Macquarie University: breaking free from conventional thinking

24 February 2015

‘”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 the first students of Macquarie University, 50 years ago, remembers university in the book ‘Liberality of Opportunity. A History of Macquarie University 1964-1989’. It was the 60s, and a new university campus with a distinctive, Brutalist architecture had just been built in the orchards north of Sydney.

Over time the brand had lost the ability to inspire and unite

Things have changed a lot since then, and 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 has struggled to embrace and update its original raison d’etre. What had started as a pioneering university – a small but visionary alternative to the ‘sandstone universities’, at the forefront of many innovations – had become just another large, mid-tier university. By all means a good university, but one whose brand punched below its weight – perceived as being a bit ordinary, and confused in its positioning over the years.

With a new Vice-Chancellor in charge, the University was determined to create a more distinctive and inspiring narrative.

Reclaiming the audacity to challenge conventions

The development of the new narrative was to be approached as a comprehensive effort, aimed at all the University’s stakeholders, starting with its staff. It was not a conventional marketing exercise, but the articulation of a ‘shared identity’, as the brand project would be called.

After a competitive pitching process, PUSH was appointed to run the project. It took place over the course of a year and was structured 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 together form the University – from faculties and schools to research centres, student organisations and partnerships with industry.

The brand strategy has injected a new sense of purpose into Macquarie University and its culture – it speaks of audacity and breaking free from conventional thinking. A new brand proposition centred on the essence ‘nurtured to break free’ establishes a clear link to the University’s creation story, while providing the basis for a challenger role in the higher education landscape and a rich platform for ongoing evolution.

A new visual and verbal identity projects the University’s creation story into the future

Around a more confident parent brand, a new brand architecture was introduced throughout the entire University portfolio. New principles were explored, negotiated and established. They recognise 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 the campus have become more clearly part of the bigger Macquarie University story. They lift the profile of their parent brand while borrowing its strength and authoritativeness.

With the brand proposition and architecture completed, PUSH evolved the visual and verbal brand identity. After careful consideration, the existing brandmark – introduced only a few years earlier – was replaced. Despite all efforts, it had never succeeded in winning the hearts of staff, students or alumni, and was seen as devoid of meaning. In the new brandmark, the traditional symbol of the University, the Macquarie Lighthouse, has been brought back and reinterpreted in a contemporary manner. The 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. This new identity projects the University’s narrative outside campus life and into the bigger world – engaged with the bigger issues that will determine the future of humanity.

The new identity touches every facet of the University’s communication and allows it to speak to different audiences with different tonalities while clearly emanating from the same brand. It brings flexibility as well as consistency.

The roll-out has started from the inside out, with a new faculty and research framework

At the completion of the project, PUSH conducted extensive training to help the University’s in-house staff and its suppliers embrace and apply the new strategy and identity. We also worked closely with Macquarie in the selection and briefing of the advertising agency as well as the architects and artists who will help evolve the campus, making it again a beacon of freedom and optimism for new generations.

True to the spirit of the ‘Shared Identity’ project, the new brand strategy and identity were introduced to the University’s staff first, with a live Q&A session. The event was a success, and was soon followed by a gala with alumni and philanthropists against the magnificent backdrop of the Sydney Harbour. It was the occasion to celebrate the University’s 50th anniversary and be inspired by the ambitiousness of new ‘proof points’: the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences would soon be set up and a new framework established to foster multi-disciplinary research.

Now 50 years old, Macquarie University looks at the future with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence.

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

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

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