Tertiary Institutions and Millennial Appeal: What to do with your logo
15 July 2013
Tertiary education is becoming increasingly important to a new generation of South Africans. These Millennials are looking for quality education at an affordable price, and these first-time ‘consumers’ often rely on visual cues to navigate the category.
Universities have become aware of the fact that like any other
brand, they need to be seen as relevant and desirable to their
target market. To keep up with changing consumer demands and
expectations, many of them are looking to refresh and update their
visual triggers to align better with the way Millennials
communicate and absorb messaging.
But in a category so reliant on heritage, how can universities
The Visual Expectations of Millennials
Millennials have a different set of visual triggers to the
generations before them. There are four trends, in particular,
which are important in the way young consumers absorb and consume
- Visual simplification. The fast-paced and
overloaded lifestyle of Millennials has given rise to the 'App
aesthetic.' Consumers have learnt to relate to brands through bold,
simple visual cues.
- Abbreviations. These new consumers have grown
up in an age where technology is as much a part of who they are, as
any of their limbs. They have learnt to communicate in
abbreviations and acronyms
- Getting the best for less.The youth have
become aware of brands, their equity and brand promise from a very
early age, and have been trained to question the value of their
investment across categories. They want to get, and be seen to get,
the best of what's on offer.
Love.The 'born-frees' have grown up in an era where
heritage and the country's past are openly discussed. They are much
more sensitive to the brands that fit with their belief system than
the generations before them were.
It would be safe to say that updating an existing brand identity
to appeal to the youth market has become an exercise in brutal
simplification. Brands are stripping away any excess and are taking
on the type of crisp, paired-down aesthetic that feels right at
home on a 'smart' device - or amongst "LOLs", "WTFs" and
When the market is demanding Simplification, Abbreviation,
Superiority and Relevance from the brands they identify with, how
can a university brand evolve its identity to connect with the
market while still satisfying the demands of its traditional
The Tertiary Education Sector
The tertiary education sector has always had a set of
mandatories that brands who want to be taken seriously have to
tick. A longstanding and illustrious heritage, the best academic
quality and the expectation of great future for students are but a
few of these mandatories that make up part of the brand promise.
These are communicated visually by elements such as the
university's crest and logo.
Decades and centuries of visual tradition have dictated a fairly
strict set of rules for being taken seriously.The symbol of
distinction for any significant organisation used to be the coat of
arms - coming from the family crests of important land owners and
royalty, who would lend their crest to organisations they endorsed.
A category rule was established, giving us the myriad university
identities we see today, made up of a coat of arms/crest and a name
in uppercase serif type.
This has made it extremely difficult for any tertiary education
institute who wants to be seen to be prestigious to modernise their
identity for contemporary consumers.
A few universities have done this well:
New York University
- Simplified a dated logo
- Used the common abbreviation to retain equity
- Maintained visual links with key symbol
- Elegant and Premium feel
University of Victoria:
- Retained strong visual links
- Elegant and artful simplification
- Intelligent choice of retained element
- Clean, crisp typography
- Category appropriate
Other universities are not doing it so well:
Stellenbosch Schools of Public Leadership
- No equity retained
- Alien in the category (more comfortable alongside ESPN or an
The lessons we can draw from the tertiary institutions getting
it right, include:
- Listen to the individuals that make up your
market Hear what they think about and want from your
brand and then make your identity work towards that. If your market
isn't referring to "UV" then you aren't going to make it happen -
you are theUniversity of Victoriain their minds and that's not
worth messing with.
- Don't throw the baby out with the bath water
Chances are that any brand looking to refresh its identity is well
established. So analyse where the equity lies within your existing
identity, and leverage it for all its worth - a single torch has
more power than an intricate seal, in the case of NYU.
- Category rules mean something Identify yours
and play them to your advantage. Some category rules can be broken
with excellent results; others shouldn't be tampered with because
you're gambling with the perception of trust.
- It's all about balance Any identity
update in a well-established category is about striking the right
balance between heritage and category rules on the one hand, and
relevance to new and changing target markets on the other.
Sometimes you need to learn a whole new language to fit in, other
times you just need to change your accent.