NMU’s new ‘Fearless Minds’ Campaign Unfolds

Emma Finkbeiner

Students and faculty informally rejected university plans last year to change “Northern, Naturally” to “Fearless Minds,” but the administration has developed a new campaign to change minds.

Around mid-July the video entitled “NMU: The Movie” was released on the NMU You Tube page as the first creative launch for the new branding campaign. The film was produced by the firm Genesis which is based in Denver, Colo. and was the first step in a gradual release of new branding materials.

“The video was a very visual, very dramatic way to summarize what we are trying to do with branding,” Derek Hall, Assistant Vice President of Identity, Brand, and Marketing said, “Then there’s the website, the advertising, the publications and the stories we tell that all come back to that. The video was a tool to show and introduce the branding concepts.”

NMU announced its newest branding campaign this summer with the release of “NMU: The Movie.” It is available for viewing at www.nmu.edu/why.
NMU announced its newest branding campaign this summer with the release of “NMU: The Movie.” It is available for viewing at www.nmu.edu/why.

Hall disclosed that NMU has since cut ties with the firm that created the video.

“Genesis completed major portions of the original agreement and we are very happy with the creative output, however the decision was made to provide more of these services within the Identity, Brand and Marketing Department,” Hall said.

According to Hall, over a two-year period, Genesis received approximately $220,000 for the following projects: focus groups, view book writing and design, branding video, five admissions publications, web page for admissions (nmu.edu/why), photography, recruitment audit and consultation. Hall stated that looking at the charges from his years of experience, the amount of money spent was reasonable for the production.

Market research showed that NMU is not a known name in lower parts of the Midwest. Hall said that prospective students and parents were more comfortable with the concept of Fearless Minds and the fearless stories than they were with ‘Northern, Naturally.’

“Parents want to know that they’re sending their kids to school,” Hall said. “We’re not a destination resort, we’re an institution of higher education.”

Jessica Thompson, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Communication and Performance Studies Department (CAPS) was particularly against the branding change when the initial leak happened last fall. Since then, however, her opinion has changed.

“Totally against it,” Thompson said. “When it first came out I thought, this is just terrible. Who came up with this? This is not Northern.”

Thompson said that she was very disappointed with the focus groups that were conducted as well. She felt as though the firm working on the branding became defensive in the face of criticism and was disconnected from previous research and NMU’s campus as a whole.

“To my understanding that firm was hired because of who they knew and not because they had any experience working in higher education, which the previous firm had,” Thompson said. “They had done branding and market research with other universities in the Midwest similar to our institution.”

A Genesis spokesperson did not immediately return phone calls, but the company’s website says they are are strategic and creative consultancy who mainly works with companies and organizations on brand, strategy, communications and investor relations:  “We add value through a high-touch partnership, solving strategic problems creatively and creative problems strategically.”

When Thompson’s colleague, Thomas Isaacson, Ph.D., a fellow assistant professor in the CAPS Department, held a 12-week position over the summer working on the branding project, her views began to change. He informed her that the Genesis firm was no longer working on the project and that the university was owning it and bringing the work in-house.

“I never thought I would come around,” Thompson said. “It’s not just that it has grown on me. I’m really proud that Northern has owned it. They know who we are and that is what good branding is.”

Hall emphasized that branding is more than a slogan and that’s why “Fearless Minds” isn’t being used as a primary branding tool. Instead, the office is incorporating the word “fearless” into a storytelling theme.

“The stories we’ll be seeing from the branding campaign will not only highlight all of the amazing things that we’re doing as a university, but it will also feature where we are,” Hall said.

Isaacson reinforced this idea when he shared that he believes when an organization, or university in this case, is trying to change their promotional tactics, one of the best ways to do it is by telling stories.

Hall explained that NMU is engaging in brand management, which involves multiple mediums of promotion with a focus on highlighting real people. These include visuals, stories, logos, a website and eventually the introduction of the full slogan. He made it clear that these components must all work together to create a cohesive brand.

“I’m confident that we will impress people with what’s coming,” Hall said. “We’re starting with admissions and you’ll see some bigger pieces around campus and then we’ll start working with departments. It’s going to take a long time.”