Wonky Higher Ed Branding: American University, One-Word Wonder


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Sure, your brand needs to “own a word” in the minds of your customers. But what if some think it’s an insult?

Ken Steele has been a higher ed brand consultant for decades, working with hundreds of institutions across North America. He’s seen plenty of “one-word wonders” – college or university brands that focus on a single word. But no doubt, one of his favourites came from American University, in Washington DC, back in 2010.

“Capitalizing” on their location in Washington DC, AU built their brand position around the idea that their students, faculty and alumni are “wonks”. Not just policy wonks or journalism wonks, but all kinds of wonks. The result was a fun, memorable brand with “legs.”

We feature excerpts from a documentary on the AU Brand, “Get to Know Wonk,” from October 2011. (The original source is no longer available online.)

Another AU branding documentary, appears on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/60581638

We also use an excerpt from AU’s 30 sec commercial, “All the Wonks are Talking”: https://youtu.be/GVzH0v78iYE

Whenever an institution tries to distill its identity into a single word, it runs the risk of upsetting campus stakeholders who see it as a gross oversimplification. But in recent years, there have been more and more of these “one-word wonders” in higher ed branding! Next week, Ten with Ken will examine 10 recent examples in a full-length episode.

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