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As USC Aiken competes for students, academic exposure and funding, the strength of our marketing communications is increasingly important. Consistent messaging and a unified visual identity are essential to strong, institutional marketing.This document is intended to provide guidance to staff, faculty, and partners of University of South Carolina Aiken (the university or USC Aiken) when marketing to internal and external audiences, especially prospective students and their families, as well as donors, alumni, and other current—and potential—supporters of the university.This document is presented in two parts: 1) the University Brand and 2) Visual Identity Guidelines.
Large organizations with layers of management require a thorough brand identity system that provides a unified vision and tools that help everyone build the brand. It’s helpful to remember the difference (and relationship) between a brand, an identity and a logo.
1). Brand vs. Identity vs. Logo
- A brand (or branding) refers to the perceived image and subsequent emotional response to our University, its services and relationship with the community. It also represents the conversation that customers are having with each other about the University, and how that spreads. Seth Godin defined brand as “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”
- An identity describes the visual devices used to represent the University. Identity systems are a visual components package that is paired with style guidelines and used as a framework to ensure the image is cohesive and consistent. Some of the visual devices that leverage the brand elements and style guidelines include stationery, marketing collateral, signage, messaging, and digital projects, etc.
- A logo is the central, identifiable visual element that helps the public discover, share and remember a University’s brand. Usually it is in the form of an icon (mark or symbol), logotype, or combination of the two.
2). The Logo
A logo should be immediately recognizable, inspiring trust, admiration, loyalty and an implied superiority. The logo is one aspect of an institution’s brand and its shapes, colors, fonts, and images usually are strikingly different from other logos in the same market niche.Logos are used to identify not sell. Paul Rand, one of the world’s greatest designers states that “a logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon, a street sign. A logo does not sell (directly), it identifies. A logo is rarely a description of a business. A logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around. A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it represents is more important than what it looks like.”
The USC Aiken Brand
This guide is intended to provide guidance to staff, faculty, and partners of University of South Carolina Aiken (the Universityor USC Aiken) about shaping messages for external audiences, especially prospective students and their families, as well as donors, alumni, and other current—and potential—supporters of the university. Specifically, this platform outlines the general promise the university makes to external audiences as well as key attributes that translate to the benefits your audiences seek through the university. The promise and attributes should be the consistent, thematic thread undergirding all messaging for the university, whether in recruitment materials, web content, community speeches, development emails, or any other medium.
This is our story; tell it everywhere.
Each attribute includes a key message, a strategic rationale, and sample proof points to support and effectively communicate these attributes. These proof-point lists include both perpetual items and more ephemeral or time-dependent proof points. Although this platform is designed to endure, the proof points should be regularly reviewed and revised. Ideally, your proof points will evolve and grow over the coming years.
This platform includes a summation of the brand character and the centering brand idea for USC Aiken. These elements round out the brand platform and move it from the intellectual mission of the institution into the emotional tenor that defines the experience audiences have as they engage with the university. This brand language will find its fullest expression in the brand ethos and be summarized in a set of talking points.
This platform is just that: a foundation from which you will build various communication and marketing vehicles that help the university make and keep its promise to its most important audiences and stakeholders. By following these guides, you will find you are both telling a consistent story and living it.
The University of South Carolina Aiken began in 1961 througha grassroots campaign that was spearheaded by a group ofengineers, physicists, and professionals who saw the vision andneed for a higher educational institution in the Aiken region.
Since then, USC Aiken has quickly evolved into a comprehensiveuniversity, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees. TheUniversity is independently accredited, and plays a criticalrole within the USC system. USC Aiken is a nationally rankedeconomic engine, with an annual impact of $280 million in thestate of South Carolina, and students coming from 36 states and32 different countries.
Throughout its history, USC Aiken has deepened and developedpartnerships with the local community, leveraging the uniquenessof the equestrian population, the arts and cultural community,and the environmental and engineering projects through theDepartment of Energy.
The character of USC Aiken is distinct—it blends the professionaldegrees of STEM, nursing, health care and business, along withthe arts, humanities, social sciences and education. It succeedswith all these disciplines through a deep appreciation andstrength as a proud member of the Council of Public Liberal ArtsColleges (COPLAC). USC Aiken is deeply rooted in the immediatecommunity, yet with a mind open to the world beyond.
The university has a diverse student body that respects many firstgenerationcollege students, veterans re-entering the workforce,online learners, and more traditional students.
Brand Marketing Overview
In our message-drenched world, brands simplify decisions and draw people together around shared values. For educational institutions, a brand builds reputation and engages people beyond their transactional experiences with the institution. Brand has enduring value, turning students into proud alumni and professors into advocates. Hype and spin cannot do this; brand must be built on authentic experiences and demonstrable attributes.
Yet brand marketing is a subtle, long-term process. It is more than a recruitment campaign, more than a capital campaign, and more than a tagline. It is the heart of the matter. Brand is how mission gains substance. It is built out of every experience people have as they interact with the institution—from the website to parking to alumni magazines.
The most successful brand marketing efforts integrate with all audience touchpoints. It cannot be the sole responsibility of advancement, marketing, or admissions, but rather a responsibility of every individual—from frontline staff members to university leadership.
A brand is articulated through a promise, attributes, ethos, and expressive style.
A brand promise is the implied experience or benefit of a brand. Among well-establishedconsumer brands, we recognize that Volvo promises safety, Walmart low prices, and Apple great design. These promises are carefully crafted and established as the touchstone foreach brand.
A brand idea sums up a centering point for all brand activity. It is the pivot point betweenthe more intellectual flavor of the promise/attributes and the emotional, ethical, and experiential dimensions of the ethos and expression (brand creative).
A brand ethos is the heart of your story—its emotional and ethical core. This is anevocative passage, a rally cry and seed for the fully developed expressive style.
A brand pillar serves as a supporting idea that focuses the university’s brand expression,particularly as it relates to strengthening student recruitment. Through repetition andbrand discipline, your pillars will come to be associated with the university. If surveyedin a few years, audiences should volunteer your pillars as the university’s top strengths—that’s the goal of disciplined communication of your attributes.
Most brands have a signature expressive style, encompassing both editorial voice andgraphic design. Before the logo is displayed, you can identify brands such as Target,Subaru, or Old Navy through an ad’s distinct style.
Voice, color, mood, and even the type of story told all conform to and reinforce the brandattributes. As part of this engagement, we are developing the visual language and brandexpression for the university.
USC Aiken educates the next generation of professionals—nurses, engineers, educators, journalists, accountants, musicians, psychologists, and so on in every field—so they have the broad understanding and critical capabilities to succeed in their careers, enjoy a full life, and contribute as citizens and neighbors, building vibrant communities for decades to come.
This promise is evident in the Aiken community experience and blossoms out into all the communities enlivened by USC Aiken graduates. USC Aiken promises benefits to prospective students and families as well as the future employers, neighbors, and friends of USC Aiken alumni. It is a promise that draws together the sometimes ineffable benefits of a liberal arts education with the sometimes prosaic benefits of a professional education and creates a whole that is both more valuable and more useful by blendingthe two together. This is USC Aiken’s strongest distinction with the widest reach.
The Capable Mind
Are we there yet? Do we know enough yet? Should we ever stop learning?
The USC Aiken story is a hero’s quest—for knowledge, for ability, and for the capabilities of an agile, 21st century professional mind. A capable mind.
The capable mind asks the right questions. The capable mind looks around. The capable mind solves problems that matter. It is not endless questing and questions. The capable mind finds answers. Learning may be an endless quest, but for the capable mind, this question has clear episodes and cycles of completion:
- Develop a better a way to teach mathematical reasoning to fifth graders.
- Find a more efficient way to track, store, and repurpose nuclear fuel.
- Identify and close security gaps in a company’s technology infrastructure.
- Change practices to reduce medication errors in the hospital.
- Guide a community theatre into a more stable financial model.
The capable mind seeks the next level. The capable mind navigates between theory and practice. It is grounded in reality; it acknowledges the human heart and the community from which it draws meaning and returns strength.
Do Some Good
Consider the horse. You can Google “horse” and look at images and videos until your eyes fall out. You can study the anatomy and research saddle styles. You can listen to trainers explain their philosophies. You can consider the representation of horses fromthe prehistoric lines in a cave in France to the statues on the Aiken grounds. And you should. But it is nothing to that moment when a horse puts its head over the fence and chuffs at you. Reality is amazing and scary and what it all comes down to in the end.
We love to learn, and we won’t stop. But learning doesn’t just happen in our heads. It has to happen in real life, in the practice of daily work that matters. It happens in offices and labs and at neighborhood gatherings. We learn by doing, by talking, by reading, by struggling, and by singing in the choir.
We are real people, coming into our strengths and capabilities. Making the most of every day and every opportunity. We love to learn—and in the end, we love to trot our learning out into the world where it can do some good.
Building on USC Aiken’s promise, its pillars focus attention on the core set of benefits external audiences gain by interacting with the university. These pillars work as a set, providing a multidimensional experience—fitting for a university with so many strengths.
Our goal is to create these pillars as the top-of-mind strengths associated with the university. Disciplined repetition of these expressions is a primary tactic in achieving that goal—however, it is less important that the words and phrases be repeated verbatim than it is that the idea of the pillar is reinforced, and that all promotions center around one or more pillar.
- Think Forward
- Unleash Your Potential
- Create Your Future
- Build a Vibrant Community
I. Think Forward
At USC Aiken you will master the art of critical thinking and apply that skill to the discipline you choose—whether that is physics, nursing, music, education, cybersecurity, or something else. You develop your ability to ask the right questions, reflect productively on answers, and test your observations. This sets you up for success in your first job after your degree gives you the means to set your own direction and to thrive over the long haul as your career develops.
This pillar melds the benefits of the liberal arts (critical thinking across subjects) with those of a professional education (discipline-specific skills). Although sometimes a tough sell to prospective students and parents, this is part of the enduring value of USC Aiken in the lives of its alumni. By elevating it to a pillar, it gives a place to begin the discussion of academic, intellectual, and professional pursuits at USC Aiken.
- Critical inquiry is a formal part of every degree program.
- A second area of demonstrated knowledge is required for history majors, either through a minor, a cognate, a second major, or an earlier degree in another subject.
- A foreign language is part of most bachelor’s degree programs at USC Aiken.
- Fine arts majors study all the arts, in addition to the area of primary interest (such as music, theatre, or studio art).
- Broad and deep—every major requires breadth as well as depth.
- 94 percent of USC Aiken students in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences report analyzing an idea, experience, or line of reasoning in depth by examining its parts, compared to 79 percent of students at other southeastern US public universities.
- 100 percent of education students passed their PRAXIS exams (every level, PreK-12).
II. Unbridle Your Potential
Whether you love learning or love being capable and confident, USC Aiken empowers you to gain the communication skills, clear reasoning, and adaptable knowledge that most industries seek in their managers and executives. At USC Aiken, you can make your learning a powerful force for success in your career and your life.
In evaluating the benefits of a particular education, first-generation students and their parents sometimes overestimate the requirements of the first job after graduation and underestimate those of the last role before retirement—not to mention all the other contributors to happiness besides employment. This pillar connects the dots and shifts attention to long-term benefits. It also amplifies the emotional benefit of learning (confidence) and projects it into the student’s future.
- Communication skills—so desired by today’s employers—are built into every program.
- “USC Aiken is about leadership and it’s about learning as much as you can so you’re prepared to go out into the professional world.” – Cally Anne Bowles
- Undergraduate students can be actively engaged in research projects at USC Aiken.
- Students talk with professors about course ideas and concepts outside of class—about 20 percent more frequently than at other public universities in the Southeast.
- Ranked among the top public colleges in the South by US News & World Report.
III. Create Your Future
What you know is only the beginning. At USC Aiken, you build outward, toward your goals and toward new discoveries. You build new capabilities and create new connections by studying broadly to inspire new questions. The lateral thinking of art can fuel the eureka moment in chemistry. The clinical observations in nursing can shape an effective essay on literature. From skill to skill, you create capabilities to work well within your chosen field and with the people, questions, and challenges you have yet to encounter.
Economic capability may be the most sought after benefit of a college education, because it is a route to financial stability for families and communities. This pillar connects that stability with the intellectual capacity to imagine, question, and discover—an adaptability that, perhaps counterintuitively, expands the individual’s ability to provide value and increase family and community stability. In this pillar, we also speak to the importance of the arts and humanities, both for those who want to major in engineering or accounting, and for those who want to major in music or English.
- Internships, study abroad, or other experiences where learning integrates with practice are part of every program at USC Aiken.
- “The nursing program is hands-on; they’re always striving to teach us the techniques we need. It’s all about patient care. We’re emotional support as well as health care providers.”—Ashley Brown, Fort Mill, S.C.
- About half of the students in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences talk with faculty members about career paths.
- Nursing students have an opportunity to study transcultural nursing in a study abroad program created by a USC Aiken faculty member.
- USC Aiken students can earn a certificate in career readiness, showing their mastery of the soft skills that employers seek. It’s a program developed through a partnership between USC Aiken, the State Chamber of Commerce, and the business community designed to prepare students for entry into the workforce after graduation.
IV. Build a Vibrant Community
Real community takes root in individual effort. It might be a player off the bench, a friend who listens, a mentor who answers a last-minute email, or that person in the mirror who studies just a little longer.
A college education is about more than classes and careers. With small classes, dedicated professors, and an inviting setting, USC Aiken is a place where we encourage, rehearse, and practice the kind of individual effort that builds an inclusive, dynamic community where we all can thrive, grow, and build something that matters.
A traditional college experience delivers something young adults have always craved, belonging. Generation Z (aka “Generation We” or the Minecraft Generation) brings a distinct flavor to this craving: to belong by building together. This pillar translates the values of “Character” and “Citizenship” that USC Aiken prizes into belonging and building together. USC Aiken is neither a party school (social without responsibility) nor a “graduate-into-a-good-job” assembly line (all pragmatic responsibility, no heart). USC Aiken has both heart and a sense of personal accountability, so this pillar also speaks to the individualists in the We Generation.
- 71 percent of students in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences report excellent interactions with faculty.
- 85 percent of students in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences report discussions with people whose race or ethnicity is different than their own. (Compare to 76 percent at other public institutions in the Southeast).
- 63 traditions at USC Aiken have been identified as the ultimate student experience—from intramural sports to ping-pong in the Student Activities Center—and Aiken students collect selfies at these events in an annual competition known as “The Pacer Pursuit.”
- More than a dozen all-university community service projects undertaken by the student body every year.
- Student organizations range from club sports to the Pen and Prose Creative Writing Club.
- From seminars to dedicated advisors, the First-Year Experience makes sure you start building your own community from your first moment at Aiken.
- Community building doesn’t end with First-Year-Experience—in your second year, there’s a SophMORE experience, too, that fortifies your academic progess and keeps you involved.
- USC Aiken returns nearly $300 million annually to South Carolina’s economy.
- Of more than 7,000 USC Aiken graduates with LinkedIn accounts, nearly half have stayed in the community, working as educators, executives, health care and human services professionals, and entrepreneurs. Others have settled in Washington, New York, Boston and other major cities across the US.
The Answer Inside
Brand Campaign Concept Rationale
Achievement. Accomplishment. Useful knowledge. Success in a wider scope than previously imagined. A place in a wider community. These are what drive the first generation students who can most benefit from a COPLAC like the University of South Carolina Aiken (USC Aiken). Although USC Aiken prospects are as social and community-minded as other young people, these drivers are fundamentally individual and may exist more as possibilities, more question than answer at this point. These prospects need the USC Aiken education and environment to help them mature into accomplished and confident young professionals, yet few 16-year-olds will admit that.
“You Belong Here—We Are Like You”
This concept, therefore, creates a mirror between the USC Aiken experience and the experience of the individual. The answer is inside you; the answer is inside USC Aiken.
The contradictory energy continues with this idea of “answer.” To be useful, an answer must be definite, focused, and clear. Yet what answer about a human or a university is ever complete? We are stacks of questions and answers, completed and in process. And that is why we are valuable.
Both Useful and Valuable
Generally speaking, a liberal arts education is concerned with creating individuals who are valuable—and a professional education is concerned with creating individuals who are useful. The COPLAC spirit undergirding USC Aiken blends these ends, guiding its graduates into careers and lives that are both useful and valuable. Or, in the words of the university’s mission state, who find “success in a dynamic global environment.”
Success Is Individual
That success requires focus within a wider field of vision: I have value as an individual and that value matters because I belong to a wider group. Thus the photos show humans in social context more than alone—engaged, interacting, yet the successful individual always shines out in the group.
The editorial voice is assured, emphatic, and slightly playful. It is only 88 percent serious. There’s an energy and a momentum as the words stack up, in the prose and, literally, in the stacked headlines. This sedimentation in the voice allows it to be both clear and complex. It is a liberal arts voice with the forward momentum of professional ambitions.
II. Visual Identity
Why a Consistent Visual Identity is Important
USC Aiken is a dynamic institution made up of many parts, each one working to accomplish its own individual goals in an effort to further the broader University mission of both unique and exemplary educational opportunities and developing exceptional and successful alumni. USC Aiken as a whole is comprised of many departments, groups and constituencies. Promoting consistency for the University brand has a dual purpose: It unifies the USC Aiken family, setting us all on a shared path of helping our students achieve excellence, and ensures people everywhere associate the USC Aiken name with strength and distinction.
Official University Name
The University’s official name is the University of South Carolina Aiken. The name should be written without hyphens. USC Aiken is the preferred shortened name of the university. “Aiken” should always be spelled out. These designations do not include hyphens or periods.
Never refer to the University as USCA in narrative pieces (web or print). USCA may appear in approved athletic logos.
To download university logos, photos and templates, please visit the brand tab on Pickit.com (use your USC Aiken network credentials to log in).