Sept. 12, 2022
Introducing a new brand platform, Uncommon VCU
The new brand approach emphasizes the many qualities that make VCU distinctive and “unstoppable.”
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When students returned to campus last month, they were introduced to a new brand concept — Uncommon VCU, which celebrates an institution that is untraditional, unafraid and unstoppable.
As students, faculty, staff, patients and alumni know, VCU stands out from the crowd. The tapestry of the university and health system are woven together with thousands of stories that reflect how uncommon leads to unlimited opportunities and impact.
“We believe that Virginia Commonwealth University is, in fact, a very uncommon university. Because we see potential everywhere and in everyone,” said Grant Heston, vice president for university relations at VCU and VCU Health. “And that mindset makes us unstoppable.”
We asked Heston and Kevin Best, associate vice president for marketing, to talk about branding and how it connects all the components of VCU to tell unparalleled stories.
Why is branding important?
Best: Branding defines the why. It's ultimately the thing that connects us to others as an institution. And fundamentally, it defines our trajectory in terms of how folks are going to connect and engage with us. It creates value by allowing us to make an emotional connection with those we want to impact.
Heston: We live in a world full of choices we can make as consumers. Your brand helps influence people to make choices for you. So, if it's students choosing to come to VCU, patients choosing to come to VCU Health, our enterprise brand is how we help influence those decisions. We like our story best when we tell it ourselves. And that's our branding philosophy here.
What do people need to know about Uncommon VCU?
Heston: There are three really important aspects to branding. The first is to be authentic. To be true to who you are. You must also be aspirational because your brand isn't just a mirror that reflects who you are – it should inspire you to be a better version of yourself. Third, it needs to be distinctive. There are thousands of universities and health systems around the country. What makes us distinctively special?
What makes us special and how do we talk about ourselves in a way that makes us stand out?
Best: In a world of the common, we are the uncommon. That’s our brand spirit. VCU is unlike anybody else. We are packaging this in a very simplified way to express our levels of authenticity, distinction and differentiation. As a brand, we at Virginia Commonwealth University have always compared ourselves to other universities. The reality is we're distinctively different from all our peers in the state, and we are unique in very specific ways. Our intent is to speak very differently about the VCU experience on both campuses, our level of expertise and how we are able to positively impact communities
Grant, you often refer to this as an enterprise brand. What is an enterprise brand as opposed to just a brand?
Heston: VCU has an interesting history in that it came together in 1968 from two separate institutions. There's been a lot of good work over the years to bring those identities together. This is really the capstone of that project, an enterprise brand that connects the best of the university and health system into one story.
What are you doing about the tagline Make It Real VCU?
Heston: With admiration for what the Make It Real campaign has done over the years, we are retiring that expression.
How did you come up with the idea and the concept for Uncommon Campus?
Best: We began by tapping into our brand’s uniqueness. Instead of engaging an external advertising or brand agency to create a campaign, we partnered with our very own Brandcenter. Who better to help us reimagine a new platform than folks across campus that live the VCU brand every day and train some of the sharpest creative marketing minds in the country? The Brandcenter gave us the idea of welcoming people to our world. We took this gem of an idea to help create the Uncommon VCU brand platform.
Why was this the right time to do this?
Heston: This reminds me of the old question of “When’s the best time to plant an oak tree?” The best time is 30 years ago. The next best time is right now. We are planting the seeds for this brand today and will help it grow as part of our Quest 2028 strategic plan. A strong enterprise brand makes everything better – like a magnet that draws so much positive energy to your organization.
How will this concept be illustrated through the stories that will be told?
Best: We launched at New Student Convocation and the first day of classes intentionally to capture personal stories from new students and those returning to campus. We asked what was the ‘un’ word that best captures the reason(s) why they chose VCU. What’s magnetic about this place? These stories and their responses provide authentic emotional connections that will inspire others to engage and interact with us.
For more on Uncommon VCU, visit www.vcu.edu/uncommon/.
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