Case Study: Find Your State

On its surface, Colorado State University is an easy sell. With a mountain-adjacent campus, popular niche programs, and a trendy locale, CSU has assets that should set it apart from the higher ed crowd. But CSU was regularly losing applicants to the University of Colorado. And understandably so: Their mountains are closer, their programs more prestigious, and Boulder — for reasons a university would rather not advertise — is much better known than Fort Collins. 

When we set out to update the admissions campaign, one of our primary goals was to differentiate CSU from that other college in the foothills. Beyond that, we were in the midst of a seismic shift in the higher-ed marketing landscape. This meant changing both what we said to prospective students and how we said it. 

With an increasingly savvy generation of students, communicating with transparency and authenticity was our best option. This meant appealing their individuality, recognizing their agency, and providing them the information necessary to choose the right college — even if that college wasn’t ours. 

So while other universities encouraged prospective students to join their ranks, we invited students to create their own. We invited them to Find their State.


While other universities encouraged prospective students to join their ranks, we invited students to create their own. We invited them to Find their State.


Our aesthetic evolution coincided with our change in tone. In a process introduced to us by Elias Martinez — our then-new creative director — we collaborated with the admissions marketing team to develop a new visual brand language. We wanted to differentiate our look and feel from the infamous “three and a tree” aesthetic that previously dominated college marketing. 

The most prominent aspect of our visual transition was our photography. We hired Anna Jones — a lifestyle photographer from Des Moines, Iowa — to help upend the traditionally static, institutional photography that’s endemic to university publications. In application, we used large, spacious photos to elicit a sense of place; we wanted our photography to feel less like a statement and more like an invitation. 

Both stylistically and strategically, we opted for more frequent and less dense communication. Without a heavy viewbook to fall back on, we knew we had to make a strong visual impact while providing enough useful information to prospective students.

Inspired by the (now ubiquitous) multi-format publication trend, we combined bold fields of color with our new photographic style to achieve table-top appeal. And it worked — an admissions employee overheard a high school student wonder whether “professional pamphlet-makers” made the recruitment brochure. 

 

Anecdotes aside, nothing speaks to the success of “Find Your State” more than the numbers.

This project wouldn’t have succeeded without a willingness to disrupt the status quo. In addition to updating the look and feel, the admissions team revamped the entire process for prospective and incoming students.

The visible success of the admissions campaign inspired the rest of CSU to do similar work. We ran out of recruitment brochures faster than normal, and we had several requests to create similar publications for offices and divisions across campus.


Credits:

Client: Colorado State University Admissions
Admissions Marketing Director: Leslie Taylor
Director of Admissions: Melissa Trifiletti
Creative Direction: Elias Martinez
Strategic Consultation: Graham Gill
Admissions marketing, copywriting and communications: Evan Moore, Rachel Gaisford and Will Reutemann
Design Direction: Ari Curtis
Design: Ari Curtis and Lauren Kroll
Web design and development: Chris Weller and Evan Moore 
Additional Copywriting: Lindsay Connors
Photography: Anna Jones (Anna Jones Photography), Joe Mendoza, John Eisele and Bill Cotton (CSU Creative Services)
Filmmaking: Rikshaw Films 
Printing: Pioneer Printing