Virginia Tech Magazine
Feature -|- Spring 2006

A brand-new day at Virginia Tech
by J. Christopher Clough '81

When you hear the word "tech," what do you think of? What images are evoked by "Cal Tech"? What about "Georgia Tech"?

Now, consider "Virginia Tech"--chances are, words that come to mind will include "challenging," "technology," "comfortable," "athletics," possibly "land grant," and probably "fun." Chances are equally good that all readers have their own distinct impressions of the university. It is precisely that range of perceptions that determines Virginia Tech's "brand"--the collective opinions about the organization that shape its reputation.

In the increasingly competitive environment of higher education, a university's brand is more important than ever.

President Charles Steger unveiled the university's new branding campaign
President Charles W. Steger at the unveiling
of the university's new branding campaign

Today, Virginia Tech enjoys a solid reputation as a comprehensive, land-grant institution and is a dominant brand recognized across the commonwealth and throughout the mid-Atlantic. Nonetheless, the university is working hard to solidify its brand in the minds of the public. On Feb. 2, President Charles W. Steger unveiled a new branding campaign that speaks to the spirit and direction of the university as captured in the campaign's new tagline: "Virginia Tech: Invent the Future."

Shaping the future

The branding campaign is intended to give voice and clarity to the university's strategic directions. Fundamentally, a brand effort is about message. Virginia Tech, for example, is a large, diverse, land-grant research university with a strong commitment to undergraduate education--a description that is both accurate and complicated.

Each day, we strive to portray the world-class excellence of Virginia Tech's faculty, who not only stimulate the minds of students, but also are scholars and researchers on a quest of discovery. We offer our bright and motivated students intellectual challenges. We promote our dynamic and infectious spirit of innovation--simply look at our Blacksburg Electronic Village, which was launched before "Internet" became part of the common vernacular, or at Tech's System X, the world's fastest supercomputer built with off-the-shelf desktop units. We laud our alumni, who make a difference around the world in ways both great and small. And we remain proud of the underlying soul of the land-grant college movement, which compels us to remain engaged with our communities, our professions, our industries, and our governments by helping solve the problems of our day.

In a nutshell, telling the story of Virginia's leading research university can be challenging. Still, each facet of the Virginia Tech experience is expressed by the new tagline--in their own way, the university's scholars, students, innovations, and outreach efforts are all inventing the future.

Invent the Future website
The "Invent the Future" introductory Web page
reflects the university's new identity style.
In an e-mail introducing the campaign to the university community, Steger wrote:

At the beginning of this decade, our university developed a forward-looking strategic plan expressing our goal to be among the best universities in the nation. Through growing eminence in scholarship, research, and outreach, we are enabling our constituencies to increase their impact on the world around us. Many of you are now helping to refine and update that plan....

The positioning process has not changed who we are. The land-grant mission of learning, discovery, and engagement still underscores all that we do. We remain committed to transforming individuals through the highest standards of excellence in teaching, research, and public service. The branding process, however, will help us communicate our unique excellence more consistently and more effectively.

The multifaceted elements of the new branding campaign include an updated and refreshed Virginia Tech logo and tagline and applications in print, radio, and television advertising and on the Virginia Tech website homepage. A focal point of the campaign is the new Funds for the Future financial aid program for students. A tangible underpinning to the branding campaign, the program will enable moderate- to low-income families to send their students to Virginia Tech. The Funds for the Future program will include up to $14.5 million in financial aid by the 2011-12 academic year. Also announced was the Invent the Future Essay Scholarship contest, which will award five prospective 2006 freshmen applicants $1,000 scholarships.

Another highlight of the recent branding efforts is the introduction of podcasting, or downloadable audio programming. Already in use in classroom applications for Virginia Tech's executive M.B.A. program, the new podcasting programming is among the most extensive offered by any university and provides an array of choices for the entire Tech community. One unique option is "HokieCast," which is produced for students by students, featuring news and events around the Blacksburg campus. Other available podcasts include the weekly "VT PodNews," "A Touch of Tech," and the popular "Distinguished Professor Series." In less than a month after Tech's podcasts were introduced, more than 10,000 visitors had downloaded more than 2,000 podcasts to their PCs or MP3 players.

Branding 101

Have questions? We've got answers.

Is this campaign just about creating new logos and taglines?
No, the campaign is a comprehensive approach to the way we communicate and represent the university while logos are the visual representation of the brand and an important element in the overall campaign. Updating the Virginia Tech logo allows for consistent use across the university media. The new Virginia Tech tagline, Invent the Future, captures the spirit and direction of the university.

Branding and identity at Virginia Tech

What changes were made to Virginia Tech's logo?
We have updated the Virginia Tech logo to help us standardize our visual identity and to work better in electronic communications, especially on the university's websites. Now the official logo is:

What about the "VT"? I thought that was our logo.
The "VT" logo is very popular, a source of great Hokie pride, and well-known due to the success of the athletic programs. However, the VT logo is best used for athletic programs, student merchandise, and casual applications, not in academe. The shield logo with the horizontal "Virginia Tech" shown above is the preferred logo for identifying the university.


Tech's new print ad campaignVT print ad
VT print ad
VT print ad
Where did the new tagline come from? How long do you expect it to last?
The new Virginia Tech tagline, Invent the Future, evolved from extensive research by a firm that specializes in higher-education marketing. The tagline was selected for its appropriateness to Virginia Tech's brand and is expected to last for many years.

Will the HokieBird or any other symbols be affected? What about the official (circular) university seal?
Other Virginia Tech trademark symbols are not affected by this update. The official university seal will continue to be used only for the most formal applications, such as commencement materials and building plaques.

Aside from Virginia Tech Magazine, where will I see this brand campaign?
The elements of the branding campaign will manifest in various ways, including admissions publications, advertising, business cards, language in press releases and publications, photography and other visual communications, stationery, websites, and licensed and trademarked products.

Where can I buy apparel or other merchandise with the new university logo and tagline?
You should see officially licensed apparel and other merchandise appearing with the updated logo and new tagline within the next several months. Check with Virginia Tech's University Bookstore or Volume Two for officially licensed merchandise and apparel.

Virginia Tech already gets a ton of applications. Why should it seek more?
As the leading land-grant, research university in the commonwealth, Virginia Tech does receive a large number of applications, and the quality of applicants rises each year. It is important that Virginia Tech continue to attract and compete for the very best students from Virginia and throughout the mid-Atlantic region. We believe that the branding campaign will help ensure that we present strong and consistent messages to prospective students and to other important audiences.

Is the entire university involved in the branding campaign?
On behalf of the university president, Virginia Tech's Office of University Relations is leading the branding effort, which involves the participation of the entire university community. To date, the university's professional staff of college communicators and the offices of Undergraduate Admissions, Alumni Relations, and University Development have helped shape the branding campaign. President Steger commissioned this effort and the university leadership has played a key role.

How will the branding affect my college?
Virginia Tech's eight colleges and many operating units will be incorporating the updated logo and Invent the Future tagline into their respective college names to showcase their affiliation with Virginia Tech.

Are other universities conducting branding campaigns?
Yes, branding efforts are widespread across the nation in public and private higher education. As the competition for top students and funding increases, it is important that key audiences understand what the university has to offer.

Envisioning a future for all Hokies

The university's brand is dependent upon all members of the university community who act as ambassadors in carrying the brand message forward. Hokies everywhere have a strong loyalty to the university and the countless interactions among students, faculty, staff, and alumni shape the reputation and brand of Virginia Tech. Reputation- and brand-building are particularly important with prospective students, their families, and other key influencers.

If you're still not convinced of the importance of a strong university brand, think about this: In 1990, U.S. News & World Report's first "Best Colleges" survey ranked Princeton University's M.B.A. program among the best in the country. The only problem? Princeton doesn't have an M.B.A. program. Which just goes to show that in some cases, it is all about the brand.

All the major elements of the campaign, including those directed at prospective students, can be seen at

J. Christopher Clough (communication '81) is director of marketing and strategic communications.

Virginia Tech