January 24, 2009
College markets ‘momentum’ of SUNY Cortland
SUNY Cortland is updating its marketing image.
The college has been quietly putting forth a more unified image and branding campaign since October.
It started with a thinner, more stretched “C” that indicates energy and movement.
The “momentum C,” as college marketing director Gradin Avery calls it.
“SUNY” is placed snugly above the word “Cortland” in a redesigned logo.
The college takes pride in having “SUNY” attached to its informal name, Avery says, and does not use “C-State” or “Cortland State” anymore.
At the same time, the college’s publications and admissions staffs have been creating materials that use more candid and lively photographs, not staged shots.
This is part of what Avery, who is also associate provost for enrollment management, calls a “clarification of our image” after extensive research.
With college enrollments expected to plunge in New York state after 2011, Avery said SUNY Cortland began in 2006 to explore how the college was perceived both on campus and beyond. The administration was concerned that different departments and schools sold themselves to prospective students, without a unified approach.
The college’s admissions brochures and other marketing materials needed to be upgraded, by coincidence.
Avery said the public thought the SUNY Cortland athletics logo, a thick “C” with a dragon image, was the college’s logo. He and his colleagues in institutional advancement thought the red “C” on college clothing was too similar to Cornell University’s.
Avery has worked in college admissions for 23 years, starting with giving families tours of SUNY Oswego, his first employer. He has answered hundreds of questions from parents who want to know what a college has to offer their child.
He and his colleagues started with a year of research to discover how SUNY Cortland was perceived internally and externally.
The college hired an Iowa marketing consultant, Stamats, to conduct research. He would not disclose how much the college paid to Stamats in the past 30 months, but said it was more than the $60,000 the college paid consultants the last time it went through this process in 1996.
The college conducted as much research as it could on its own.
“We did focus groups, then surveys,” Avery said. “Hundreds of faculty and staff, tens of thousands of students and alumni. Phase one was to define who we are, do an analysis of our closest competitors in higher education, which was mostly other SUNY colleges, and see how our message would compare.”
Avery said the second phase, which the college has entered, is to use what the research found, “that there was a lot of energy, that we had an active student body with a great deal of support for the community.” That must now be used in college publications; the college has placed a guide to communications on its Web site.
Avery said three factors will cause enrollment to shrink as the next few years: lower high school enrollment, lower percentages of students who begin high school actually graduating and a continued exodus of New York students to out-of-state colleges.
Other SUNY campuses have changed their informal names according to what they saw as their marketing needs, leading to such names as Binghamton University and University at Albany for two of the university centers. SUNY Potsdam used Potsdam College of Arts and Sciences from the mid-1980s until 1995, when the president at the time decided “SUNY” was more desirable because it meant an affordable education.
SUNY Cortland’s formal name is State University of New York College at Cortland. SUNY Cortland is the informal name allowed by SUNY Central, along with Cortland College.
“Our surveys showed that alumni used SUNY Cortland and Cortland College, while students were split between SUNY Cortland and C-State,” Avery said.
The marketing Web site says campus publications cannot use C-State, Cortland State, SUCC or other previous informal names.
Avery said there has been an increase in SUNY Cortland students wearing clothing with the college’s name, which to him indicates a new sense of pride.
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