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The UC Logo: Branding in Higher Education
By: Andrew Turner
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The world of higher education is a fickle area for marketers. Having worked in the field for several years, I can attest to the level of politics involved in every marketing decision, which is infinitely more scrutinized in terms of branding. Which is why when the University of California, one of the largest public instructions in the nation, crowdsourced its way to a new logo, it came as such a surprise.

Creating a new identity for a well-established and traditional brand like a college or university is extremely difficult, especially if there is no big institutional change that serves as the catalyst. In my experience there has always been a glaring reason or obstacle the college is trying to overcome when they institute a brand or logo change; for example, a move to university status or the changing of a vexed name. But in the case of UC, it was simply, according to the board of Regents, time for a change.

Now, as in all businesses, sometimes brands and logos need to be reevaluated and redesigned to fit the times. My contention is that in the field of higher education these changes are more of a high-wire balancing act. Colleges and universities build their brands on time-honored traditions and conventional teachings of their institutions. For many internal and external stakeholders the logo becomes the embodiment of these honors and traditions. Therefore, in the world of higher education, the catalyst to make such a fundamental change must be more than the whim of a table full of regents.

The new UC logo has transformed from the seal of an open book with the motto “Let There Be Light” inscribed on it to an anamorphic half-transparent letter “C”. As with any brand, a change must be ubiquitous and in most cases subtle so your stakeholders can accept the change in a gradual format. In the case of UC the change was neither ubiquitous nor subtle. In an exercise in crowdsourcing, the logo was conceived by a group of students and staff. The thought behind that is that students essentially make the institution, but do they really understand the gravitas of how the institution has been graduating students since its inception? Students live in the here and now; brands are supposed to be a timeless manifestation. There is some commentary to the fact that the new logo speaks to a younger demographic and is much more accessible to the consumer market, but as in any business, where is the tradeoff?

The world of higher education is a highly scrutinized partisan business. It is my contention that branding a college or university may be the biggest challenge for a brand ambassador. The demographic is huge, there is a high level of competition, and most importantly your product is driven by the performance not of your employees but your customers. As someone who has worked extensively in the higher education marketing field I can attest to the amount we can learn about branding by examining the UC story.


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About the Author
is a marketing professional, copywriter, and graphic designer from Philadlephia. You can contact him here.
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