University of Portsmouth

The university was suffering – along with the category – from declining undergraduate numbers. Here’s how we achieved a YOY rise in applications

Services

Brand identity
Logo design
Visual identity

The Brief

We were tasked by the University of Portsmouth with establishing a focussed brand positioning for the university, and an Undergraduate student recruitment campaign platform as part of a broader effort to turn numbers around. To find a differentiated positioning for University of Portsmouth, that resonated with a new generation of prospects.

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“Strategic, innovative and able to deliver against a range of complex briefs, it has been an absolute pleasure working with Borne as our creative partners.”

Eloise Shavelar Head of Brand and Corporate Communications, University of Portsmouth

The Challenge

The HE category is obsessed with ‘change.’ It plays out a classic venn diagram between a research organisation (we make change) and a young audience apparently motivated by it (you want change), with endless conventional variations that end up making so many universities look, feel and sound identical.

The truth, of course, is more complex.

Our research-based insight was that, in the real world, what young people are fundamentally driven by is the search for stability. For jobs they like, lives they can afford, a freedom from the anxiety that has come to be a generational hallmark. Their engagement in gender politics, climate activism, ethicality and equity is what it looks like when young people are desperate for things to calm down.

And for post-pandemic students, that search for somewhere stable has risen much closer to the surface. We saw an opportunity to connect with this audience by offering them a safe haven to launch from. And we realised that Portsmouth is uniquely able to do this, as a leading modern university based in the UK’s only island city…

The Solution

Our strategy was to elevate ‘island’ from a statement of geography to a statement of community – to increase visibility of Portsmouth as a close-knit community that prepares people for their next step, insulated not isolated, a place where city, sea and campus is always close at hand, a place whose world-leading ideas come from teams not individuals, and where undergraduates have the space and guidance to sharpen their skills.

This positioning drove our big creative platform idea – Your Time, Your Place.

A call to focus on the here and now. To prioritise yourself. To choose a university that gives you the space and support you need to take bold next steps. To join a community of like-minded people, in a place that gives you what you need.

We worked with category research experts Savanta to explore and optimise the creative platform using an online community of prospects, allowing us to shape the messaging and give evidence to the likely impact of such a distinctive visual identity, as well as validate the intended emotional resonance of the campaign.

A system of creative assets was developed that followed along the undergraduate recruitment journey, working closely with media partner Havas, and we established an expansive style guide to support the team at UoP own the campaign themselves, offering guidance along the way. 

‘Your Time, Your Place’ now not only wraps around the UG recruitment campaign, but also drives a range of experience messaging once students join – a much more holistic application of the positioning than in previous years. We’ve also explored how that positioning shapes PG recruitment, international recruitment, and brand-level communication, including high-reach content partnerships with the Guardian.

 

The Results

‘Your Time. Your Place.’ was launched at the beginning of the undergraduate 2024 campaign cycle, starting with a presence at the large-scale recruitment fairs e.g. UK Uni Search in February 2023. Throughout the 18 month campaign, there were year-on-year uplifts in engagement across a range of metrics including paid digital content.

At the close of the 2024 UCAS application cycle, the University was up year-on-year on applications with figures exceeding the sector average and competitor average.

“The Borne team is ace! Strategic, innovative and able to deliver against a range of complex briefs, it has been an absolute pleasure working with Borne as our creative partners. The expertise in the team and their professional and collaborative approach has ensured the successful roll out of our campaign platform, which not only led to positive results from day 1 but it has been adaptable to long term growth in engagement.”

Eloise Shavelar, Head of Brand and Corporate Communications, University of Portsmouth