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Branding From Scratch: Creating a New Identity for an Established Institution (a Case Study)

by Abigail James  |  
November 29, 2005

With more than 30 different visual presentations of the University of the Pacific's name in use, and at least that many different messages going to its many publics, the university was a prime candidate for a branding project. But how do you combine a collegial and scholarly university culture, with a penchant for getting things done deliberately and with consensus, with a high-concept marketing-behemoth project like branding?

With the help of partners from Boston and San Francisco, Pacific was able to bridge these two worlds in order to choose a new visual identity and agree on and adopt key messages about the university that appeal and apply to a wide variety of customers and stakeholders.

History of University of the Pacific

University of the Pacific is a private, independent California university with campuses in Stockton, Sacramento and San Francisco. The first university chartered in California, University of the Pacific was founded in 1861 by Methodist ministers. It was one of hundreds of other similar institutions started during that period that eventually foundered. But University of the Pacific survived and at times flourished, aided by an innovative and charismatic president who took advantage of newly available state funds for higher education.

Ups and downs highlight the history of this university, with innovative solutions to higher education coming on the brink of failure. The most recent threat occurred in the early 1990s, when the university was put on notice that its accreditation was in jeopardy. A new president and sound fiscal management have allowed the university to grow both its enrollment, now at an all-time high, and to update and expand its facilities. Four years ago, in 2001, it launched a seven-year, $200 million comprehensive capital campaign which has brought in more than $170 million. This target amount is almost triple the goal for the previous campaign, concluded in 1997.

The Competitive Environment

Though private, University of the Pacific competes directly with California's public universities in all areas: for students, philanthropic dollars and media coverage. Its location in the Central Valley of Northern California pits it against University of California Davis and Sacramento State University in Sacramento (45 miles to the north), and Universities of California at Berkeley, Santa Cruz and San Francisco, as well as San Francisco State University and San Jose State University (90 miles to the west). Moreover, more than 15 institutions of higher education have the word "Pacific" in their name. Therefore, the environment for the branding effort was a challenging one.

Internal Structure

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Abigail James is a marketing consultant and freelance writer for the financial services industry; she is based in Baltimore.

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