When OSU took on the tremendous task of refining the university brand, they called in a range of external and in-house experts, including the College of Business’s own Close to the Customer marketing research and consulting team. The C2C group partnered with OSU to research the university’s initial marketing campaign that was launched in addition to the new logo, brand statement and visual identity.
OSU University Relations and Marketing (URM) spent two years conducting research with Ologie, a national marketing and advertising agency headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. With the university team and the consulting firm narrowing down the many tools, techniques and identity of the new look, it became time to test drive the new creative platform.
For that, Melody Oldfield, assistant vice president of university marketing, turned to C2C - confident that the College of Business faculty and student researcher team could distill reactions and insights that they could apply to a successful brand launch.
“We have worked with C2C for more than 10 years,” Oldfield said. “They’ve done numerous projects for us related to student recruitment to find out how prospective students make college choices, to gauge their awareness of Oregon State University and test our recruitment materials.”
URM asked C2C to explore two proposed brand concepts.
C2C assembled focus groups in both Portland and Corvallis, testing the concepts, messages, personality traits and creatives with groups of OSU faculty and staff, current OSU students and prospective, high-achieving high-school students. Components examined in the focus groups included testing the cover and content of a direct-mail brochure designed to recruit new students, a print advertising campaign, and an outdoor advertising campaign.
According to faculty lead, Colleen Bee, associate professor of marketing, C2C determined a clear preference for the Out There campaign, which would become the new brand’s lead marketing concept.
“Out There generated far more positive statements across all the groups,” Bee said, who also was a co-moderator for the focus groups.
“It was really clear,” Bee said. “We started with the high school audience. The high school student definitely attributed the most positive remarks to Out There. As we talked to current students, again, Out There was the clear leader for a variety of reasons.”
The research report, compiled by student project lead and marketing senior Levi Lewandowski, College of Business senior in marketing and project manager, found that the inspirational, adventurous and intriguing storyline of Out There allowed students to broadly imagine their future at Oregon State while also matching the spirit of the state as a whole.
Faculty and staff found the language and storytelling to be an accurate and true reflection of the Oregon State experience. To this group, the messaging was welcoming and inclusive, and conveyed a sense of opportunity, the report said.
“The recommendation we made back to our client was basically that there was a preference for Out There, and it generated far more positive statements across all the groups,” Bee said.
With the C2C results, URM has released Out There as a multifaceted campaign that includes extensive advertising on Portland’s MAX light rail trains, digital ad campaigns, with much more planned. The campaign shows dramatic landscapes and locations that reflect the many and far corners of the globe where our academics and research resources lead us.
According to Oldfield, the reactions to the new messaging and the strong visuals have been overwhelming enthusiastic, but that’s not a complete surprise: “When C2C showed Out There concepts to the focus groups, it was the best and most enthusiastic response we’ve ever received on our materials,” she said. “We had students say they hadn’t considered OSU as an option but would after seeing the Out There materials.”
Out There shows us OSU students -- at work with faculty, climbing mountaintops, collecting samples knee-deep in mud -- epitomizing the thrills of experiential learning and the commitment we have to create a lifestyle of learning out of the classroom.
Lewandowski, who will take a job with Boeing in their management and leadership training program, describes his consulting work with C2C as his own route to get out there.
“I worked directly with C2C leadership and liaised all information back to my team through regular meeting times to plan ahead and get work done,” he said. “I also was in on all communication from OSU marketing, our client, to know exactly what they wanted. It got fairly hectic at times, but it was quite the project.”
Altogether, Lewandowski worked on six projects with C2C, learning statistical analysis software from well-versed researchers and professors, leading teams of students, writing research reports for actual hired clients, and gaining measureable work experience.
Jessica Kiever, a senior marketing student and one of the four C2C student researchers, considers her involvement with the rebranding effort to be a capstone to her undergraduate experience.
As a researcher, she and her team were “behind the scenes” at the marketing research facility in Portland. The students were responsible for taking notes, connecting similar answers and responses from participants in the focus groups, and training their brains to understand other perspectives about the university.
“One of my favorite parts of this project was the fact that all of our efforts and research were part of a much greater effort of making OSU, as a whole, a greater place,” she said.
With C2C, Kiever has packed up her toolbox with the tools she needs for her future job. “I am very thankful that I was able to develop a consumer focused mindset and experience the consumer research process in such a hands-on way,” she said. “I gained real-world, first-hand experience. All the C2C research projects resulted in the implementation of our findings -- which is very rewarding.”
C2C Director Amanda Terhes, explains that the Close to the Customer Project has two specific aims: supporting Oregon's economic development with professional market research and consulting services, and providing students with experiential learning opportunities that prepare them for marketing careers.
“Our clients, which can range from a regional non-profit to a large public university to a global leader in sportswear manufacturing, turn to us, because we have the faculty expertise and research experience – and the energy and enthusiasm of our students,” Terhes said.
Read more about the new Oregon State University rebranding effort here and the C2C team here.