Fighting the Good Fight

Work

Fighting the Good Fight

Iona College

Founded in 1940, Iona College is a private liberal arts college just north of Manhattan that follows the Irish Catholic tradition of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers.

As Gaels, they fight the good fight — certa bonum certamen — with dedication to academic excellence and leading with justice, peace and service. They needed a website that could help them continue to fight the good fight during the pandemic and beyond.


Services

Discovery report; content strategy; visual design; creative direction; prospective student experience mapping; UX design; information architecture; front- and back-end site development; page template creation; content writing and migration; Drupal implementation; quality assurance testing; analytics configuration; and user testing

The Challenge

While Iona’s website was seven years old, some content hadn’t been touched in more than 10 years. The site’s governance rested entirely on the IT department, which had no choice but to approve every change without a marketing or content strategy in place. Iona’s brand identity also looked out-of-date, and its logo was too intricate to be legible in digital media. Nothing on the site reflected Iona’s legacy of opportunity, inclusion, and the liberating power of an Iona education.

Not surprisingly, Vice President for College Marketing and Communications Mary Clare Reilley didn’t encounter much resistance when she embarked on a website redesign. “Everyone agreed it was outdated, so we didn’t need to convince people. However, we did have to make sure we were being thorough and thoughtful about including all of our stakeholders so we would have their trust when it was time for us to take ownership over the site. Building that trust gave us the authority to manage the site after launch and be judicious in how we respond to requests.”

There was one hitch: a presidential transition. Reilley knew that they couldn’t get too far down the road on a new brand without the new president’s input. But they couldn’t wait to build a new website either and they had already begun discovery work with mStoner. Thankfully, when President Seamus Carey came on board, he immediately requested a brand update. That meant the marketing team could pursue both projects in tandem.

Strategies

Brand Development

mStoner provided a few recommendations for branding firms, from which Reilley selected Lawrence & Schiller. This was a happy reunion, as mStoner and L&S had just finished a successful collaboration on Dakota State University’s site. Iona’s Director of Digital Marketing, Suzanne Flood, managed the website redesign with mStoner day-to-day, while Reilley managed the branding project with Lawrence & Schiller (L&S). “L&S and mStoner were always willing to jump on calls together and do collaborative sessions whenever needed,” Reilley said. “They were great about revisiting timelines and swapping phases so we weren’t at a standstill when one or the other project was delayed.”

Iona’s new website brings the pillars of the College's new brand platform to full digital life by showcasing Iona’s Catholic history, its core strengths of unity on campus, purpose in the classroom, and service in the community. “From the very beginning, the process of rebranding was about so much more than just creating a new look and feel for the College,” Reilley said.

“Staying true to ourselves, we sought to uncover the authentic aspects that make us distinctive. Iona’s mission, vision and values, our heritage and history, the legacy of the Christian Brothers, the students we serve, and the experiences of our alumni, students, faculty and staff. All were taken into consideration and are reflected in the final product.”

— Mary Clare Reilley, Vice President for College Marketing and Communications at Iona College

Program Pages

mStoner’s discovery work found that Iona’s academic program pages needed to be more consistent and more robust in order to motivate prospective students to request information. “The way we tee up majors and programs now shows why you would want to come here,” Reilley said. “A lot of that was the new layout, design, and content. mStoner developed a good design and content strategy that answered the questions, ‘Why study this, and why at Iona?’”

The program pages also include program highlights, a student profile, career outcomes, and logos of recent employers. mStoner and the Iona teams rewrote every single academic program page to follow this template. The Iona team deployed a survey for program chairs to collect the basic information for each section, which they then refined into marketing content that would appeal to 16-year-olds and their parents.

Intranet Content

mStoner and Iona agreed that the external site must maintain a laser-like focus on recruiting prospective undergraduate and graduate students — and that Iona also needed a plan for content oriented toward internal audiences.

“Rather than creating a separate intranet, we created a schematic for non-prospective student pages,” said mStoner CEO and Head of Client Experience Voltaire Santos Miran. “We introduced a new set of templates that strips away all prospective student information, and we created a scalable architecture for current students. The way we structured it in Drupal, the CMS automatically pulls in the ‘current student template’ which has a different global navigation.” Reilley says she loves the intranet for current staff and faculty because it optimizes how current students and employees access important and frequently needed information.

Campus Life

The new website gives Iona vastly improved features for adding photos and video. However, COVID-19 has made it difficult to put them to full use in showing the vibrancy of Iona’s campus and the quality of student-faculty interaction. Not many students and faculty are on campus, and the ones that are on campus are wearing masks. “We’ve used videos where there are more obvious physical contexts, such as sign language in a speech communications class or nursing classes where teachers and students are up and moving around,” Reilley said. “But even if a teacher is being demonstrative, you can’t get their expressions. So developing content that truly shows what life on Iona’s campus is like has been more challenging than we’d hoped.”

Reilley does feel, however, that the ambient video and audio playing on the homepage and the larger photos throughout the site do make Iona come to life so much more. “The site is a lot fresher and lighter, and the layout is cleaner. Things are more discoverable now, too. Our speech clinic, for instance, was 15 clicks in but now it is just two or three. It’s like putting all of the groceries away on the right shelves, instead of having everything laid out on the countertop to sort through.”

“The site is a lot fresher and lighter and the layout is cleaner. Things are more discoverable now, too. Our speech clinic, for instance, was 15 clicks in but now it is just two or three. It’s like putting all of the groceries away on the right shelves, instead of having everything laid out on the countertop to sort through.”

— Mary Clare Reilley, Vice President for College Marketing & Communications at Iona College

Results

“Now we have a site that we WANT people to visit. Previously, when site traffic was down, we didn’t always feel like that was such a bad thing,” Reilley jokes. Her team’s new oversight of Iona’s web presence has been respected, too. “People know that we’re doing things like usability testing and that we’re willing to consider requests — but that we really must prioritize what is in the best interest of prospective students and admissions.”

Reilley still marvels that the site launched despite the added stress of the pandemic. “I can’t emphasize enough how proud I am of the team for overcoming the circumstances to pull off such a large project,” she says. “Launching a new website is always challenging, focusing on the big picture without losing track of all the little details, and doing it during a pandemic was such an extra challenge. But I was so grateful for the tone that Voltaire and the mStoner team set. They were incredibly mature and professional and calm and can-do — and our team learned from that.”

For Miran, the experience was memorable because of Iona’s authenticity and spirit of collaboration. “From the moment that we set foot on campus, we realized Iona was a special place and an extraordinary community, and we wanted to create a site that brought Iona's story to digital life,” he said. “The collaboration with Iona and with Lawrence & Schiller was wonderfully organic throughout the project — a true partnership that resulted in a new brand platform, a vibrant identity system, and a dynamic new web presence. Not only is the site beautiful, accessible, and mobile-native, it's also built on a rock-solid Drupal implementation that will allow Iona to sustain and enhance the site over time. Working with Iona has been a great privilege.”