In two identical presentations on May 1, Mark Neustadt of Neustadt Creative Marketing unveiled Brandeis’ new brand platform. Developed from over a year of conversations with the Brandeis community, the platform includes a new visual identity system centered around a new logo, and a brand narrative that highlights the University’s “connectivity.” It is set to launch on Aug. 1.

Neustadt, an external partner who specializes in marketing strategies for educational institutions, worked with the Office of Communications to develop the brand narrative. Interim Senior Vice President of Communications Bill Walker and Assistant Vice President for Communications and External Relations Max Pearlstein also spoke at the presentations, and they joined Neustadt for an interview with the Justice after the evening event.

At the beginning of his presentation, Neustadt explained that the purpose of the brand platform was to address the fact that “Brandeis suffers from a lack of external visibility” and “should be better known … and better understood.” The brand platform helps “build awareness” of the University by repeating “certain themes, certain cues and certain visual references.”

The platform aims to create a cohesive identity for Brandeis, resolving the current “profusion of different ‘looks’ around Brandeis, and a profusion of different narratives of what Brandeis is,” Neustadt explained. He showed a PowerPoint slide filled with logos for different schools, centers, institutes and programs at the University, which used different fonts, colors and design styles. The new visual identity system will provide a model for unifying the University’s “chaotic” visual representations.

Neustadt described a brand narrative as what differentiates Target and Walmart — even though both stores are essentially the same, and customers have never blatantly been told the differences between their identities, customers understand that the two stores are not interchangeable because they have different brand narratives. Brand narratives are never ‘told’ to anyone, but they inform the way the institutions position and market themselves. 

The University’s brand narrative is oriented around Brandeis’ “core differentiator”: a “particular connectivity” that unites students, faculty and staff in collaborative, multidisciplinary ways. 

Both Pearlstein and Neustadt agreed that the University has needed this project for a while. In an email to the Justice, Director of Media Relations Julie Jette explained that the University did not have a brand narrative before undertaking this project. Neustadt clarified during his presentation that Brandeis “doesn’t actually have a logo right now”; a variety of different watermarks are currently available through the Office of Communications, and different groups within Brandeis do not have standardized logos that correspond to a central University logo.

Neustadt stressed, however, that the work Brandeis faculty, students and community members do is “the most important messaging that Brandeis puts out” — not the brand platform. The platform simply serves as an “anchor” or a “foundation” for communicating the work the University creates.

He also acknowledged that people at Brandeis, and at many other educational institutions, are distrusting or skeptical of attempts to market their school. “People are right to be suspicious of marketing because they think what you’re doing is, you’re taking their experience and you’re making it shallow,” Neustadt said during the interview. “You have to work really, really hard to be authentic.”

This challenge is especially relevant to Brandeis because “you can’t pretend Brandeis is exactly like any other institution,” Neustadt said. It is “a place you need to know very well,” and “a place you need to love.” Having already worked on a variety of communications and marketing projects for the University over the last few years, Neustadt came into this project familiar with the institution and its unique qualities.

But Neustadt did not rely on his prior research work for crafting this platform. Instead, those leading this project worked closely with community members to develop the narrative and visual identity system. The team conducted group and individual interviews with Brandeis faculty, deans, staff, administrators, Trustees, current undergraduate and graduate students and alumni. According to Neustadt’s presentation, they consulted with over 40 offices, research centers and institutes on campus in total.

Although they also spoke to alumni and prospective undergraduate students, the team focused primarily on internal audiences like staff and current students. This was to ensure that they were building a picture of the University that resonated with those currently inside it, before broadcasting that picture to external groups.

“You don’t make up [a good brand] out of your head,” Neustadt said in the interview. “A good brand is there, and part of what you do is polish it off and bring it into the light.”

Pearlstein stressed the importance of taking the time — over a year, in this case — to talk to the community. “It took a year’s worth of conversations, and tweaking and getting feedback, in order for us to get to this point,” he told the Justice.

Now that the platform has been developed, it will launch at the beginning of August, although Neustadt explained that there will be a transitional process as groups on campus gradually move over to using the new visual system.

The new visual identity system centers around the logo, or watermark, which includes a redesigned seal and the words “Brandeis University” in new, custom fonts. Looking closely, one will realize that the “r” and the “a” have been customized to be closer together; the designers did this intentionally to help resolve the way these letters “bump into” each other normally, leaving space between their lower halves.

With this new visual system, the Brandeis seal can be used “more pervasively” than it is in the current system. In an email to the Justice, Pearlstein explained that only the Office of the President currently uses the seal. “There’s a lot of affection around the seal,” Neustadt said. Although the team intended not to change the seal, they ended up making minor changes to “increase the visibility,” such as enlarging the outer ring’s text, the shield’s Hebrew script and the three flames.

Alternate versions of the logo include different combinations of these core elements, allowing for design flexibility. The system also creates a standardized logo for the schools, centers and institutes on campus, as well as projects or centers within those subgroups. The system also standardizes the school colors and establishes fonts for print materials.

The idea of “connectivity” is the core of the brand narrative, stemming from the fact that Brandeis is smaller than most research universities.

“Brandeis has a culture where people connect across the institution,” Neustadt said, such as when students pursue multiple majors and minors in varying disciplines or join a large variety of clubs. This is both “attractive” to prospective community members and “distinctive” among universities, Neustadt argues, making it a good foundation for the brand narrative. This idea connects directly to University President Ron Liebowitz’s Framework for the Future, which highlights Brandeis’ “porousness and connectivity.” Liebowitz did not respond to a Justice request for comment by press time.

Neustadt stressed that brands need to align with the reality of an institution while also providing a direction for the University to move forward. He believes that the idea of connectivity fits both criteria.

According to Neustadt’s presentation of the narrative, other key characteristics of the University include Brandeis’ production of “important, daring, and consequential scholarship” and its students’ desire to learn in multidisciplinary ways. It also includes the view that Brandeis was founded by the American Jewish community and thus has always welcomed people “from all backgrounds.” Additionally, Brandeis’ “deep commitment to social justice” is mentioned, as is its close proximity to Boston. 

Finally, the narrative includes a sketch of the University’s “personality,” describing it as “inquisitive,” “considerate, genuine, and friendly” and “embracing of the unconventional and creative.” It also asserts that Brandeis is “inviting and open to engaging across difference, even if that requires uncomfortable conversations, with the goal of making Brandeis and the world a better place.”

The Justice surveyed 204 students and alumni — graduates from 2018 all the way back to 1965 — about the brand platform. Half of those surveyed reported that they liked the new logo, with about a third being neutral to it. When asked which logo they prefer out of the new watermark or an option that is currently available through the Office of Communications, 54.5 percent said they favored the new logo and 40.5 percent favored the current one. Negative comments on the logo frequently focused on disliking the font or the relationship between the “r” and the “a” in “Brandeis.”

Illustration: Natalia Wiater

60.8 percent either agreed or strongly agreed that Brandeis is defined by a “particular connectivity,” with even more agreeing that it is inquisitive (61.4 percent) and friendly (67.8 percent). 55.9 percent of respondents said Brandeis embraces the unconventional or creative. Only 50.3 percent agreed that Brandeis is open to engaging across lines of difference, even if it requires difficult conversations, and 22.6 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, the largest negative response of any of the personality questions.

The Justice also asked respondents for three words they would use to describe the University’s personality. They overwhelmingly characterized Brandeis as academic, intellectual, friendly, hard-working, studious, dedicated to social justice, passionate and Jewish. These reports echo parts of the key characteristics and personality traits listed in the narrative. 

The idea of connectivity was not directly mentioned, but respondents routinely highlighted the campus’ “community,” and individuals characterized it as “collaborative” and “tight-knit.” Additionally, although respondents rarely described the University’s personality as unconventional or creative, they called it “quirky” over a dozen times. Supporting the result that communicating across lines of difference is less prevalent in Brandeis’ current identity, this theme was mentioned less frequently than the others listed above. 

Some respondents used the phrases “hypocritical,” “racism” and “not actually being a welcoming university to marginalized communities” to characterize the University, and described the administration as a “mask of social justice.” Other responses to the survey wondered how much the brand platform cost and questioned whether this was an appropriate use of University funds when “there are some real issues going on at this school,” such as concerns over racism in community policing, divestment and accessibility for students with disabilities. In an email to the Justice, Jette explained that the University does not disclose salaries or consulting fees, “except when required to do so by government regulations.”

During the interview, Pearlstein clarified that the narrative is not supposed to be “the full story” of Brandeis and that community members should “interpret [it] through [their] own lens.”

—Natalia Wiater contributed reporting.