Insights-driven Brand Positioning and Architecture for a Rising University


The University of South Florida (USF) had grown from a local university to being the fastest-rising university in America, quickly climbing 52 spots to #42 in public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report.

As a result of their immense growth USF faced challenges with having a consistent brand voice and identity, and also wanted to overcome a lingering commuter school perception.


The Outcome


As a result of their immense growth they faced challenges with having a consistent brand voice and identity, and also wanted to overcome a lingering commuter school perception.


To create an authentic brand positioning for USF, we started with deep qualitative and quantitative audience research to uncover current perceived strengths and opportunities. The insights led to crafting a brand positioning and personality that leaned into their boldly ambitious values. To establish consistency across the brand, we created a brand architecture that mapped the roles, relationships, and visual expressions across their campus and division sub-brands. Finally, we updated all of their visual guidelines to create a cohesive and unified USF brand identity



We first embarked on a comprehensive Discovery phase which included a competitive analysis, an audit of their current messaging and communications across channels, and a deep dive into their current visual identity and its application across branded materials, including strategic plans, newsletters, campaigns, and their website.

We helped USF craft a comprehensive research plan, including both focus groups and surveys, ensuring we heard from all of their audiences—including faculty, staff, students, prospective students, and community members. 

“I just I love my job. And at this point I have younger people coming in and working and I really enjoy training them.” 

— Staff


“I was able to meet good people. Everything’s been so well. I don’t want to go but I know this is my last semester.”

— Student 


“USF is great. I tell everybody all the time. I owe my life to USF—my career,  I met my wife there…I decided to make Tampa my home because of USF. I had an amazing, amazing experience. I have friends to this day that I met in college.”

— Alum


Our findings uncovered beliefs and motivations that were remarkably consistent across their audiences. They were united in their passion, authenticity, ambition, and optimism. They also shared a powerful mindset: You get what you put in. 


Qualitative + Quantitative Research including:

  • 10 Stakeholder Interviews including with the University Provost, Department Deans, and President
  • Survey of 800+ faculty, staff, leadership, prospective students, students, and community members
  • 12 Focus Groups with Students, Faculty, Staff, and Community Leaders

Based on the insights gleaned from our focus groups and a mapping of peer, competitive, and aspirational institutions, we were able to create an ownable and authentic brand position. 


To bring their story to life, we crafted an inspirational narrative and brand personality that acknowledged USF’s determination and entrepreneurial spirit while also positioning them as an innovative research institution.

Next, we developed a brand architecture that mapped out the brand role, branding relationship, and visual cues for each of their three campuses as well as their sub-brands: USF Health, USF Research, USF Foundation, and USF Athletics.  

Once the architecture was complete, we created messaging frameworks for each of their audience groups that could serve as a tool to guide content direction, usage, tone, and application of messages. 

Finally, we refined their visual style guides for clarity and consistency, specifying parameters for usage and treatment around color, typography, photography, and graphic elements. This was completed for their three campuses as well as their division sub-brands to ensure that visual executions across all USF brands were cohesive and aligned to the brand architecture.