Rise and Shout: Helping BYU Take Its Brand to a Bigger Audience

young adult male using a stethoscope on a young child

Lipman Hearne and Brigham Young University go way back—we started working with the Provo-based institution in 2016 on a brand and messaging project for the Marriott School of Business.

In 2019, the university came to Lipman Hearne with a new assignment: create a university-wide brand and identity system. Internal alignment—around both a brand story and an identity system—was the big concern; in the absence of a core story and consistently implemented logo, communications were siloed and fragmented, and logos for everything from academic departments to the university-run laundry proliferated.

“I think we were really not so different from many big universities, where people thought that if their unit had a good story and a logo that was working for them, that was enough,” says Mike Roberts, managing director, BYU Alumni and External Relations, and a veteran of corporate branding and marketing.

The metrics that generally drive branding—enrollment and philanthropy—weren’t really at issue. BYU, which is considered highly selective, enjoys the biggest on-campus undergraduate enrollment among private colleges in the United States. Rankings are excellent both for the overall undergraduate experience and for specific programs (it has a top undergraduate accounting program, and its animation program has become a feeder school for major Hollywood studios). Significant portions of university operating costs are paid with the tithes of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which ensures BYU’s tuition consistently places it among the “Best Value” schools in the country.

“Because we were doing well in those two dimensions—enrollment and philanthropy—it precluded us from feeling the urgency about our brand that many other universities may feel,” says Roberts.

But as the brand project got underway, Roberts says, the university began to see it could be something more: a first-ever attempt to truly steward BYU’s brand narrative with external audiences as well. For years, the heavy brand lifting had been done by athletics: “We figured everyone sees us on ESPN, so everyone knows us,” Roberts says. “But we began to realize this was an opportunity to truly step back and understand our brand promise and why it was important—particularly as it relates to audiences outside of campus. Those audiences didn’t know us as a faith-based institution of higher education with some really excellent programs. And we had church members who hadn’t gone to BYU but were huge fans of our athletics, and even they weren’t fully aware of the quality of the experience.”

The lack of a strong, cohesive brand was a particular issue for anyone on campus who worked with the potential employers of students. “There were a lot of misperceptions ready to fill that vacuum, and it was affecting decisions recruiters were making,” Roberts says.

Lipman Hearne conducted interviews and group discussions with people from across the BYU community: leadership, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and donors. The insights we gathered became the basis for national brand research—both qualitative and quantitative—including surveys with students, faculty, staff, alumni, employment partners, Church members, and the general public as well as focus groups and individual interviews with key audiences.

The insights helped establish gaps in awareness and understanding and uncovered different levels of affiliation among different audiences. Those insights became the basis for a brand platform and messaging, which we then tested with alumni, students, faculty, staff, and BYU communicators.

With the messaging enthusiastically endorsed, we created an identity system that streamlined, corralled, and clarified the wide range of BYU enterprises into a small number of easy-to-understand categories: Academics and Support Services, Outreach and Extracurriculars (BYU has a several globally renowned performance groups), Businesses (a number of retail and dining operations use BYU in their name), and Athletics and Teams.

The next step was to put the brand into action. We helped our BYU partners conduct messaging workshops and began work on messages for individual academic units. In 2021, we created a national awareness, cross-platform campaign—For the Benefit of the World. Although the ads didn’t have a specific call to action, they were clearly compelling: a large number of visitors to the campaign site are spending twice the average time on site, with the majority of visits coming from states with historically low awareness of BYU.

The brand work and campaign have gained attention at the highest level of the Church—a good sign of buy-in, Roberts says. “I think there was skepticism at first about whether an agency that didn’t have connections to the Church or wasn’t based in Salt Lake City could really understand us,” says Roberts. “But Lipman Hearne now has a lot of fans.”