Simpson launches new branding initiative


Screenshot of Simpson’s new webpage.

by Laura Brighton, Special to the Simpsonian

Looking for ways to better compete for the shrinking pool of prospective undergraduate students, Simpson College is launching a new branding initiative and webpage.

The new brand calls on prospective students to come to Simpson College to “Get Working: Be Legendary.”

Simpson’s previous brand built around the word “Success” was failing to attract students to the college, whose enrollment has fallen significantly in recent years. Simpson marketers knew there needed to be a change, but that required new thinking to convey a stronger message.

Jennifer Felton, who worked for several months starting last spring as interim executive director of marketing and public relations at Simpson College, is in charge of the rebranding project.

In an interview conducted via email, Felton talked about the new brand and her thoughts on the issues that colleges are facing.

If you look at college websites, you will quickly notice that they all say the same thing,” she said. “It is hard for prospective students to actually see what is better about one college over another as they comparatively shop schools to attend.”

Brian Steffen, a multimedia communication professor who worked with other faculty and staff on the new branding campaign over the summer, said Simpson is not alone in struggling in the competition for students. Many other private and public colleges also are facing shrinking enrollment rates.

Steffen said enrollment numbers are down because fewer students are graduating from high schools in Iowa. That’s particularly true in rural Iowa, which has traditionally been Simpson’s recruiting base.

Steffen also said middle-class families are under more economic stress, and many of those families are seeking lower-cost colleges and universities for their children to attend.

Every college offers relatively the same opportunities, so Felton said the challenge is finding how to make Simpson stand out.

“My role was to help Simpson evolve from the previous brand to one that authentically showcases how Simpson is better than other private colleges in Iowa,” Felton said.

Making Simpson stand out led to the challenge of the rebranding project.

“It is extremely difficult to be different, but Simpson can be better. We can talk about college in a different way,” Felton said. “The brand focuses on both of those elements.”

To compete with other colleges, Felton said, the brand should mirror what the college stands for, and it should be a brand that the students can take pride in.

Incoming students “should be able to see how a better college experience equals a better career path – not only for their first job but for all of the jobs they will hold throughout their lifetime,” she said.

“A brand should never change current or future students,” Felton said. “Rather, it should showcase what is better about the current student experience. It can provide a platform for what can be built off of to become even more exceptional than it is today.”

The future for Simpson is “limitless,” and therefore “what is better about Simpson only keeps getting better,” she said.

Simpson found through its research that today’s prospective students are looking for six experiences from college centering on support and experiential learning.

Felton said the research shows that students want professors who care and make learning exciting as well as mentors who encourage them towards their future aspirations.

They also search for colleges that promote internships, complex learning projects and getting involved in extracurricular activities on campus.

The new marketing campaign aims at traditional and nontraditional students. The messages are related but tweaked to appeal to the two different groups of students.

Simpson students will become legendary by “Breaking the Mold” or “Making a Difference”,  which is being different, being supported, working hard and exceeding the odds.

Students will also become legendary through Simpson’s trademarked term “Exploreships” —having an abundance of experiential opportunities throughout their college career in diverse areas and ways.

Overall, prospective students will be told they can “Go Long” or be “Driven” by the dedication, confidence, risks, rewards and career and leadership skills learned throughout their years at Simpson.

Felton said the brand messages will be distributed through the website and through admissions communication strategies such as email, direct mail, visit days and one-on-one conversations.

She also said that the college will use advertising in different ways based on the particular message and medium.