Phase 5: Implementation

The Think Big brand strategy was established at the end of 2019. Implementation began in early 2020. The strategy has inspired several initiatives that seek to express and deliver on a promise that prioritizes purpose, well-being and career for our students.

Creative Strategy

Those who have participated in or learned about Think Big get excited because we are WMU insiders who care deeply about these ideas. But like Starbucks' brand strategy of "third place" or Apple's ubiquitous connectivity—every brand strategy needs a creative strategy to capture the imagination of its prospects and external audience. The creative strategy expresses the brand in an arresting, provocative and persuasive way.

We began work on the creative strategy with the brand strategy as a foundation.  It started with about 30 initial ideas that we distilled down to three concepts—frameworks that transform our internal graphs, charts and models into the compelling emotions, ideas, sights and sounds that move our audience to action. According to concept testing with our target audiences, the concept that was the most compelling, effective, authentic and differentiating was:


What is smart? Smart is curiosity and creativity. Smart is seeing order where others see clutter. It's nimbly navigating the inevitability of change while not losing your own internal compass.

WMU is redefining success as we expand what it means to be smart in an ever-changing world. We prepare students from around the globe for a life well lived by helping them to pursue, thrive and prosper in their everyday living so that they can make a meaningful impact on society.

To obtain a copy of the full creative strategy, please contact the Office of Marketing and Strategic Communications. As you review it, you'll find that fresh words and visuals express the ideas in the brand strategy. Purpose becomes the active verb "pursue," well-being becomes "thrive" and career becomes "prosper." And when you look at the totality of the strategy, you can see the overall impression of a university that offers a holistic experience that prepares students to overcome inevitable challenges.

Advertising campaigns elicit subjective reactions. For every campaign, some like it, and some do not. That is why our efforts are research informed. What we really want to know is whether the campaign is effective. From the beginning, we have defined an effective brand strategy and creative strategy as real, relevant and rare. RethinkSmart delivers on these criteria, based on our research.

We re-engaged SimpsonScarborough, a highly regarded national research firm, to conduct the concept testing. The same firm conducted the research that informed the brand strategy. In this testing, they surveyed 1,460 prospective students (both graduate and undergraduate), parents of prospective students,  current students (both graduate and undergraduate), and guidance counselors and alumni. Here's what they found:

Relevant and Effective

  • 92% of influenceable undergraduate prospects said RethinkSmart increases their interest in attending WMU—more than any other concept. "Influenceable" means they were considering WMU, but it was not among their top five when surveyed.
  • 85% of guidance counselors who were ambivalent about WMU when surveyed said RethinkSmart increased their likelihood to recommend WMU to their students—more than any other concept.
  • 81% of graduate prospects who were not considering WMU when surveyed said RethinkSmart increases their interest in WMU.
  • 68% of undergraduate prospects not considering WMU when surveyed said RethinkSmart increases their interest in attending WMU.

Real and Rare

  • Across all audiences, RethinkSmart was the concept rated as most differentiating, most like WMU today and most like what WMU should be in the future. Agreement on these dimensions across all audiences ranged from 69% to 90%.

RethinkSmart will launch in early September with an entirely new suite of recruitment materials for admissions and a new marketing campaign locally, as well as in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Chicago, Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, with digital support throughout Michigan. We will also enhance our media pitching with stories that reinforce our messages.

Well-being (Thrive)

A new Integrated Well-being Team is evaluating wellness from a Universitywide view. They are examining how to integrate existing and new services to create a unified experience to help all students thrive.

The Wellness Model

The team adopted a Universitywide wellness model that will be used to consistently to conceptualize and enhance well-being for students and employees at WMU.

You at College

In fall 2020, we will launch YOU at WMU, a personalized, smartphone-enabled wellbeing portal for every student. It will allow students to set and monitor their wellness goals on eight dimensions. Based on preferences, goals and progress, they’ll get personalized content and resources.


Also in the fall, WMU will launch WellTrack. The smartphone-based app helps students understand their mental health. It provides immediate mental health help through online tools and courses that help students identify, understand and manage mental health issues. WellTrack will supplement counseling services at Sindecuse Health Center.

Purpose (Pursue) and Career (Prosper)

How do we create a seamless experience for students that integrates their transition to college, advising and career services? How do we embrace students who are exploring possible majors and pursuing their purpose? These are the questions that are being addressed by the One WMU initiative. Provost Jennifer Bott will soon announce a new approach to the student experience.