Think and Do: NC State Institutional Message 2013
NC State entered the 2013-2014 academic year with a new brand based on extensive market research.
"Creative thinking fuels innovation, it leads to new goods and services, creates jobs and delivers substantial economic rewards."
- Gov. James B Hunt, Jr., 69th and 71st Governor of North Carolina,
NC State University, Class of '59
The marketing theme for the upcoming several-year push originated in a speech at the groundbreaking for the James B. Hunt Jr. Library. The new library wasn’t meant to be a think tank — it was a think-and-do tank, a place for ideas to be worked through to completion using the tools of the future. With the library finished, open and continually evolving due to its innovative design, it became the perfect example of thinking and doing.
Our target for this marketing push was to develop a campaign showing how NC State is creating economic, societal and intellectual prosperity through experiential education, interdisciplinary innovation, solution-driven research, and extensive business and government partnerships, thereby advancing our local and national market position.
We created an integrated marketing campaign, including:
- print and digital advertising
- a broadcast commercial
- a Think and Do web presence
- radio spots
- consistent, ongoing social media promotion
Preliminary research and ideation
Think and Do set the stage for both the start of a brand refresh that rolled out to the general public in 2013. We have achieved recognition both inside and outside of our campus community for our fresh and forward-thinking approach to marketing, and done all of this using primarily internal resources.
During one of the most difficult periods of budget contraction and a period of state leadership resistance to public funding for higher education, we have managed to creatively increase our market foothold by publicly demonstrating our strategic leadership and commitment to research and technology-based learning.
It was from this springboard that we began to explore what type of message we were going to tell.
From initial brainstorming focusing on what our current strongest narratives were, it was decided that it might just be possible to communicate NC State in a way that was not only rooted in intellect and action, but visceral, impactful and interconnected.
When it came to copy, we decided to make a splash and hammer one point across. NC State: Think and Do. They are not two separate functions, they are a whole. You cannot have one without the other. Thought begets action that begets thought that begets action.
With that settled, we began to explore how this impact is present in both the micro and macro. Seeking rhymes between seemingly unrelated themes that actually have more inter-connectivity than one may see on the surface. It is in that idea of interdisciplinarity that not only defines NC State's character, but is also the catalyst of discovery.
As the connatural themes of the visuals became more refined, we also began to work on issues of timing and pacing.
A conceptual timeline map explaining the context of all of the shots and how they relate to the on-screen messaging was created to continue analyzing pace.
Final storyboard (excerpt)
After the initial sketchbook thumbnails and experiments in meter and timing, a proper storyboard was created. Areas where subliminal NC State red could be used were highlighted.
Once the storyboard was finalized, the next step was to create an animatic. A passing listen on Spotify one afternoon lead to the discovery of a California band named TRMRS with their song "Shorter Days." It really had that great, loud, bold approach we were looking for, blending our research enterprise notions with a slightly rebellious twist. A sonic differentiator that would set us in another realm than most higher-ed commercials who tend to rely on sentimentality and overblown self-importance. The band was game and had no problem licensing the song out to us and even went back into the studio and cut a 30 second version for our final commercial.
As a land-grant institution and research enterprise, NC State is tasked with tackling the world’s toughest problems. But to meet global challenges, you need more than good ideas; you need practical solutions. That fact guides all that we do.
We teach the next generation to put learning into practice. We attract faculty who pursue research with purpose. We partner with leading thinkers and doers, and we put our results to work in the real world.
Shot entirely in-house and on-location in North Carolina, the Think and Do Commercial absolutely nailed the zeitgeist of where NC State was in 2013.
And it set the tone for where we've been going ever since.
Think and Do 2013: web presence
With an audacious, responsive, interactive design, the Think and Do microsite includes the high-energy television spot; compelling supporting content that illustrates our signature mix of immersive teaching, applicable research, collaborative study and economic development. Built on our new brand, the Think and Do campaign also utilizes bold photography and impactful infographics.
Our web ads, print ads, postcards and email all have calls to action linking to the site, and they all reflect this confident stance.
Tablet and mobile configurations
We’ve made the Think and Do microsite the destination for several strategic campaigns, driving to it from the university homepage, print and web ads, and a range of social media channels. From its August launch to October 1, the site generated more than 20,000 views, including more than 5,000 views of its centerpiece video. At the time, the Think and Do site is the most interactive microsite we’d built, and those interactions are driving engagement: site visitors spend twice as much time on it as the average ncsu.edu user spends on other pages.
Think and Do 2013: print and Digital advertisements
Think and Do ads appeared in printed magazines including Smithsonian, Bloomberg Businessweek, Fortune, Forbes, Time, The Week, Our State, Business NC and The Chronicle of Higher Education; digital ads were placed on sites including WRAL.com, Business Insider, Huffington Post Teen, CNN.com, and Inside Higher Ed. Our digital placements were viewed more 7 million times, and our print ads were viewed nearly 3 million times.
Think and Do 2014: power America
In a campus event Jan. 15, 2014, President Obama announced that NC State has been selected to lead one of the nation’s most advanced research institutes.
The $140 million Power America, the Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Innovation Institute is tasked with perfecting a technology that allows power electronic components to be smaller, faster, more reliable and more efficient than those made with silicon-base semiconductors. This effort could lead to dramatic energy savings for industries and consumers, accelerate the widespread use of electric vehicles and help utility companies integrate renewable energy sources onto the power grid.
As with most events surrounding the President, we had a narrow window of two days from which we received the information of the announcement to when the announcement site went live for the event.
Over the course of those two days, a team of writers, photographers, videographers, designers and developers spearheaded by University Communications worked closely with communications staff from all over NC State to conceive, write, design and develop the assets.
As the centerpiece of a major White House economic development push, the PowerAmerica announcement was bound to bring national and international attention to NC State. Our goal was to build rich, compelling web experience that would make the most of the extra focus. We needed a microsite that would engage users, inspire them to share our content and draw them into content elsewhere in the NC State web ecosystem.
Other challenges added to the complexity of the project: the institute’s focus — on expanding the use and manufacturing of wide bandgap semiconductors — is highly technical, and it will tap expertise across disciplines and across campus. Working with our news services team, our web team had to develop content that rendered the subject matter in a way that connected with readers and still satisfied internal stakeholders.
When developing the Power America microsite, we knew the NC State homepage would be a major pathway to it. Our homepage has a broad audience, but one primarily composed prospective students, alumni and university supporters.
Given the likely media attention for the Obama announcement itself, we had to think of a far broader audience than usual. That audience was almost indefinably large: traffic, we knew, was likely to come from anywhere. The metrics bore out that expectation: after launch, search, mass media and social channels drove nearly as much traffic to the microsite as our homepage did.
One major point of measure was the media’s willingness to drive traffic to our microsite. A media audience is a difficult one to influence online, and we took the significant traffic from media reports to our site as an endorsement of the site itself. Referral sources included CNN.com, insidehighered.com, Reddit, trade publications, and local media outlets in North Carolina and elsewhere.
Anecdotally, university leadership up to and including our chancellor were effusive in their praise of the Power America microsite.
Tablet and mobile configurations
As with everything we do, the Power America site was responsive and utilized our brand's grid system.