University of North Carolina Wilmington

Brand · Integrated Marketing · Web

To position the University of North Carolina Wilmington in advance of a major capital campaign, UNCW had to confront a longstanding brand challenge. 

Brand Identity Crisis

For decades, UNCW was misperceived as a “beach school” – a place where the laid-back learner could coast through college when the more prestigious schools were out-of-reach options. Meanwhile, the campus community had been divided on UNCW’s relationship with their oceanside location, where it was taboo in some circles to even mention the ocean in marketing efforts.

Upcycling “Beach School” Perceptions

Audiences (particularly those in-state) knew of UNCW because it was the university at the beach. Through our discovery work, we learned that many students and alumni embraced the beach town differentiator as a point of pride that made them feel connected to the environment and their community.

The Importance of the Ocean 

UNCW’s environmental- and marine-science division was a centerpiece in their portfolio of academic offerings – a differentiator that helped us capitalize on UNCW’s most recognizable feature and shape perceptions among audiences of potential donors.

Shaped By Our Surroundings

One brand pillar – Shaped By Our Surroundings – was critical in repositioning the university away from the beach town stigma to one that speaks to the importance of the ocean as not just an environmental force, but also one for commerce, literature, art, and other hallmarks of progress.

Our proximity to the ocean and inland waterways is woven into the fabric of who we are, but it goes deeper than our internationally-respected marine, ocean, and environmental sciences programs. It would be impossible to study the world – its art, its engines of commerce, its literary history – without considering the importance of the sea as both an inspiration and a facilitator.

Excerpt from UNCW’s shaped by our surroundings brand pillar

A New & Empowered Relationship to the Ocean

Our brand work with the university allowed UNCW to lean into their oceanside position in ways that reinforce and build on the positive impressions that many alumni associate with the time as UNCW students, and stands to transform the way the entire university recruits, engages, and enrolls students.

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Integrated Marketing