Since 2001, Colleges of Distinction has been successfully helping graduating high school students choose the right college. Having built a national following with this audience, they were primed to expand to serve adult students, too. They needed an experienced and strategic branding partner to develop and launch the new suite of services.
We brought the process and vision to develop a name, visual identity system, and website for our client’s new brand, positioning them to compete with major national players in the college guidance market.
What we did
Colleges of Distinction helps students choose the right school, profiling programs from high-quality institutions and offering helpful advice on college selection and admissions. After establishing a national following of traditional-age students (18–21), they set out to create a new brand focused on degree-seeking adults.
They had four audiences in mind: adults pursuing a bachelor’s degree, as well as graduate students, nursing students, and MBA students.
At first, they called the new brand “Finish College.” But this name really only worked for one of their target audiences. For nursing, MBA, or other graduate-level students, it wasn’t relevant and didn’t appeal.
To find a name that did, they approached the MAC.
As soon as we started discussions, it was clear the MAC is very qualified. Their attention to detail, knowledge of our industry, and friendly, accommodating attitude put them head and shoulders above other firms.
Our client also requested a custom plugin and web audit for the WordPress website they were building in-house. But as they got a feel for our process and began to see the deliverables firsthand, the scope of our engagement swiftly grew to include branding, messaging, web design, and web development.
Good thing, too — because the strategic challenges hiding just under the surface required solutions that could pull their weight.
The project needed a name that would resonate with four unique audiences at different stages of their educational path.
Drawing from our competitive analysis, market research, and audience surveys, we created the name Abound to evoke overflowing opportunity: an idea that appeals to all degree-seeking adults, no matter how their personal goals may differ.
Abound tailors its services to a diverse range of adult degree-seekers. It needed to make these offerings distinct, while tying them all together within one identity system.
We created a family of sub-brands under the Abound umbrella, each with a signature hue. Using color to differentiate allows the other branding elements to stay consistent and build continuity. Likewise, all four colors are represented in the primary Abound logo.
Abound awards badges to the schools it recognizes for excellence. These badges need to make space for a lot of text: program name, year, area of excellence, and location. Our client also needed the freedom to edit badges and create new ones down the road, while ensuring that every badge would remain consistent and on-brand.
To accommodate volume and complexity, we selected a simple, condensed typeface. We then developed templates for long, medium, and short names for each sub-brand, delivered as Adobe Illustrator files, with live text that can be modified directly by the Abound team.
Abound provides guidance on schools across the US. They needed a website that could accommodate thousands of colleges, many with more than one campus, where each location may offer different programs and class types (online, on campus, or hybrid).
We developed a database that lets users filter schools by college, program, class type, location, and more. The structure is smart and flexible: for example, if a student searches for all class types in their area, the results will not only include on-campus programs in their zip code, but also online programs across the US that meet their home state’s accreditation requirements.
The “Finish College” audience has specific messaging needs that set it apart from the other three audiences that Abound serves.
Adult students returning to school face a confidence gap: wondering if they belong, questioning their chance of success. We built our messaging on implicit respect for their abilities (to encourage them to believe in themselves), a tone of aspiration (to stoke their enthusiasm), and an inclusive reading level (to make it effortless).
The name Abound evokes an abundance of opportunity. We wanted that feeling to come through on every level, so we built the logo on a letter A that’s bursting out, open and unconstrained — then carried the angle of the A into all the sub-brands, too.
As a college guidance service, Abound needs to feel collegiate, but not institutional, so we gave the A soft, rounded corners. It needs to feel mature, but also optimistic and approachable — so we developed a bright palette with a neutral wordmark that makes the colors pop, paired with a transitional serif font that feels solid, never stuffy.
We designed the pieces of the web page to suggest motion, as if they’d flown in from the side. We also created an open-ended honeycomb texture, subtly reiterating the shape of the badges.
We then created multiple variations of the logo so it could display optimally on both desktop and mobile. Without this flexibility, the tagline on mobile would have been too small to read.
As for functionality?
The website includes custom search filters, custom social integration, IP-based location tracking (so users can see featured schools near them), lead generation forms, and flexible navigation systems.
Additionally, each sub-brand has a fully-functional microsite under the global Abound domain. The website also includes a custom SVG map, where every pixel corresponds to specific longitude/latitude coordinates; this interactive map lets users narrow their search by clicking the state they’re interested in.
We were surprised at how versatile the MAC is. The work is comprehensive; it has made launching the brand that much easier.
Our client came to us for a name — then realized we had the chops to deliver a strategic identity and a robust, custom website to address complex branding challenges, position them to compete with national consumer guides, and speak with hope and optimism to today’s students.