Marymount Manhattan College (MMC) in New York City pushes boundaries and infuses creative energy into everything it does. College leadership wanted to express MMC’s vibrancy and increase its visibility locally and nationally.
“I have heard MMC described as a hidden jewel. A well-kept secret on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.,” said Stephen Eichinger, executive director of marketing and communications, in explaining how the college has previously been perceived.
The college wanted to let the secret out.
MMC partnered with mStoner in 2020 to develop a website that would reflect the vitality and boldness of the college. Shortly after the launch, the Web Marketing Association recognized the new website with a 2021 WebAward for Outstanding Achievement in Web Development, and it was named Best University Website.
Discovery report; creative strategy; content strategy; information architecture; responsive redesign; brand execution; visual design templates; art and photography direction; interface design; governance consulting; thematic CSS development; programming and site implementation; content development; quality assurance testing; user testing; analytics configuration and custom reporting; CMS training; post-launch support; post-launch usability testing
Before the website redesign, mStoner and MMC collaborated on a campaign to spread the word about an innovative learning model. With COVID-19 still active, administrators at MMC knew students would be concerned about returning to New York City, a global hub of creativity that relies on density and closeness. To keep students safe while retaining the intimacy MMC is known for, the college implemented Virtual Classes/Open Campus, a model that allowed most classes to be offered in an online format while the college’s physical campus remained open, and they engaged mStoner to craft a strategic marketing campaign to inform and reassure students about campus safety.
“We knew we had an excellent strategy to keep the college open and vibrant during a challenging time,” said Eichinger. “And we knew we needed a reliable partner to help us execute that strategy. mStoner fit the bill.”
MMC focused on three key messages: safety, flexibility, and community. “We executed on all fronts for this micro-targeted marketing campaign for MMC,” said Daniella Nordin, director of marketing for mStoner. “Our blueprint, starting with a website optimized for conversions, and integrating content marketing with paid advertising resonated with MMC’s students and allowed the college to effectively communicate and convert.”
mStoner incorporated the messages across a microsite and in student and faculty profiles, social media ads, paid search ads, YouTube video ads, and email. Because the audience was targeted so specifically — to new and returning students — mStoner used customized marketing and data-centric strategies to ensure the right ads reached the right audiences at the right time. The multi-pronged approach also included a robust email marketing campaign, further reinforcing messaging.
MMC was successful in communicating its new learning model: It saw a 287% increase in engagement on the college’s Facebook page, with 57% of the targeted audience interacting with the microsite.
"There’s an exploratory nature at the heart of MMC. The approach to learning here is transdisciplinary. For us, boundaries are flexible, not fixed, in all aspects of the student journey. Our students are open and curious.”
Later in 2020 MMC was ready to redesign its website. “The last time the site was redesigned was in 2013,” said Eichinger. “It didn’t reflect the boldness and the innovative spirit at MMC.”
New York City is integral to the Marymount Manhattan experience. MMC’s signature CityEdge program, for example, immerses students in the city’s thriving cultural, educational, and business institutions. From their first semester through their senior year, students participate in seminars, career labs, internships, and mentorship programs that connect them with the city’s resources and prepare them for fulfilling careers.
“mStoner is city-based; they know city energy. Their proposal was smart and urban,” Eichinger said. “It was clear Voltaire [Santos Miran, chief operating officer and head of client experience] and Ben [Bilow, creative director] understood MMC and appreciated our values.”
Eichinger had worked with mStoner on a full website redesign at a previous position with another NYC college. “I saw how they worked and how successful the redesign was,” he said. “They know higher education. They understand our constituencies and our stakeholders. They were able to hit the ground running.”
The mStoner team used the branding and visual identity work completed by Ologie for MMC in 2017 and the background research conducted by Lawrence & Schiller in 2020 to develop goals for the website. The team recommended:
The production schedule developed for the site was designed with faculty in mind: It required minimal faculty input during their off-contract time, and then rounds of feedback once they were back in the swing of the semester. mStoner introduced a schedule of reviewing deliverables with the core team one week and then presenting separately to Kerry Walk, president, and MMC’s cabinet and faculty the next week.
MMC wanted the new site to improve enrollment and retention, generate more awareness, and strengthen the college’s message.
“There’s an exploratory nature at the heart of MMC,” Eichinger said. “The approach to learning here is transdisciplinary. For us, boundaries are flexible, not fixed, in all aspects of the student journey. Our students are open and curious.” MMC offers more than 100 majors, minors, and concentrations, and encourages students to “mix and match,” to “see connections where others see boundaries,” and to create a wholly unique academic experience.
The mStoner team proposed a new site structure that focuses on prospective students and new visitors. Topics that are top-of-mind for prospective students and families are spotlighted as primary navigation items. All program pages are centralized under the interactive program finder, making it easy and intuitive for visitors to explore their academic interests, investigate the possibilities of mixing and matching, and discover new passions.
— Stephen Eichinger, executive director of marketing and communications at Marymount Manhattan College
MMC uses WhiteWhale’s LiveWhale content management system (CMS), and mStoner and LiveWhale collaborated on building new templates and migrating pages.
For the front end, mStoner used its ‘from scratch’ approach, following industry best practices for front-end development and following the LiveWhale best practice coding guidelines. This approach yields efficient, high-performing, and browser-compliant code and avoids the bloat that comes with using frameworks.
The mStoner team delivered the HTML assets to the LiveWhale implementation team and supported the implementation with necessary fixes for the HTML assets as needed. They also trained and oriented the MMC team on the front-end process and workflow, giving MMC the flexibility to work with other agency partners in the future.
The front-end code acts as a living style guide for the website and serves as a starting point for styling other MMC websites and web applications.
As a proponent of the less-is-more aesthetic, Abby McLean, user experience (UX) and visual designer at mStoner, creates simple yet highly functional and beautiful websites by using abundant white space and clean typography, as well as vivid imagery.
McLean wanted the MMC website to express the spirited curiosity of the students and the gender and academic fluidity of the college. “I wanted something edgy,” she said. “I wanted to use lots of color, but I also wanted it to be uncomplicated.”
McLean began by absorbing the branding material and visual identity work completed by Ologie in 2017 and the background research conducted by Lawrence & Schiller in 2020.
“I leaned into the brand and added new colors — chartreuse and purple — bringing brightness to the website,” she said. “Then I worked with the page choreography, seeing how the colors looked, how they worked with the content, and how the content revealed itself.”
Visitors searching through the program pages will see the “choreography” at work. The colors and photos pop, and when the visitor scrolls over a photo, a plus sign appears, encouraging the visitor to click for more details about each program. This interaction creates movement in the site, emphasizing the exuberance of the MMC community.
Of course, McLean integrated New York City into the design with photos and videos of students exploring Manhattan. She also differentiated the site by experimenting with typefaces and shifting the usual primary typeface to a secondary position and invigorating the site with a new primary typeface.
Marymount Manhattan College’s freshly designed website launched in June 2021. Just three months later, Web Marketing Association’s WebAwards, the longest-running annual website award competition dedicated to naming the best websites in 96 industries while setting the standard of excellence for all website development, selected the MMC website for the Best University Website Award.
The collaboration between mStoner, WhiteWhale, and MMC faculty and staff also resulted in significant improvements, including:
“The site provides a vastly improved user experience, thanks to the new program finder as well as the site’s visual dynamism, video capability, and various micro-interactions that users can take advantage of,” said Eichinger. “MMC’s board of trustees was thrilled with how the site authentically reflects MMC and is centered on the experience of our primary audience: prospective students.”
Analytics from August through September 2020 and for the same period in 2021 showed: