Fall 2016
What's In A Brand?

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

UNR Med branding event

Celebrating a Rebrand

Faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends and donors, regents, University leadership and community partners joined the rebranding celebration on Aug. 8, 2016. Photo by James Rutter.

Rebranding Reveals It's Far More Than Just One Word

Story by Susan Hill, APR

The second Monday in August normally would be a quiet one on the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine campus. With most students still on summer break, first-year students are appearing for their first taste of medical school as they nervously begin their orientation week.

However, Aug. 8, 2016 wasn't a normal mid-summer day. At 11:45 a.m., a drum line began its rat-a-tat-boom routine just outside the school's Center for Molecular Medicine. The parking lot filled as several hundred people arrived for a different sort of event: the School of Medicine's new logo unveiling.

The assembled crowd of faculty and staff members, students, alumni, community faculty and community partners were invited to celebrate the culminating event of more than seven months of intense research, planning, creative and communication efforts to discover the strength of the school's current identity and determine whether the school should change its name and its logo.

Ultimately, after months of research, the answer was yes: a new name, the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine was selected to replace the former name, University of Nevada School of Medicine. The name change was ratified by the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents at its June 10, 2016 meeting and became effective officially on July 1.

Just a month after the new name became official, the logo unveiling event began with introductions by University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson and University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine Dean Thomas Schwenk, M.D. A brief video followed (viewable at med.unr.edu), and with the drama of a drum roll and the bang and flutter of confetti cannons, the new logo was revealed as large banners unfurled from the balcony railings.

"This is a major new phase for the school after 47 years of great history and outstanding performance," said Schwenk.

"This is a new launch, a new era, a new phase, a new vision, and it's incredibly exciting."

Johnson remarked: "What this represents, in part, is an increased investment on the part of the state of Nevada and the Nevada System of Higher Education in the preparation of medical doctors and medical research for the entire state. This has made it possible to identify this school as the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, because we will be starting a second medical school at UNLV, and that is an increased investment of the entire state and the Nevada System of Higher Education."

Discovering What Creates A Brand: Past, Present and Future

The School of Medicine's leaders were searching for a measurement of its brand strength even before NSHE initiated in earnest the process of developing the UNLV School of Medicine in late 2013.

Founded in 1969 as the state's first public medical school, the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medical Sciences began as a two-year medical school, an arrangement which required students to finish their last two years of medical education out of state, until it became a four-year school in 1977. The school underwent several name changes, becoming, briefly, the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine in 1979, then dropping the "Reno" to become University of Nevada School of Medicine in 1981.

Schwenk views the school's history in three distinct eras, explaining: "The first era started in Reno with a strong commitment to rural and northern Nevada."

"The second era expanded the School's mission and vision to include the entire state with a major presence in both Reno and Las Vegas," he continued. This was the period from the early 1980s to the present, with the school bearing the statewide-connotation name of University of Nevada School of Medicine. During this period, it was necessary for most students to leave the Reno campus during their third and fourth years to gain the clinical education needed outside the classroom, in medical practices and hospital settings.

With the genesis of the UNLV School of Medicine, set to open in 2017, the School of Medicine is redefining itself once again in its third era in which the school will offer all four years of medical education on its Reno campus.

"We now are returning to Reno and northern Nevada, but retaining our mission to serve the entire state with selective partnerships in Las Vegas," Schwenk concluded.

With changes in names and focus over the years, plus the initiation of a second public medical school in the state and the expansion into a full four-year Reno-based campus, it seemed by 2015 that the timing was perfect to explore how well the school's name and logo were resonating with its key audiences.

More Than a Logo

A brand, according to branding and marketing expert Seth Godin, is: "The set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer's decision to choose one product or service over another."

Far beyond a logo, tagline or iconic colors, a brand is the story of an entity from the perspective of its audiences or customers. The School of Medicine's leaders aimed to discover what its key groups were thinking about how well its story was represented by its branding, and in late 2015, the school engaged with Reno-based marketing and branding agency, KPS3 in a comprehensive branding and identity study.

And the Survey Says…

More than 2,000 individuals, including students, residents, faculty and staff members, alumni, community physicians, patients and leaders statewide responded to e-surveys, mailed surveys (to patients), focus groups and in-person interviews regarding how the School of Medicine is perceived and how it is embodied through its name and logo.

Research focus areas included:

  • Awareness and reputation
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • The connection between the School of Medicine and the University of Nevada, Reno
  • Awareness and strength of the school's name

Key findings included that awareness of the school is greater in northern Nevada than southern Nevada, and reputation of the school was perceived to be good to very good among all groups, but strongest in northern Nevada as compared to southern Nevada, western U.S. or nationally.

Key strengths of the school, according to student respondents, included the cost/value to students, quality of faculty and staff and smaller class sizes.

More than 1,000 patients responded to mailed surveys. They cited the professionalism, expertise and excellent care of School of Medicine physicians. Their descriptors of their doctors in School of Medicine practices were overwhelmingly positive (85 percent).

Interviews with community leaders and focus groups with students, faculty and staff members cited the high quality of the student experience, the education provided at the school and caliber of School of Medicine graduates. These groups also revealed knowledge of the school's research programs and listed research ties with the University of Nevada, Reno as being a positive.

Among weaknesses mentioned by those in focus groups and interviews were lack of brand awareness and focus and limited graduate medical education (which the school is addressing with new residency programs in development statewide). The school's small size also was given as a limiting factor.

Who and Where Are We?

The name University of Nevada School of Medicine elicited mix reactions, beliefs and emotions. Reno often was used as a qualifier or locator, with many stating that they needed to add "Reno" to explain the school's main campus location. Southern Nevadans had strong opinions that Reno should be in the name, related to their opinions that the University of Nevada name doesn't belong to any one school—part and parcel of the long tradition of rivalry between the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Community leaders who considered themselves neutral parties cited the need for a name change to clarify misperceptions and confusion regarding location of the medical school and to which university it is attached. The majority of people surveyed thought of the school as part of the University of Nevada, Reno, offering its location, history and operational relationship as reasons for this perception. Overall, the surveys revealed a school name change would have either a positive or no impact on the school's image and reputation. The exception was current students, who felt more negatively about the possible impact of a name change.

The research, history and future direction of the School of Medicine all led to the path forged by the school's parent university, the University of Nevada, Reno, with the recommendation that the school's name be changed to University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine.

The Logo and the Look

With the new name approved, the logo was the next step in the branding study. One critical aspect of KPS3's research was an assessment of peer medical schools located around the western U.S. Most of these schools were found to have a clear and strong ties back to their larger universities. Many shared similar brand elements or exactly the same logo as their parent universities.

"With the tremendous changes coming in our state, the time is right for understanding better who we are, how we are perceived and how we serve our constituents—a branding refresh and the first time we've undertaken a comprehensive research-based branding project in our 47-year history," said Schwenk in a special message sent this spring to prepare school faculty, staff and students for changes to come.

"We need to capitalize on this unique opportunity to gauge the strength of our current brand identity elements and potential new elements. We want our logo and other representations to be powerful, memorable and forward-looking," he added.

Creation of a new logo was a creative process as well as a conversation. Logo concepts were developed and tested through surveys and focus groups. While adopting a completely novel design had some appeal, student, faculty and staff opinions were largely in favor of capitalizing on the school's already-strong affiliation with the University of Nevada, Reno. Following additional surveys of faculty and staff, students and alumni, the new logo unveiled on Aug. 8 reflected upon the University of Nevada, Reno with a fresh take on the University's Nevada silver-and-blue logo:

University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine logo

An additional logo was developed as an abbreviated symbol that can be used when space is limited and for internal applications when the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine name already is understood:

University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine internal mark

The shortened name "UNR Med" also was adopted for use on second reference to the school in print and verbal presentations.

Additionally, based on research results, KPS3 developed a brand positioning statement, five brand pillars, six brand tenets and a brand promise. These expressions of the core values of the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine were accompanied by artistic embellishments that call to mind UNR Med's history and the roots of medicine with evocative Gray's Anatomy-inspired line drawings.

Where Do We Go From Here?

While a logo is just a symbol of the organization, it also carries intense connotations of the actions and relationships that all of the representatives of that organization- students, faculty and staff members, community physicians and alumni- generate in their work throughout the University, community, state, nation and even the world.

The creative expressions of the new name and branding elements will be communicated in a multitude of ways, through print and digital communications designed to raise awareness of the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. The name badges and white coats that will be worn with pride by representatives of UNR Med wherever they do their great work will help to continue to attract the top-quality students, faculty and researchers who will further advance the health and health care of all Nevadans.

For more information on brand and identity elements, please visit the Brand Toolkit.

What They're Saying

Melissa Piasecki, M.D., Executive Associate Dean, Office of Academic Affairs

As a school, we are transforming- our new name and brand define and shape that transformation. As a physician deeply interested in behavior, I have come to appreciate from both scientific and personal observation how brand has a powerful influence over what we think and how we behave. Our new brand offers us new opportunities to think and behave, with regards to our school and how we interact with our many friends and partners.

Evan Klass, M.D., Senior Associate Dean, Office of Statewide Initiatives

The new name gives recognition to our intimate relationship with UNR. I think it truly reflects who we are and gives our students more of an identity. It absolutely strengthens the connection to the preeminent research university in the state.

Tim Grunert, Class of 2019 President

We will be one of the first classes establishing the reputation of the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. We get the benefits of an established, nearly 50-year-old institution as well as the excitement of starting anew and contributing to the way other medical schools and residency programs view our school. Our new identity will provide current students a more stable home base from which they can participate in away rotations and the residency application process. Rather than qualifying each interaction with precisely where we are from, we can proudly advertise ourselves as students of UNR Med and easily be associated with the quality students and instructors our school boasts.

Stephanie Kruse, President, KPS3

A brand exists in the mind of the beholder—it is the set of attitudes, beliefs and emotions that people have toward and attach to organizations. We were thrilled that the request for proposal from the School of Medicine included extensive research among its key audiences, both internal and external. Gaining insights and opinions from those audiences was critical in determining the path for the rebrand.

Julia Kruper, Research Director, KPS3

Our second phase of research, which focused on different creative options in terms of messaging and design, was probably the most fascinating for me personally. We heard loud and clear that a sense of history is an integral part of the school's personality and developed a look that bridges the school's legacy with the modern, cutting-edge future it's forging today.