Madison Ave. Collective

est. 2008

Understanding accessibility

Designing a website that’s “accessible” means you’re providing an equivalent experience for all users, regardless of the physical ability an individual user may or may not have. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) puts it this way: “Accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact” with your website without barriers.

Who is the W3C? They’re an international non-governmental association that develops technical specifications for HTML and CSS, as well as recommendations and best practices for security, online payments, and accessibility. The W3C’s international gold standard for website accessibility rules is called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

What federal law says

Section 508 of The Rehabilitation Act, first adopted in 1973 and amended by Congress in 1998, requires federal agencies to make their electronic information accessible to people with disabilities. The rules were originally established in the fairly early days of the Internet, but Section 508 was modernized in 2017 to align with WCAG.

What this means in practical terms is, adhering to Section 508 for website development is synonymous with WCAG compliance. And while these standards are merely best-practice “recommendations” according to the W3C, for all U.S. government agencies — as well as for businesses and organizations that receive federal funding — these accessibility standards are requirements under Section 508.

What’s the difference between ADA and Section 508?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law in 1990, requires state and local governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and labor unions make “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities. ADA is a broad law against disability discrimination that applies to agencies and organizations with 15 or more employees. While it doesn’t go into technical details about website development, Section 508, on the other hand, essentially tells employers how to comply with ADA. How so? By following the WCAG.

In addition to ADA and Section 508, there are other federal laws that touch on the subjects of website development and access to electronic information. The Connected Government Act of 2018, for example, requires all new and redesigned federal agency websites to be accessible using mobile devices.

What state law says

Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services has developed a set of guidelines for usability and accessibility for state agency websites. Effective March 2017, all agency websites must:

WCAG accessibility checklist

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are separated into three levels of conformance. These roughly translate into “basic stuff” (level A), “essential stuff” (level AA), and “shootin’ for the moon stuff” (level AAA). The W3C acknowledges that AAA may be impossible to achieve, so for the most part we’ve only included rules from the first two levels here. Also, for the sake of brevity — and to prevent eyes from going crossed — we’ve omitted highly technical and fine point recommendations. (If you care to dig deeper into the geeky details, W3C has more than 1,100 technical specs.)

Here’s our quick reference checklist for developing a website that conforms to WCAG and Section 508 standards.

1. Provide text alternatives for non-text content

2. Make page layout and content adaptable

3. Use color appropriately

4. Make text readable

5. Provide keyboard and user controls

6. Avoid negative physical reactions (seizures)

7. Use page titles

8. Make the website easy to navigate

While accessible website design isn’t rocket surgery, it does require an approach to planning that starts at the very beginning. Done right, accessibility is woven into all phases and stages of website development: content strategy and information architecture, user experience and visual design, and programming.

Need help implementing these accessibility standards for your website? Contact Logan Hoffman at or call 541.971.4113 ext. 711.

This article is also published on Medium.

Here at Madison Ave. Collective, we have a tested naming process for creating a memorable name that engages your most critical audiences and positions you for success.

It’s one thing to deliver an excellent student experience on campus; quite another to build an excellent website. Between us and one of our long-term clients, Colleges of Distinction, we’ve evaluated a countless number of college and university websites — the good, the bad, and everything in between.

In this article we’d like to share some of what we’ve learned, so that you can help your own higher ed website achieve excellence.

Got challenges? You’re not alone

Let’s start with some of the most common issues we’ve seen in higher ed websites. Does any of this sound familiar?

No message. Many university websites lack a strong brand story. Also, they’re not sending targeted messages to defined audiences, prompting them to take specific actions.

No differentiation. What makes you different from other institutions? Whether or not you can articulate it internally, we’ve noticed many schools aren’t communicating it clearly online.

Internal focus. It’s easy to get so absorbed in the internal workings of your administration, faculty, and staff that you lose sight of what new students or donors need from your website.

Lots of sub-brands. Do you have a different microsite for each department? The ensuing chaos makes brand consistency a far-off dream — and maintaining the various logos, page templates, and back-end technologies is hard work. More importantly, an inconsistent experience for prospective students, donors, and other users can be jarring and off-putting.

Content clutter. Is your website a recruitment tool? an enrollment driver? a resource for students and faculty? … or is it a repository of all the information you’ve ever used, most of it out of date?

Best practices, to the rescue!

For every challenge, there’s a best practice to resolve it. Let’s look at a few of the most helpful rules we’ve noted from our experience.

Think strategically. A strategy is four things: a problem, a goal, a plan, and a result. Where is your website falling short? Where do you want it to be? Answer that, and you can plan a path to action.

Think like a user. Is the hierarchy of info logical? Are pages organized to meet the user’s most pressing needs first? Have you mapped the paths that users take and built a coherent journey?

Make action easy. Every call to action should be clear and convincing, and the conversion points — the places where users take those actions —should be easy to find and respond to.

Cross all those Ts. Every area of your website should be an extension of your brand. The design should be mobile-responsive, accessible from any device. It also needs to be ADA-compliant.

Establish metrics. Without a way to measure success, who’s to say if your efforts are paying off? We know it can be tricky to identify objective markers — but it can be done, and it’s essential.

Move forward the smart way

When it comes to choosing an agency, there are two options: the conventional route, and the streamlined route.

  1. The conventional route goes like this. You write a lengthy, time-consuming RFP, and post it publicly to invite responses from all corners of the country. The RFP (request for proposal) may or may not provide candidates with the type or quality of information they need to write a meaningful proposal, resulting in hundreds of written pages based on their best guesswork, which your selection committee takes weeks to carefully comb through. After holding a series of interviews, you make a choice, and at last your new creative partner starts work. The process was costly, imprecise, and effort-intensive — and hey, it only took six months to get to the starting line.
  2. The streamlined route works through relationship-building, and as such, it’s much more targeted and timely. You develop a list of parameters you want your partner agency to match (specific areas of expertise, years of experience, etc.), seek referrals, and do some research on your own. You then put out an RFQ (request for quotation), which is shorter and easier to evaluate than RFPs to a limited pool of pre-qualified or pre-selected firms. Once you have narrowed your list of candidates based on the RFQ responses, you pick up the phone or meet in person to discuss what you hope to achieve. The information and insights that emerge from these conversations are more likely to fit your needs and propel you forward. At the end of the day, you’re launching your new website much sooner — and spending less money and energy—than with the traditional RFP process.

How to choose the right partner?

Scan for strategy. Many creative professionals make beautiful work — but the point isn’t just to look pretty. It’s to accomplish the goals of your organization and meet the needs of your stakeholders. How do your candidates propose to do so? Do they have a proven process for delivering results?

Invest in discovery. Your partner should talk to internal and external stakeholders, perform a brand audit and competitive analysis, and research your history, values, goals, and competitors. Up-front research is the necessary foundation for getting started and will guide decision-making throughout the project.

Avoid death by committee. When collecting initial input, ask everyone. Make sure key stakeholders and representatives from every target audience have an opportunity to be heard. But when making decisions, establish a small, tight-knit team with the judgement to weigh conflicting perspectives and make the call.

Be bold. Today’s degree-seekers aren’t looking for the same old / same old. Don’t be afraid to look and sound different. We know standing out can be scary — but when you do, great things can happen.

The tips above may seem simple, but make no mistake: they’re game changers. After researching and auditing countless higher ed websites, we’ve seen these principles bear out over long and close observation. We hope they help you achieve excellence in your website, too.

This article is also published on Medium.

All branding and marketing projects start with questions. Lots of questions. In order to uncover unknowns and proceed with confidence, we recommend starting with a Discovery phase. Learn all about Discovery for your next branding project in this free, 8-page illustrated guide.

All website development projects start with questions. Lots of questions. In order to uncover unknowns and proceed with confidence, we recommend starting with a Discovery phase. Learn all about Discovery in this free, 8-page illustrated guide.

From positioning statements to elevator pitches to taglines, here are eight messaging elements you can use to define and promote your business or nonprofit.

This handy infographic will take you step-by-step through our branding process.

It’s a summer evening and you’re attending a benefit concert for a local nonprofit.

As your eyes sweep the crowd, you notice a 55-year-old woman subtly snapping pictures of the band that she’ll later post to Facebook or text to her kids. She has donated to the nonprofit for years, and the concert is just one more opportunity to make a contribution.

Meanwhile, a 37-year-old couple is hovering around the beer garden, waiting for their chance to take a picture with the nonprofit director and big benefactors so they can impress their Facebook friends. As they wait, they browse the organization’s website to learn about donation opportunities.

A group of 25-year-old friends first learned about the concert thanks to the trendy band. When they found out it was a benefit concert — extra bonus! As the lead singer croons, they artfully take pictures and videos for their Instagram feed: #giveback.

Everyone appears to be enjoying the evening, but as a member of the board of directors, you’re concerned that the nonprofit has missed an opportunity to drive home its message with potential advocates.

What could have been done differently?

Generational marketing

Generational marketing, the strategy of segmenting audiences based on generational characteristics, provides marketers with insights to the preferences, ideals, and values held by different age groups.

This knowledge allows organizations to craft messages that will resonate with target audience segments. That said, as with any segmentation strategy, remember that each audience group is comprised of unique individuals. Be wary of making sweeping generalizations or stereotypical appeals.

How to use it

Depending on your business sector, your unique selling point or brand promise could be cross-generational. This is especially likely if you’re directing a nonprofit.

Regardless, when sharing your message you’ll need to adjust your approach to effectively reach different generational segments.

Start with common characteristics, and then dig deeper for each targeted generation.

Once you’ve nailed down your message for each segment, you can ask:

Messages that drive action and engagement

So, how can you use generational targeting to drive engagement and action among different audience segments? Here are some ideas to get you started.

For Baby Boomers, your message could appeal to their desire for self-fulfillment by using the second person point of view. Also, do not remind them that they are aging.

Marketing tactics for baby boomers

When creating a compelling message for Generation X, focus on your brand value. Make a direct connection between their individual needs and how your brand could impact their life. Also, if appropriate, subtly appeal to status.

Marketing tactics for generation X

When targeting Generation Y (aka Millennials), brands have the opportunity to align their message with this generation’s desire to make a difference and help the greater good. If you do this while creatively communicating your brand’s personality, you’ve struck gold.

Marketing ideas for millennials

Encore: Taking these principles to the next concert

Another benefit concert has arrived.

This time, your nonprofit has a firm understanding of the generational differences and preferences among its target audience groups. With this knowledge, you’ve used targeted messaging in your pre-event promotions to encourage attendance.

You recognized Baby Boomers as valuable contributors, thanked them for their regular donations, and told them that the founders wanted to meet them in person at the concert. At the concert they received material about becoming a legacy donor, meeting their desire to make a long-term impact.

You encouraged Generation X to attend, since the funds raised could improve their families’ access to a new community initiative. The invitation to become a regular donor was included in their confirmation email.

You targeted Generation Y through messaging that clearly outlined how attendance would help the organization raise the remaining funds necessary to finish a community project. You also provided the opportunity to text your nonprofit a small donation, as the first step towards a long-term relationship.

As a result, attendance increased 20 percent over the previous year, and the nonprofit met its fundraising goal. Better yet, individuals from Generation X and Y — groups that had been minimally engaged — signed up for volunteer opportunities and sustaining, automated donations.

Knowing your target audience’s age and the factors that shape generational attitudes and perceptions allows you to craft a message that is more likely to resonate and drive action.

This article is also published on Medium.

More than just words

Whether it’s a tagline or a slogan, a motto, or a mantra, the rules are the same. Effective communication starts with knowing who you are — what your mission and vision are, and where your strategic plan says you want to go. Differentiation is, after all, about being different. And touting your differences will, when done correctly, attract the right kinds of prospective students and donors while causing others to look elsewhere. And that’s the whole point. Institutions of higher education cannot be all things for all people, nor should they try to be.

Slogans vs. taglines: What’s the difference?

It’s easy to be confused about the difference between slogans and taglines, so let’s sort this out up front. The two have similar, but distinct roles to play in marketing and differentiation.

A slogan is a catchphrase — a short string of words designed to catch people’s attention. It’s a hook. It’s something you can lead a marketing campaign with. Effective slogans are casual, memorable, repeatable in conversation, and sometimes they even get turned into musical jingles. Repetition, rhyme, or alliteration help make slogans memorable and easy to say.

Slogans can also be thought of as battle cries, often used skillfully by higher ed athletic departments to rally fans (and to sell tickets). Ideally, a slogan will cause people to feel something — hope, belonging, school pride, or whatever emotional quality you want associated with your brand.

A tagline, on the other hand, is something that’s tagged on at the end. Taglines are commonly placed after or below a logo or, say, at the bottom of a marketing brochure. Taglines are designed to be read (not said). You read the name of the organization first, then you read the tagline. Always in that order. Taglines are supposed to provide context or additional meaning to the brand name, and are particularly useful when introducing new entities into the world. Taglines can be derived from mission statements or brand promises, and, therefore, will live much longer than shorter-term campaign slogans.

While a good tagline might evoke an emotional response, it must first be functional: it should summarize your story, your purpose, or speak to the unique and specific benefits you offer.

Both slogans and taglines are messaging tools that can be used to differentiate an organization, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. Here’s a simple test: You know you’ve got a slogan if it’s able to work alone, with or without your logo. Otherwise, if the words are only meaningful when combined with your logo, you’ve got a tagline.

Not to purposely confuse things, but it’s worth pointing out that some taglines morph into slogans over time. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s possible for a tagline to become familiar enough that it starts to become useful on its own.

If it’s not different, you’re not different

Because most colleges and universities have long, established histories and are well known either regionally or nationally, they usually don’t need — and probably shouldn’t have — a formal tagline attached to their logo. While slogans can be quite useful for specific marketing campaigns (capital fundraising, new student enrollment, etc.), taglines for higher ed institutions are typically pointless. Especially if the tagline does nothing to differentiate from the 4,000 other colleges and universities in the U.S.

Take “Your Future, Our Focus” for example. It’s the tagline of Northern Illinois University, prominently displayed in bright red and placed directly below their name, just as any proper tagline should be. The problem is, another college in Wyoming uses the exact same four words for their statement of differentiation. This tagline also happens to be used by an attorney in Milwaukee, a career center in Ohio, and a wealth management firm in Scottsdale. I stopped Googling there, but you get the point.

Imagine More” and “Inspiring People” are other great examples of higher ed taglines that are utterly and completely undifferentiated.

So what’s an effective tagline for higher ed look like? Columbia University’s “In the City of New York” does an excellent job differentiating itself from competitors. How so? For one, Columbia is the only Ivy League university located in NYC — a distinct benefit for prospective students looking for the big city experience. Brown and Princeton can’t offer that. “In the City of New York” also differentiates Columbia University from the other Columbias in Hollywood, Salt Lake City, and Chicago. There is, after all, only one Columbia in the city of New York.

Remember, taglines don’t need to be provocative to be effective. Columbia’s tagline works because it’s functional. It’s not clever, but it’s crystal clear.

Make it meaningful

For any communication marketing to work, the words you choose must personally be meaningful to the individual you’re trying to reach. Otherwise, what you’re saying won’t be heard, won’t be remembered, and won’t be acted upon. Meaningful messaging, when done right, will cement the bond between your program and your people. And when enough people embrace your message it can suddenly take on a life of its own.

The University of Kentucky’s “See Blue.” campaign is the perfect case study for a meaningful and memorable slogan that continues to pay off nine years after its debut. Yes, it’s won regional and national awards, but that’s not what makes it great. We know “See Blue.” is working for UK because people love it. And people love it because it’s meaningful to them. They own it. In fact, the UK community chose the slogan after being presented with options by the university’s marketing department. (This, following a long period of research into what students, staff, alumni, and other supporters value, and why UK is special to them.)

“The campus has bought into it. “See Blue.” has taken on a life of its own. I think it may be something that’s here with us forever.” — Kelly Bozeman, Director of Marketing at the University of Kentucky, in an interview with WUKY Radio.

And then there’s the University of Oregon’s “If” campaign. What initially was pegged for a $20 million branding spend, the school’s leadership recently pulled the plug after burning the first $5 million on some highly-polished marketing collateral and this video. What went wrong? The university-wide community never got on board. Unlike at UK, the University of Oregon’s people weren’t invested and they didn’t have a sense of ownership over the message. The work was beautiful, but it wasn’t meaningful.

Get everyone involved

Developing meaningful, differentiated messaging is a team sport. It’s critical that you get early buy-in from your school’s leadership — especially your president or chancellor — as well as from staff, students, alumni, and the university community at large. Test your messaging, float ideas for feedback, and involve the people who care the most about your brand.

And while there’s certainly wisdom in investing appropriate resources to spread your message around, when you start to see students printing the words on their graduation caps you know you’ve got yourself a winner.

This article is also published on Medium.

Universities coast-to-coast are offering an ever-increasing number of degrees and certificates online these days (craft brewing or turf grass management, anyone?) While the stigma of earning a degree online is not what it used to be even five years ago, there are common obstacles to overcome when it comes to branding and marketing any online program. After all, when deciding which schools to apply for, prospective students will always ask themselves the same questions.

Is this program a good value? How will it look on my resumé?

And, when choosing between on-campus and online options: Is this really the same degree? Really??

Why positioning matters

With this in mind, I believe many universities are making costly mistakes with how they’re positioning their online vs. brick-and-mortar 4-year degree programs. (I use the term positioning here to describe all the ways a university brands and markets itself in an effort to pull students away from competitors.) Correcting these mistakes may not be easy given the siloed nature of many colleges and universities, but doing so will undoubtedly lead to increased enrollment in online programs.

Below are three case studies highlighting examples of what should and shouldn’t be done with online degree positioning. Whether it’s developing a separate website or a clever new name, maintaining two brands for the same diploma ultimately places doubt in the prospective student’s mind and makes marketing more difficult. There is a better way.

Case study 1: University of Washington

Today, when pursuing an online degree in early childhood development at the University of Washington (UW), prospective students are directed away from the university’s main website to an “Online Early Childhood and Family Studies” website which, confusingly, has a completely different look-and-feel and admissions process from UW’s College of Education.

Above: UW’s College of Education website for Early Childhood & Family Studies — on-campus admissions.

Above: UW’s College of Education website for Early Childhood & Family Studies — online admissions (ironically, it’s not optimized for mobile devices).

Present a single enrollment path

A better experience would be to direct students to a shared enrollment page offering two options:

Then, based on how this question is answered, the website would present the various program offerings that match, followed by clear, step-by-step instructions on how to enroll — regardless of whether the student will be taking courses in-person or online.

Using a single enrollment path will allow online learning to be viewed on par with the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom experience, while at the same time leveraging the positive reputation of the university. The goal should be to communicate one university and one high quality education, with the flexibility of two enrollment options.

Strategically price online programs

Another positioning mistake UW makes is how it prices its online programs. In March 2013, the university announced it was offering a new “low-cost online-only degree” in Early Childhood and Family Studies. They touted the online program as an affordable alternative to “help fill a national growing demand for preschool teachers.” But while positioning the online degree as low-cost may sound like a benefit to students, the flipside is that it reinforces the stigma that online degrees are less valuable than those earned in traditional classroom environments. Here’s how costs vary for full-time students, per quarter, for the same degree at UW:

If the University of Washington’s leadership is legitimately concerned about lowering the enrollment barrier for future preschool teachers, a better approach would be to price its online and resident programs the same, say at $3,271 (taking an average of the current pricing for residents and online). This would allow more students to enroll in either option without diminishing the value of an online education.

Some colleges and universities go a step further by pricing their online programs higher than those for on-campus state residents, effectively valuing their online programs somewhere in between resident and nonresident offerings. For example, Oregon State University (OSU) — a top-10 ranked university for online bachelor’s degrees — charges twenty percent more for full-time enrollment in their online program. Here’s how OSU prices its degree offerings, per quarter:

This pricing strategy makes sense because many students applying for online programs are from out-of-state and would otherwise be paying significantly more for what should be the same degree. (OSU does a nice job providing students with a comparison chart of tuition and fees for on-campus vs. online.) Couple this with savings on relocation costs and the ability to fit classes around a student’s work and/or family commitments, paying twenty or even thirty percent more for an online degree is still a bargain. Most importantly, OSU is communicating a critical message of branding singularity: same degree, same university.

On the other hand, tuition prices for online degrees offered by the University of Washington may cause prospective students to wonder, Is this really the same degree?

Case study 2: University of Southern California

The University of Southern California (USC), founded in 1880, is world-renowned for its academic and athletic programs. In fact, Times Higher Education ranks USC as having the 13th best reputation on the planet.

However, when the university rolled out its new online program in May 2011, they made a significant mistake by branding it as something unique and different. Introduced as “USC Now”, the university wrote in a press release at that time how the launch of the online program included “a new website — — to help distinguish USC’s brick-and-mortar offerings from its growing number of online master’s degree programs.”

Distinguish from? Why would a university with a world-class reputation and 130+ years of brand equity want to position its online student experience as anything other than a “real” USC education?

Integrate online programs with the core university brand

Just a few months after the rollout of USC Now, a new logo and identity system for the university was also introduced. And yet, while the rest of the university was updating logos and signage and websites, the USC marketing department didn’t bother to integrate its online program into the new university branding system for two more years, further widening the perceived gap from “traditional” USC.

After another year passed, school officials finally recognized that the USC Now sub-brand was counterproductive and decided to drop the name altogether, replacing it with the more descriptive “USC Online” in 2014. Today, while the naming and look-and-feel has come together under a single university-wide identity, USC regrettably directs students into a separate website and enrollment path for its online degrees — the same dual-path enrollment experience that UW uses.

Take a look at the website screenshots below to follow the changes in how USC has improved its online degree positioning over the past five years. (Hat tip to

August, 2011: The “USC Now” sub-brand is introduced

April, 2012: A new USC logo is introduced, but “USC Now” continues to use the university’s old branding

May, 2013: “USC Now” is restyled to match the university’s new branding

July, 2014 — present: “USC Now” is changed to “USC Online”

Case study 3: Drexel University

In many ways Drexel University is doing it right. If a student visits Drexel’s website looking for information about a graduate degree in Electrical Engineering, for example, she can quickly see there are two options: either take classes online, or take classes at their Philadelphia campus. Drexel lists them both side-by-side, effectively communicating that the student will receive an identical degree regardless of location.

Display clear options for enrollment at the program level

While Drexel does maintain a separate website for marketing its online programs, students who start at the main website are presented with clear options for enrollment at the program level. In other words, when students land at the graduate studies page for engineering they have information about every degree option available to them — including those offered online.

Above: Drexel’s College of Engineering website lists on-campus and online programs side-by-side at the program level.

Seems obvious, right? But with so many universities building walls between their online and on-campus degrees, Drexel doing the “obvious” is quite refreshing. It’s a better experience for students, and it’s better serving the university’s brand.

One more thing Drexel does right is tuition pricing. Students pursuing an MS in Electrical Engineering will pay $1,157 per credit, regardless of whether they’re taking classes online or on campus. Same school, same cost, same diploma.

How to position online degrees at your university

With what we’ve learned from these three case studies in mind, here are a few pointers for improving the positioning of your university’s online program.

  1. DON’T position online programs as something different. This includes what you call it and how it’s priced. Resist the urge to develop a separate online sub-brand. Instead, focus on leveraging the university’s rich history and brand equity. Charging the same (or more) per credit hour for in-person and online degrees will further underscore the fact that it’s the same high-quality education.
  2. DO use a single website and admissions process for online and on-campus degrees. Creating, marketing, and maintaining separate websites for the same degree is both confusing and costly. If you want students to see online programs as the same, then stop branding them separately. The process students use when gathering information and applying should be identical for both options.
  3. DO provide tools for students to compare on-campus and online programs. Not all degrees may be offered online, and that’s okay. What’s important is that the two options are placed side by side and shown as equals in terms of educational quality. Be sure to focus on how the programs are the same: tuition costs, degrees offered, and other factors such as whether or not an internship is required.

Do the positioning challenges described here ring true for your college or university’s online degree program? What else could be done to improve the experience for students and increase enrollment at your school? Let’s talk.

This article is also published on Medium.