Wheaton launched its rebranding initiative late last year, which brought with it a new Wheaton wordmark (costing six figures in trustee funds), a newly-designed website and heavy debate on social media about the college’s new image. Since then, misinformation has left students and faculty unclear regarding the initiative’s aims and intentions. This has led to much confusion surrounding the rebranding effort, how it was formed and ultimately what has actually changed at Wheaton.
A fundamental but widespread misunderstanding is that Wheaton has changed its “logo” when, in fact, Wheaton has no true “logo.” Wheaton has a historic peach-tree seal and an athletic logo, both of which are remaining the same. Rather, it is Wheaton’s wordmark that has controversially been changed over the past year.
There were many reasons why the administration felt that Wheaton needed a different branding strategy. “At the end of the day, it’s a business decision,” President Hanno said last year about the rebranding effort. According to Hanno, one major intention of the effort is to attract more interested, prospective students so that the college can lower the acceptance rate, allowing Wheaton and its students to stand out.
Vice President of Marketing Gene Begin said that, according to past surveys, brand awareness had been remarkably low for prospective students. There were other considerations as well. “While lowering the college’s acceptance rate is just one metric that we aim to improve,” Begin stated, “our larger goal has been to create a significantly improved experience for all audiences throughout the entire college.”
In addition, the Wheaton website was redesigned and launched last month. According to Begin, the need for this change stemmed partially from the rebranding effort but also from major web security as well as accessibility concerns.
“The new website has a fully responsive design, with clear intent to be mobile-friendly and top-task oriented, driving our website visitors into key calls to action such as visiting campus, requesting information [and] applying,” Begin said. He added that the technical infrastructure of the Wheaton webpage needed improvement in order to decrease security vulnerabilities.
The rebranding effort was approved in February 2016, and since then the college administration has hired a marketing firm to conduct survey research. According to the Wheaton website, the college received input from over 1,500 members of the Wheaton community as well as almost 1,200 prospective students to guide it in its rebranding effort. The college administration also hired Minelli Inc. to create Wheaton’s wordmark.
“It [costs] nothing out of normal operating funds,” said President Hanno last year when asked about how much it cost to hire Minelli Inc. and the marketing firm. “We went to the [board of] trustees and said that we need to make an investment in these kinds of things…[the cost] was in six figures, there’s no question about that. It was fully supported by funds outside of the normal operating cost.”
Hanno also mentioned that one individual donor supplied most of the necessary funds for the wordmark surveys.
Begin declined to reveal the full cost of the rebranding strategy.
The results of the marketing firm’s outreach showed that the Wheaton community best identified the college with three adjectives: forward-thinking, inclusive and personal. The newly-designed wordmark was meant to represent the values of Wheaton, yet students disagree about whether the wordmark accomplishes that goal. Many took to social media to express their outrage. For example, some students on Facebook equated the wordmark with the Waste Management logo.
“While I have no qualms with the intention behind the rebranding itself, I am surprised that the student body was not given a say in what our new brand would look like,” Abigail Sprague ’20 said of the wordmark. “It is disappointing because while Wheaton College is full of talented individuals that could have done great work, the school decided on a very underwhelming [wordmark] that I feel does not represent our community.”
The administration has also expressed a desire for the wordmark to be visually appealing and readable online. Wheaton wanted to move away from the serif font that most New England schools have and instead use an effra font, which is older but has made a modern comeback. “Simplicity is more modern than anything,” Begin said last year. “[The font] must represent well and consistently [across all platforms].”
The new wordmark also serves to differentiate the college from the other Wheaton in Illinois by emphasizing the college’s location. “It’s not about divorcing ourselves from the other Wheaton College, but I don’t think people realize how unfortunately intertwined we are,” Hanno said. “People all over the world think Massachusetts equals higher education.”
On this point, Hanno added that the similarity between typefaces led to constant confusion between the two colleges. For example, according to Hanno, some fire alarm units across campus are currently inscribed with the other Wheaton’s wordmark.
For more information on the administration’s intentions with the rebranding strategy, go to wheatoncollege.edu/news/evolving-wheatons-brand.
*Note: Particular quotes/parts of this article were previously published in a Wheaton Wire web article on a talk President Hanno gave to a design class.*