Reshaping the narrative for a progressive Canadian seminary

  • Client Location Vancouver, BC
  • Industry Higher ed, university, seminary
  • Client Since 2010-01-12
  • Available Links Regent-College.edu

Stories are where humans find meaning and history, and stories are where theology finds its roots.

For decades, Regent College has been doing the hands-on work of training thinkers and leaders who go on to change their world through stories—but along the way, Regent had forgotten to tell their own.

And what a story it is:
Regent College has been pioneering a new model of theological training since 1968.

They created a model that helps students integrate their faith practice with real life. Regent graduates go on to be lawyers, doctors, business leaders, authors—each with a carefully considered worldview.

The world's most prominent living theological thinkers have stood on both sides of Regent lecterns—J.I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, Jim Houston. And Regent's publishing arm has produced notable books in theological thinking.

Our own story with Regent is one of ongoing collaboration and partnership that has lasted years. It's one we're always excited to tell and one that keeps growing.

Ready for transformation

A glance at Regent's website and you'd never have known this school is innovative and more interested in producing excellent thinkers than training traditional pastors (though they do that too). Regent is full of surprises.

“We have a history of rich, influential content, but we didn’t have the strategy or the mechanisms to truly share it. Our curriculum was leading edge, but our external image was dated—our web design was incredibly old and we didn’t even have a CMS. We had world class programs, shrouded in an unnavigable user experience.”

Sarah Finstad, Director of Marketing & Communications, Regent College

Unprecedented collaboration

It was 2009 and we had no idea this was the beginning of a long term partnership. We did know one thing: if Regent was open to it, this was about to be a momentous transformation.

Together we had a big goal: bring the true Regent story to the world to attract a fresh crop of smart thinkers who will come to Regent to further that narrative.

More than a brand

In no time flat we learned that, to graduates, staff, faculty and prospective students, Regent is more than a school, it's a life-altering experience. We knew that to build this brand we had to deeply understand it.

Complete immersion

So we immersed ourselves in their world: interviewing stakeholders at every single level to find out what Regent means to them; lingering in the light-filled atrium; attending events and reading books.

Empowering each other

As our work together extended, each new project was an opportunity to empower and equip the Regent team to take on new tasks. Whether collaborating on content strategy, guiding them through the information architecture process, equipping them with an interactive style guide to inform any future build, we've always worked toward equipping, not commandeering.

“We didn’t officially rebrand Regent—yet our 'digital-first brand revolution' infiltrated into print and display. By bringing their vibrant, real-life experience to the web, through colours and content and more, the digital brand began to embody the ideal version of Regent so much that the rest of Regent's design patterns began to borrow from the web.”

Tim Booker, Lead Strategist, Domain7

Responsive design that broke the mold

Not long after we began, we realized we needed to invite our Regent partners to consider the future: based on the direction we saw the web going, we believed it was necessary to create a responsive website. At the time, it was a new approach, and a significant investment for Regent—as well as a deviation from our agreed-upon scope.

But if Regent was as progressive as they seemed to be, it was vital to take a bold step visually and technically. To this day, Regent calls it the best web decision they made.

Our own responsive rulebook

Regent has always been a pioneer. To really embody that, the website needed to break new ground. And it needed to last at least seven years, so anything we did had to be truly leading edge. Because responsive design was so new, we didn't have a rulebook to play by. We created a design no one thought was possible for responsive.

Award-winning web

The result was a responsive website that defied all the stereotypes of mobile-first websites— one that has been an ongoing source of awards, mentions, and yes, even copycats.

Seen the new responsive http://t.co/ckkGsvyk site? Hotcha.
— Responsive Design (@RWD) April 18, 2012

While I don't always think highly of religiosity, I'm really digging @regentcollege 's implementation of an @RWD site.
— Adam Salsman (@asalsman)
April 18, 2012

Stats that tell the story

But far more importantly, it helped Regent reach far beyond the results any of us imagined. Here's what happened in the first 8 months after launch:

- unique visitors up 99%
- pageviews up 77%
- online applications up 63%
- donation completes up 226%
-
info requests up 22%

“The design process was deeply collaborative, and I think that’s what made it really work. As the designer, sitting beside the developer and the UX lead, I could come up with a crazy never-been-done idea, and immediately find out if it was actually do-able. It meant we got to stretch ourselves in every discipline.”

Tracey Falk, Design Lead, Domain7

Versatile tools with true reach

On the heels of a hugely successful launch, Regent engaged with us on phase 2: bringing all of Regent's (many) touchpoints under this single brand banner. We applied the new Regent look across all their systems and pushed aside technical barriers to make sure the brand infiltrated every aspect of the business.

Strategically, they wanted to diversify their income streams. They needed a platform that would support a spectrum of activities—enrollment, advertising, conference registration, book sales, housing application, video marketing, elearning—and keep them all within the newly launched vibrant brand.

The design engine that could

We built an engine for Regent to create their own microsites to advertise their breadth of programs. It was modular, branded, and easy to use. They ended with a cohesive family of digital products that really worked, and connected a network of disparate programs.

Testing, testing

Smart testing made these tools succeed. We used Google Content Experiments to optimize as we went and always tested with real users. Whether it was A/B testing for videos or fundraising campaigns, UX testing for new forms or interfaces, nothing goes live without the thumbs up from actual users.

Custom tools for accommodation

Vancouver's west side is famous for astronomical rents. Housing is a real, ongoing challenge for Regent students and an admin hassle for staff. But plenty of landlords want Regent students because they're mature, responsible and respectful. We created a platform that aggregates posts marketed specifically to Regent students, and gives them exclusive access. It lists specifics like walk-time to Regent, bus routes, roommates, apartment or garden suite etc. Then we built it together with the Regent team.

“We’ve done so many projects over the years with Regent, but sometimes one simple solution can solve a very real human problem. ”

Tim Booker, Lead Strategist, Domain7

Stories to the world

A couple years later, with a firmly established online home, it was time for Regent to reach outside and draw people in. Early storyfinding exercises helped tease out the emotional core of why students choose Regent—and what gap Regent fills for them. Together, we developed four student archetypes: creative, thoughtful, fearless and redemptive, and used those to frame our stories and as the basis of a photo and video campaign.

Creating demand for summer school

Summer School at Regent is an important revenue stream and a major starting point on students' Regent journey. The programs themselves are considered world class. How could we show the depth of the content in a promotional campaign? We developed a video campaign to reveal the true expertise of Regent profs. The key? Unusually long interviews: taking the time to let professors move beyond presenter-mode to reveal what really resonates with them. Getting to the depth students would find in a lecture. And Summer School enrollment went up 30% over the previous year. The courses that had associated videos saw the biggest uptick.

After the fact, we got a letter from one Professor Roger Lundin. Here's a snippet:

"Dear Trevor,
We met back in mid-March, when you came to Wheaton for a day to interview Lynn Cohick and me for two Regent videos promoting our respective courses. I wanted to write a brief note to tell you how much I appreciated your professionalism and warmth during that three-hour process and to let you know how pleased I was with the result. I thought you did a superb job, and during my two weeks at Regent, a number of my students told me they had seen the video, and in several cases it proved to be a deciding factor in their enrollment ..."

World class content with world reach

There are only so many people that can fit on a small seminary campus. But the content coming from Regent faculty seemed too good to contain. They had a quarterly magazine, Regent World, with ground-breaking, topical content, but in its paper form it had little reach. We created a versatile platform for Regent World that reveals a breadth of ideas with huge flexibility—an amazing tool for securing Regent's position as top theological thinkers.

Webinar series with 300% growth

It was time to develop something for the very top of Regent's funnel—a taste test, given away for free. Regent Redux was born: a free, live event via Google Hangout. It brings together faculty and prominent visiting speakers for a one-hour discussion and debate on a hot topic. Participants can ask questions live on Twitter or the Hangout. Without ever setting foot on campus, the public get a taste of the depth and applicability of ideas borne out of Regent. Redux is a massive success. The first event saw 300 registrants. 9 months later, Regent is on its third Redux and has an email list of more than 1,500 leads that are currently being nurtured with regular content. As a result of their Redux program, regentredux.net has received over 35,500 pageviews and is successfully driving marketing qualified traffic to admissions and recruitment landing pages for the Regent team to follow-up on.

It's the kind of scale and growth you wouldn't reach in your local campus auditorium—made possible through digital.


“We use the Hero’s Journey—part of classic story theory—to help customers understand how they fit into each customer’s path to purchase. Regent completely took it to heart and made it their own—reimagining the journey for each type of Regent student. They put it up on the wall as a constant reminder of how they help people in their journey. Every campaign they develop has to fit into that journey somehow.”

Trevor Meier, Creative Strategy Lead, Domain7

Mapping journeys from the past to the future

The best collaboration is always iterative. With great storytelling machines in place, we went back to the beginning… the real beginning—the point before a student even makes a decision to study at Regent—to understand what factors push or pull them in this direction.

Insights to drive strategy

A series of qualitative interviews with a cross-section of potential Regent students—a female entrepreneur from China, a young male accountant from Montreal, a young science educator from the midwest—confirmed some suspicions and revealed some big surprises. These students are professionals looking for spiritual depth, not a career change. Higher education isn't the obvious choice for them. The tensions they are trying to resolve are completely different than an average seminary student. We looked closely at the resources that help resolve them: books, the wisdom of mentors, gracious employers. These factors are now driving a fresh content strategy.

Optimizing optimally

That insight dovetailed perfectly with a new optimization project. Based on real user feedback, we brainstormed fresh outreach and content ideas. We workshopped every idea with the Regent team before refining them and presenting those ideas up a level. By the time ideas reached the Board, the entire Regent team had ownership and approval. That blurry line between our teams is maybe the best part of working together.

Yes, the quotable results are a boon, but really it's the way you might look up on a Wednesday to see a Regent staff hotdesking in our office, or the way Regent's office staff know us by name; because all those signs point to a true collaborative relationship that's built on trust. It's what we want every client relationship to look like.

“The decision to study anywhere is defined long before a user hits the ‘Apply’ button. In researching Regent's audience, we looked at all the external and internal pivots on a user’s journey, and condensed them into core emotional moments where decisions are made.”

Trevor Meier Creative Strategy Lead, Domain7

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