This is Gardner-Webb: Defining the GWU Brand

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On Wednesday, April 2, Gardner-Webb University will celebrate the launch of the new brand logo, which represents the institution’s foundational pillars.  At 4:30 p.m., the University family will meet at the Quad for a flag-raising ceremony, which will be followed by a cookout from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

How does a small, Christian university stand out among the ever-increasing amount of brand clutter in higher education?







The world of higher education is changing. The value of a college degree has been questioned in recent years, leading to a more competitive university market. Nearly all institutions of higher education are being forced to rethink the way they present themselves to the world or risk getting left behind. The faculty, staff, alumni, students, community, and anyone associated with Gardner-Webb University, know it is a special place. They have walked the halls. They have seen the passion of the faculty. They have all come to know and love Gardner-Webb as a warm and welcoming community. To them, it is home. But for many prospective students and the general public beyond the region, the name Gardner-Webb University does not resonate those qualities. To them, it is an unknown. Many of them have never set foot on the beautiful Boiling Springs campus, nor explored the opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, professional and online learning. Neither have they met with the passionate faculty or experienced the deep partnership between the University, the student, and Christ. Yet when one asks what makes Gardner-Webb so special, it comes back to the unique relationships formed between the University, its students and Christ. So how does a small, Christian university stand out among the ever-increasing amount of brand clutter in higher education?





Outside of the region, the Gardner-Webb brand is not as well-known as it could be. In order to change this, the University has committed to instilling a strong, positive focus on sharing the Gardner-Webb stories with greater emphasis. To help accomplish this, Gardner-Webb has partnered with VisionPoint Marketing to help them meet their enrollment, branding, fundraising and communication goals.





VisionPoint Marketing conducted research, analyzed data and competitor alignment, audited existing marketing materials and initiatives, and explored anything else they could about the Gardner-Webb experience. They also hosted a “listening tour” to hear the thoughts and opinions of GWU stakeholders. They met with students, prospective students, alumni, faculty and leadership across the Gardner-Webb community. VisionPoint’s Vice President of Strategy and Creative Tony Poillucci shares, “It was amazing how consistent the message was from everyone. There was a strong consensus that Gardner-Webb’s focus is always where it needs to be: on the students above anything else.”





When the re-brand initiative began, the question was asked: What does Gardner-Webb University stand for and what can it “own”? “When defining a brand, you want to highlight those traits that are most compelling to your target audiences, but you also need to make sure these things are authentic,” Poillucci said. “Brand pillars and attributes are the foundation of your marketing and communications platform.” Leveraging everything they learned, VisionPoint conducted a brand message workshop with participants from across the Gardner-Webb community in order to define the brand pillars and attributes. Brand attributes are traits that help define the personality and culture of an organization. Gardner-Webb’s attributes are:

  • Accepting and Welcoming Environment – It’s safe to truly be yourself at Gardner-Webb.
  • Dedicated and Passionate Community – Dedication, passion and hard work lead to success. You’ll see these qualities every day at Gardner-Webb.
  • Faith in Action – At Gardner-Webb, Christian values are exhibited through doing, not just saying.
  • Aware and Globally Conscious – Gardner-Webb’s campus may be in a small, rural town in western N.C., but the University is filled with people who understand how the issues of the world impact them and how they, in turn, can impact the world.

Brand pillars focus on what an organization actually delivers. They are typically more about benefits and differentiators.

  • Christian Community – Gardner-Webb’s values and belief system are founded on the ways of Christ.
  • Partners – Gardner-Webb is a true partner in a student’s academic, spiritual and professional journey, even beyond graduation.
  • Student-Centered – Students are always the focus at Gardner-Webb. Nothing should get in the way of that.
  • Small School, Small Town – You’re going to get all the wonderful benefits that come with a small town and a small school.
  • Preparing Students Broadly and Deeply – Gardner-Webb is a liberal arts university that provides students with a well-rounded experience and skill set, while also training students with deep expertise in specific disciplines.
  • Challenging and World-class Academics – Gardner-Webb’s curriculum and passionate faculty members continually challenge students to achieve at the highest level, and it shows in the reputation and quality of the University’s programs.




With the pillars and attributes defined, it was time to extend the brand into the visual realm, and while a brand is much more than a logo, designing the logo was a crucial part of the process. It was important to all involved that this new logo become more than an interesting design. It had to tell a story. It was decided that two of the brand pillars—student-centered and partners—needed to become most apparent in the University’s future promotional materials, including its new logo. The interactive design process was shared with the Gardner-Webb community, and after input and dialogue, a logo was created to capture the essence of the Gardner-Webb experience. Gardner-Webb’s new logo is made up of two key parts: the interwoven flames represent the Gardner- Webb student, Christ as the light of the world, and the warm and welcoming environment of the University; while the shield conveys the University’s environment where students are provided a supportive community for spiritual and intellectual growth.

From the start, it was always apparent that Gardner-Webb has a lot to offer the world. With clearly established set of attributes and pillars to lean on, as well as a logo that reflects its true nature, the University now has a brand platform upon which all future marketing and communications efforts will be launched.





“Our brand showcases our vision for Gardner-Webb’s future,” said GWU President Dr. Frank Bonner. “We wanted to identify, in a clear and compelling way, what makes our University truly exceptional and demonstrate the tremendous value of the Gardner-Webb experience. I’m proud to say we’ve done just that.” While spreading the news about Gardner-Webb’s brand is important, VisionPoint believes fulfilling the brand promise must be the core of daily commitment. “This is much more than putting a new logo on shirts, hats and business cards,” Poillucci said.  “It is about living up to the promise made to each student—to keep them fundamental to all University choices and to be lifelong partners through their academic, spiritual and professional journeys.”