The task of rebranding Whitireia

Published: Wed 23 Mar 2011 04:33 PM
The task of rebranding Whitireia
In late 2010 Whitireia New Zealand rebranded. This was the culmination of three year’s work to bring the identity of the polytechnic into the present. A brand was needed that matched the huge up-scaling of the polytechnic in the 10 years preceding and carried forward the core values of serving the diverse people of the Porirua area, particularly Maori and Pacific people.
It needed a new and contemporary solution that would also be a good fit to significant international market growth experienced by Whitireia. To do this, the process embraced a new New Zealand identity story – the new brand represents and champions the idea of graduates having the best of professional and cultural riches. It is a view of the future of professional New Zealand, as multi-ethnic, empowered and also distinctively kiwi.
“The ethnic diversity of our 10,224 students in 2010 matched the statistical projections for ethnicity in New Zealand in 2020. We found we were already talking about the future face of professional New Zealand,” says Tim Renner, Director of Communications and Marketing Whitireia. This brand project was undertaken by Renner.
Whitireia was opened exactly twenty five years ago, on a muddy reclaimed site on the edge of Parumoana Harbour in a fledgling Porirua City. The city was almost entirely Maori and Pacific and the mission of ‘Parumoana Community College’ was to provide pathways to employment for the communities of this city.
In the beginning over one hundred and twenty community and cultural group representatives vied for a position on the first governance council. When the organisation was renamed Whitireia Community Polytechnic two years later, it was already well on the way to achieving its goal. Staff were inspired by Turoa Royal (the first principal) and everyone mucked in, driven by the strong belief in the educational and economic needs of the area.
The polytechnic has been extremely successful in the twenty five years since inception. Whitireia developed a large campus in Auckland and become one of three large players in international markets in the New Zealand polytechnic sector. Other large campuses had taken off in Wellington City and on the Kapiti Coast. Student numbers (in ‘equivalent full time students’ or EFTS) had jumped from 200 to 2000 in the first fifteen years and then doubled again in the seven years following. This amounted to over 10,000 actual students supported by over 500 staff in 2010.
“The Whitireia legacy is treasured by staff,” says Renner. “The last rebrand in 2004 was undertaken by an external agency. It was always going to be a large task to engage with and inform all our staff and stakeholders, interpret their responses and build understanding and excitement for a brand identity that supported their gut feeling for what Whitireia essentially is and how great the future looks.”
Building understanding for the ways things had changed was an early step The level and specialisation of qualifications had developed at the same rapid pace. By 2010 Whitireia had nine advanced applied degrees in specialised subjects from IT to paramedics. Whitireia had become a leading provider of post graduate nursing qualifications, publishing research and leading national industry bodies.
The brand was out of date. Different campuses were starting to complain about ‘market issues,’ with the brand not representing their qualifications well to their markets. “The design was old fashioned and difficult to use across different media” says Renner. “Strategic concerns about the growth of international markets as well as the government policy context were coming to a head. However this is an organisation that relies on reputation rather than large marketing spend. An internal rebranding process fitted the budget and culture of Whitireia.”
The process kicked off with a brand awareness and perceptions study in the domestic market. Research First in Christchurch won the contract with a three stage study using a telephone survey, student and potential student interviews, high school opinion groups and key stakeholder interviews. The findings started the staff engagement process.
Unsurprisingly, perceptions of Whitireia lagged by at least a decade. “It was wrenching to see perceptions of us as Porirua based only, mistakenly seen as offering low level qualifications. No-one likes to be misunderstood.”
It took a year of ‘internal support building’ to get the brand issues on the table. Using a facilitator, the existing core brand values were examined against strategic directions, in the context of the research findings. A reasonable gap between current activities and the old brand was described. The core values stood, but needed to be extended. Updating the notion of ‘community’ was one very important activity. The old brand was explicitly about local communities. Whitireia had demonstrated that leading with a collaborative, ‘community’ approach was effective on a much larger scale, and the notion of community needed updating to reflect this. Community now covered relationships in a global context - in international educational partnerships, shared research projects with universities, international aid funded training of nurses in the Pacific and so on. The concept of community – working in a collaborative and inclusive framework needed to be extended from ’local geography’ to an idea of horizontal and vertical communities. It was an important redefinition that empowered the brand identity to be rescaled.
Tangerine Design Ltd. joined the project in February 2010. A medium-sized Porirua business, Tangerine had a good understanding of Whitireia and had recently won the contract to produce the Prospectus. “They put forward exploratory ideas for general staff evaluation, they fronted up and assisted with education and communication.” says Renner. “Tangerine had a great sense of what I was trying to achieve using real students and removing barriers to study, they did an astounding design job.”
The new Whitireia identity creates a strong, modern and contemporary image said Stephen Tunley, Managing Director, Tangerine Design Limited. “It was great working with Whitireia on the rebranding of its organisation and we feel we have come up with a new brand that is truly reflective of a dynamic polytechnic that has both a strong national and international focus and one that leads its sector – Whitireia New Zealand” he said.
The development process included internal and external brand perceptions and brand values research. “The new brand talks about the collaborative, community roots that matter to the polytechnic as well as positioning us strongly in domestic and international markets” says Renner. The new Whitireia brand is a bright, contemporary, woven style “W”. “The bright, local colours on black place Whitireia as a standout tertiary education institution from Porirua. The woven style represents relationships that Whitireia fosters: partnering with community, with students, with industry and connecting with the international arena using distinctive New Zealand imagery.”
The brand project achieved an outcome that is inclusive and local while showing the substance, scale and success of Whitireia as an international leader.
It is quite fitting that we are officially launching our new brand this year said Don Campbell, Chief Executive, Whitireia New Zealand. “It was 25 years ago that Whitireia was established on the shores of the Porirua harbour – where it still is today. It was officially opened on the 15 March 1986 as Paramoana Community Polytechnic” he said. The polytechnic has certainly changed during this time and the new brand is a reflection of this change.
The brand was officially launched at a function at Whitireia on Wednesday 15 March, where the work completed by Tangerine was acknowledged along with the commitment of staff and businesses in presenting the new Whitireia identity.
The marketing campaign developed for the Whitireia summer student acquisition and awareness campaign run at the end of 2010 saw a strong use of the new brand and has been well received by all to date.

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