Celebrating Vitality

Work

Celebrating Vitality

Albion College

When Albion College, a nationally recognized liberal arts school in Albion, Michigan, needed a quick turnaround for a comprehensive campaign microsite in 2019, its team called mStoner. The fruitful collaboration paved the way for Albion and mStoner to partner again less than two years later — this time when the college was ready to redesign its website.

In 2019, with its 185th anniversary approaching, Albion was preparing to launch a $100 million comprehensive campaign to propel the college into a secure and dynamic future.

The college partnered with mStoner in August to help build a microsite that would not only effectively and efficiently raise money online but also spark energy and excitement and re-engage alumni with the Albion community. An aggressive campaign launch timeline propelled the site launch in just two months. Less than a year later — and 18 months ahead of schedule — Albion had raised more than $101 million, making this the most successful campaign in the college’s history.

Services

Design: Digital Storytelling; Information Architecture; UI Design Systems & Webpage Templates; User Experience Design; Website Redesign; User Research Services: Stakeholder/Audience Focus Groups; Analytics & Measurement; Technical Consulting: Website architecture roadmap and planning; Content Management Systems: Functional planning and specifications; Content Entry; Content Migration; Website Hosting, Maintenance, and Support; Front-end Development: Mobile Responsive Websites; Pixel-Perfect Conversion of Design to Code; Modular and Flexible Layout and Component Build; Technologies: HTML5, CSS3/SASS, JavaScript, React; Web Development:  CRM Integration for Lead and Application Form Submissions; Data Integration with Campus Systems; Interactive Applications that are Decoupled from Underlying Content Sources; Organizational Consulting Services: Communications and Web Governance

The Challenge

Redesign on a Tight Timeline

Fast forward to 2020, and Albion was ready to redesign its website to better reflect the unique experience it offers students. Once again, the college was on a tight timeline.

Susie Pentelow, executive director of communications and marketing at Albion, said, “We had new leadership and refreshing the site became a priority. We wanted something more visually engaging, easier to navigate, and mobile-friendly.”

Senior Director for Editorial Development John Perney, who led the request for proposal (RFP) process, said, “mStoner’s proposal stood out among several strong ones. Plus, we had the advantage of an existing relationship. We knew each other’s strengths, and we had seen the success of the comprehensive campaign.”

The new site was scheduled to go live in March 2021, just six months from project kickoff.

Strategies

Prioritizing

Jim Johnson, director of web development at mStoner, and Bill McLaughlin, chief operating and financial officer and head of project delivery at mStoner, developed a plan to address the urgency of the project. “The launch would take place in two phases,” said Johnson. “We reviewed the components we needed to develop and then prioritized the pages that absolutely had to launch in March, including Home, Admission, top-level Academic, and Program pages. Everything else would launch soon after.”

Key Messages

Albion and mStoner developed three key messages to resonate throughout the site and serve as touchstones of the Albion experience. The messages address three prospective and current student critical concerns: discovering purpose, feeling a sense of belonging, and putting skills and ideas into action.

Albion is committed to ongoing innovation, purpose-driven learning, building a campus where all feel they belong, and experiential education: putting ideas into action,” Pentelow said. “With the key messages articulated, we developed content and visual cues around those pillars.”

Voltaire Santos Miran, chief executive officer and head of client experience, and Bill were great collaborators,” Perney said. “They are so good at what they do, and despite our incredibly abbreviated timeline, I always felt confident they would produce a distinctive website that would reflect the excitement and energy of Albion.”

“mStoner worked closely with us every step of the way, adjusting the initial plan as needed, troubleshooting, problem-solving, and prioritizing. It was a very positive partnership.”

— Susie Pentelow, executive director of communications and marketing, Albion College

Creative & Content Priorities

Along with the key messages, mStoner worked with Albion to identify three main goals for content: telling the Albion story, creating a sense of community and place, and communicating the value of an Albion education.

To achieve these goals, mStoner and Albion used high-quality photography and video, student and alumni quotes that reflect the diversity and voices of Albion students, and stories that demonstrate how faculty go above and beyond for students. mStoner also saw a need for more robust academic program pages that would engage and intrigue prospective students.

Focusing on marketing-critical content, mStoner provided content models for Albion’s Homepage, Admission landing page, Academic program pages, Faculty Story page, and Alumni & Giving landing page. The models included high-level diagrams of the content of each page, zeroing in on the information and key messages that bridge Albion’s objectives and visitors’ goals, needs, and expectations.

McLaughlin recommended that Albion “focus its limited resources on a discrete number of multimedia-rich digital stories illustrating impact, as well as microcontent and news about positive and lasting change.”

mStoner created 50 program pages for us,” Pentelow said. “They worked closely with us every step of the way, adjusting the initial plan as needed, troubleshooting, problem-solving, and prioritizing. It was a very positive partnership.”

Each program page on the new site includes a statement of purpose, a content section, and key tasks, all of which engage prospective students, provide critical information and encouragement, guide visitors through a specific step on their Albion journey, and echo the key messages of purpose, belonging, and action.

Information Architecture and Navigation

Information architecture should make it easy and intuitive for site visitors to find the information they are looking for, encourage exploration and immersion on the website, and express the institution’s identity.
Streamlining the site — with a new structure and hierarchy optimized for prospective students, Albion’s most important external audience — was critical to making the visitor experience smooth and productive.

The new structure for the site focused on three goals:

  • Separating topic navigation (About, Academics, Admission) from audience navigation (Alumni) and task navigation (Giving) for a better user experience and a cleaner, more intuitive site structure;
  • Separating internal and external information, with clear paths to information of interest to Albion’s secondary audiences;
  • Combining Alumni and Giving for a smoother, more immersive alumni and donor experience that matches Albion’s unique approach to engagement.

To further enhance the visitor experience on Albion’s website, mStoner implemented new site navigation. The new navigation gives visitors quick access to primary calls to action such as applying and requesting information; easy transit through menus and to links; and a free-form search paired with commonly searched terms and/or curated topics to help visitors find what they are looking for quickly.

It’s a beautiful design,” Johnson said. “We used modular components, which are very flexible, and we made the front end more responsive. The Albion team can create new content for the modules, add modules, move modules around, or mix and match modules. There are so many ways to be creative using modules.”

The Result

The old site didn’t provide a great mobile experience,” Perney said. The new site is mobile- first  and communicates the spirit of Albion to users on all devices.” 

Perney also noted that the new site reflects the diversity of the college.”We’re much more diverse than we were in 2013 when the old site was built. The college is evolving in a variety of ways, and the new website reflects the movement, energy, and vitality at Albion. 

We needed the site up by March because that is a crucial time in the enrollment cycle,” said Pentelow. “Students are making their decisions about college. The new site shows prospective students how innovative Albion is and how committed we are to creating a sense of belonging.” 

Early  in the admissions cycle, Pentelow reported upticks in audience behavior compared to the previous year. “We saw a 14% increase in pages per session, 5% increase in number of sessions per user, and 9% increase in overall page views from April 1 – just after launch – to October 1, 2021.