talent who could be plugged in on-site and off-site when and where needed.

Together we determined our direction for the site would focus on key improvements:

  1. Implement our new branding strategy that included a storytelling initiative
  2. Replace the obligatory and problematic higher education flash slide show on the homepage, tweaking the website template and look in a way that would accommodate slides for videos and written stories, but not require the team to make massive changes throughout the site
  3. Redesign the lower third of the homepage to accurately communicate our brand and brand culture
  4. Tweak academic homepage designs to accommodate videos/written stories
  5. Clean up what turned out to be over 500 bad links and content errors throughout the site
Our goal in December was to meet these goals and launch a new university homepage by March. To begin with the university homepage was a strategic decision that would strongly communicate to university leadership where we wanted to go with the entire site. And the decisions made on the homepage have proven to be effective.

Trusted’s designer, Craig Hastie, led the redesign that incorporated the following…

  • Design Changes to Highlight Navigation. We made some changes to font and design making it easier to read navigational links.
  • Storytelling. We began to tell the Concordia story focusing on stories of undergraduate, graduate, and adult students and alumni.
  • Brand. Per my previous post on the difference between brand and identity, we eliminated the multiple identity statements in the site’s header and footer, and put our brand essence in the footer.
  • Brand Culture. In the institutional absence of a PR program, we strategically decided to use our main Twitter feed as a type of headline news on the homepage, allowing our tweets about university life to convey our brand culture (in addition to our storytelling).
  • Brand Position. We added a brand positioning statement to the homepage describing who we are and why we are a distinctive university choice.
  • Banner Ads. Finally, we provided two banner ads that give us some flexibility with content on the homepage, and allow us to promote new programs, important events, university achievements, etc.

None of this is  eye-opening stuff. But for a page that must be effective for a range of market segments, it values simplicity in design and navigation, and shows the varied potential of social media.

Most importantly, our homepage now reflects our brand as it communicates who we are and how our educational products and experiences impact lives. And because of the stories, engagement on the page has improved.

Given limited resources, we’re been making changes to the site in phases. An upcoming post will be about our exciting and engaging new undergraduate admissions microsite. Stay tuned.

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