University Community

OHIO delivers unified brand promise

This article was previously printed in the Spring 2021 issue of Ohio Today.

Over the past year, in the midst of everything 2020 threw at us, Ohio University embarked on a journey to better articulate our University’s story—our brand.

Many of you have told us it was a long-overdue endeavor. Still, at times, we found ourselves asking how we could tackle such a project with so many other unexpected priorities demanding attention. But every time we considered setting this work aside, along would come a moment of greatness—an alumni entrepreneur with a life-saving business, a faculty member recognized for research that advances science, health care students eagerly joining the pandemic front lines—to remind us that this story, your story, deserves to be told.

In the midst of troubling times, burdened with the exhaustion of the moment, finding and telling your story, OHIO’s story, served as a reminder of all that we have and all that we are. It became a reminder of the impermanence of the moment and the certainty of better days ahead. For that, we thank you.

Higher Education’s Perfect Storm

The plan to elevate OHIO’s brand came long before COVID. But, like so many things, the pandemic further fueled the challenges that drove the idea in the first place.

For decades, universities have enjoyed a growing market of prospective students, and higher education responded with an eagerness to meet our mission by educating more and more young people—work that fuels our democracy and builds our economy.

But, as the number of college-interested applicants contracts nationwide due to population changes and economic pressures, universities began facing decreases in incoming class sizes and increasingly aggressive competition. Then, 2020 brought a global pandemic that disrupted campus visits and admissions testing and left students questioning whether to attend college at all, leading to a more than 13 percent decline in first-year enrollment among U.S. universities, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse.

A photo of a student painting Forever OHIO on the graffiti wall.
Forever OHIO graffiti wall. Photo by Sarah McDowell, BFA '02

Ohio University finds itself right in the middle of this reality. After having been one of the nation’s fastest-growing public institutions from 2012-2016, OHIO’s first-year undergraduate classes have seen decreases for the past three years, followed by a 2020 decline on trend with the concerning national average. That’s the bad news.

The good news? For starters, OHIO has seen growth in online programs and earned recognition as the No. 1 public university in the state for online education. Plus, our entering student GPA has continued to climb as we attract quality students, and our graduation rates have been on a steady rise as we drive student success.

Most importantly, Ohio University continues to offer the kind of unmatched educational experience that our alumni remember well. Our challenge now is to convince the rest of the world what we already know: that this community, this place, this experience, is one that builds futures and that will become an enduring part of every student who walks these bricks.

Introducing Forever OHIO

With communications, marketing, advancement and enrollment all working together and informed by the students, alumni, faculty and academic leadership that bring our mission to bear, Ohio University began work to develop a unifying brand messaging strategy in January. Informed by market research that was completed in 2019, we dove into the process through conversations with hundreds of stakeholders to better understand the University’s story.

The global pandemic threw the project off its axis momentarily, but in its wake, we realized that the truths discovered in those early 2020 conversations had not changed. A cross-divisional brand steering committee presented the brand strategy and resulting brand platform to focus groups of students and prospects and then to the Board of Trustees in June.

It was clear from the response that we had not only landed on a true, authentic brand position for OHIO, but one that would connect particularly with post-pandemic students:

Ohio University doesn’t simply deliver a degree. It offers an experience that becomes a part of who you are and what you’ll be forever.

In a world in which some schools approach higher education as a set of courses and costs that result in a few letters on your resume and, hopefully, employment—Ohio University promises far more. We promise a supportive, challenging, entrepreneurial, adventurous, unforgettable university community experience. You will forever be a part of that community, and it will forever be a part of you. The concept comes together with the rally cry “Forever OHIO.”

No one knows that better than you. You walked the bricks and through the arches of Alumni Gateway. You remember your professors—and the life lessons they taught you. You’re still connected to classmates. You are living proof that OHIO is forever. This is your brand, your story.

In early November, when OHIO introduced the brand in a new broadcast, digital and social media campaign, we heard from many of you, through your shares, likes, comments and retweets, that this idea resonated. In turn, we began featuring your words on our University home page and our campaign page: Please, don’t stop now. We need your energy, your passion, your dedication and your love for OHIO every day. You are our greatest brand asset, our truest brand story. And we need you to tell it—today, tomorrow and forever.

Forever OHIO.


March 19, 2021
Robin Oliver