Rebranding a university born to challenge conventions

“What’s it like in there?”, a driver asked Juliet Harper as he gave her a lift and nodded towards the concrete gloom: “Funny place to put a uni – they say it’s different to the others, got grades instead of marks and these semesters instead of terms and mothers bring their kids to classes. That right?”.

Juliet Harper remembers above all the hopefulness, the “novelty and sheer possibility of what could be done”, the confidence that “things could be and would be different”.

That’s how one of Macquarie University’s first students remembers the uni over 50 years ago in the book ‘Liberality of Opportunity. A History of Macquarie University 1964-1989’. It was the sixties and a university like no other had just been built among orchards north of Sydney.

Things have changed a lot since then. Macquarie University now lies at the centre of Australia’s largest high-tech precinct. However, over the years, as the world and the city around it kept evolving, the University often struggled with remaining true to its original raison d’etre. What began as a pioneering university – a small but visionary alternative to Australia’s ‘sandstone universities’ – had become just another large, mid-tier uni. A good university for sure, but one whose brand punched below its weight. A brand increasingly seen as a tad ordinary, and confused in its positioning.

After the appointment in 2012 of a new Vice-Chancellor, the University was determined to create all over again a more distinct and inspiring narrative.

This marked the start of two cycles of collaboration with PUSH, in 2013-14 and in 2017, to progressively raise the bar on what Macquarie University stands for, while reflecting on the University’s expanding ambitions and capabilities.

Developing the new brand strategy was a comprehensive effort, aimed at all the University’s stakeholders, starting with staff. It wasn’t to be a conventional marketing exercise, rather the articulation of a ‘shared identity’, as the brand project would be called.

The initial project ran in four phases: discovery, brand strategy, creative development and implementation. It was deeply consultative and focused on Macquarie University as the parent brand, while encompassing all the many entities that form the University – from faculties and schools to research centres, student organisations and partnerships with the business world.

The first iteration of the brand strategy spoke of audacity and breaking free from conventional thinking. A new brand proposition centred on the essence ‘Nurtured to Break Free’, provided the basis for a reinvigorated challenger role in the higher education landscape.

We evolved Macquarie’s visual and verbal identity, projecting the brand into the bigger world with greater salience.

After careful consideration, the existing brandmark – introduced just a few years earlier – was replaced. It had never succeeded in winning the hearts of staff, students or alumni, and was seen as devoid of meaning. The traditional symbol of the University, the Macquarie Lighthouse, has been brought back and reinterpreted in a contemporary manner. This continuity with the University’s creation story is seen as a source of confidence and as the inspiration to explore and experiment.

The new brandmark is surrounded by a new identity. It projects the University’s narrative outside campus life and into the bigger world – engaged with the big issues that will determine the future of humanity. The new identity touches every facet of the University’s communication, allowing it to speak to diverse audiences in different contexts and with different tonalities that clearly emanate from the same brand. It brings flexibility as well as consistency.

Video credits: Creative direction: PUSH Collective | Sonic identity: Samplify | Motion: Gramm

“I have been delighted with the extraordinary work that the PUSH team have done for this amazing project. (…) We would not have been able to move forward in the way that we have, and with such widespread support from our students, staff, alumni and other partners, without your thoughtful, considered and expert help.”

S. Bruce Dowton
Vice-Chancellor and President
Macquarie University

A new brand architecture has been built around a more prominent parent brand and rolled out across the entire University portfolio.

The new brand architecture recognises the diversity and specific requirements of individual entities, while aligning them more closely to Macquarie University as a whole. High-profile institutions such as the prestigious graduate business school, MGSM, and the state-of-the-art hospital on campus have become more clearly part of the bigger Macquarie University story. They lift the profile of their parent brand while benefiting from its authoritativeness.

The new brand strategy and identity were introduced to University staff first with a live Q&A session.

True to the spirit of the ‘Shared Identity’ project, the new brand was released in a town hall-style session with the Vice-Chancellor. It was soon followed by a gala event with alumni and philanthropists against the backdrop of the Sydney Harbour. This was the moment to celebrate the University’s 50th anniversary and be inspired by the ambitiousness of new ‘proof points’: a new Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences was announced, and a new framework established to foster multi-disciplinary research.

PUSH was re-engaged in 2017 to update the brand strategy in light of the University’s expanding portfolio of faculties and deeper engagement with the community.

The new Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences was up and running, overseeing Australia’s first fully integrated academic health sciences centre under a university’s leadership. Macquarie University was also in the process of an ambitious corporate engagement program revolving around the Macquarie Park Innovation District. The original brand strategy was assessed against the evolved University’s strategic plan and capabilities, as well as a new student segmentation model.

Now more than ever, Macquarie wants to be an exemplar of an innovative university that prepares people for the real world. So our brand strategy articulated a clear idea of success to help it deliver: societies, organisations and every one of us need to embrace the future and master complexity to succeed. No single field of knowledge or perspective is sufficient on its own. We need to place ourselves into the bigger context and generate new ideas through collaboration.

Macquarie’s brand essence has evolved into ‘Connected Intelligence’ – an idea that is equally future-focused as it is grounded in the University’s original ethos.

'Macquarie is a university engaged with the real and often complex problems and opportunities that define our lives.

Since our foundation fifty years ago, we aspired to be a different type of university: one unbound by ivory towers and sandstone walls. Rather, we have strived to foster collaboration between students, academics, industry and society, encouraging all to cross the boundaries of their own perspective and effect change.

Over the years, we’ve grown to become the centre of a vibrant local and global community. A place of constant stimulus and human interaction.

Together, we build world-class theoretical thinking and translate it into real world solutions. We're connecting people and ideas across the most diverse fields of knowledge in order to create bold new possibilities: for their careers, enterprises, intellectual endeavours, and the common good.

This is the place where people learn to switch between specialist and generalist mindsets. Where they master complexity, think holistically, and create a better future.'

The evolved brand strategy has become the basis of ‘You to the power of us’, a new communications platform by the Macquarie in-house team and TBWA.

Since the roll-out of the new communications platform, brand tracking in 2018 showed significant increases in brand awareness and consideration among prospective students. Brand association to being ‘innovative’ were up, as well as double-digit growth in recruitment leads. All the while the University has continued to successfully expand its multi-faceted partnerships with local and international corporations, from SingTel Optus to Johnson & Johnson and Konica Minolta.

You might also be interested in