Colleges of Distinction wanted to launch a new suite of college guidance services, expand into an underserved market, and compete with major national players. But they faced complex challenges. To overcome those, they turned to the MAC.
Since 2001, Colleges of Distinction has built a successful national brand helping high school graduates find the right college. They profile programs from high-quality institutions and offer advice on college selection and admissions, so students can identify the program that’s not just best, but best for them.
As the student population in the United States shifts to adult students (age 24 and older), our client saw an opportunity to offer the same services to degree-seeking adults. But within the first few strides, they ran into some complex challenges that required input from an experienced partner — so they hired the MAC.
After doing the research to understand our client’s challenges, we saw that this project needed an elegant solution. The brand and website had to integrate significant complexity, unifying many moving pieces into a seamless whole.
With our eye on that goal, we created an overarching identity system with four distinct sub-brands, then developed a multi-faceted web presence with layers of custom functionality and four microsites, to meet the needs of every audience that Abound serves.
Our client began their project in-house, calling the new brand “Finish College.” But this name really only worked for adult undergrads. For other audiences (nursing, MBA, and other graduate-level students), it wasn’t relevant and didn’t appeal.
Then, while planning the new WordPress website, they realized they would need a custom plugin. They also wanted to confirm that the scope and quality of their in-house website was on target.
To address these needs, Colleges of Distinction 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.
After getting a feel for our process and seeing the first deliverables roll in, they decided to expand the scope of our engagement to include branding, messaging, web design, and web development.
Colleges of Distinction had three business goals for their new suite of services:
- Compete with national consumer guides in the college guidance market
- Tap the growing, underserved market of degree-seeking adults
- Brand the project as a unified whole while meeting the conflicting needs of four separate audiences
As our team dug into the project, we discovered that our client’s core strategic challenge lay at the intersection of “one” and “many.”
One brand, many expressions
The new project serves a range of adult degree-seekers at different stages on their educational path. It had to make these offerings distinct, while tying them together within one identity system.
One badge, many variations
Our client awards badges to the schools it recognizes for excellence. These badges have to hold a lot of text: program name, year, area of excellence, and location. Our client also needed to be able to edit badges and create new ones down the road, while ensuring that every badge would remain consistent and on-brand.
One guidance system, many schools
Our client provides guidance on schools across the US. Their website would have to include thousands of colleges, many of which have more than one campus, with different locations offering different programs and class types (online, on campus, or hybrid).
It was time to bring all of these pieces together.
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.
Then we created a family of sub-brands under the Abound umbrella, each with a signature hue. Using color as the distinguishing element allowed all the other elements to stay the same, building visual continuity. With all four colors represented in the primary Abound logo, it expresses an overarching unity that ties them all together.
To accommodate the volume and complexity of the badges that Abound awards to excellent programs, we selected a simple, condensed typeface, developed templates for long, medium, and short variations, and produced them within each sub-brand.
To make it possible for our client to edit badges and develop new ones on the fly, we delivered the templates as Adobe Illustrator files with live text that can be modified in-house.
For the Abound website, we developed a custom database that lets users filter schools by college, program, class type, location, and more.
Its 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.
We also gave the website a custom SVG map, where every pixel corresponds to a specific longitude and latitude. This interactive map allows users to narrow their search by clicking the state they’re interested in.
Within the overarching Abound website, each sub-brand has a fully-functional microsite, equipped with 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.
Our client came to us for a name — then realized we had the chops to deliver the strategic higher ed branding identity they needed for the specific challenges they faced.
The MAC developed a robust custom website and a seamless visual identity, both of which turn an extremely complex structure into a user experience that feels simple and coherent.
We were surprised at how versatile the MAC is. The work is comprehensive. It’ll make launching the brand that much easier.
Ultimately, we positioned our client to compete with national consumer college guides, tap into an underserved market, and speak with hope and optimism to today’s students.
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