Once known as Savannah’s cherished junior college, Armstrong Atlantic State University had long since relinquished its two-year status. Through 75 years of service to the city—with each growth spurt adding another element to its unwieldy four-word name—Armstrong had become a full-fledged, comprehensive university with more than 7,000 students, impressive health sciences programs, myriad graduate degrees, and immense future potential. But many on campus worried, “How do we replace our local teaching-college reputation of the past with a more regional identity?”
Armstrong’s recent successes included hiring a dynamic new president, establishing new doctoral programs, winning national athletic championships, building a massive new student center, and creating hundreds of new residence-hall spaces. But CRANE quantitative research revealed a disquieting fact: Beyond—and sometimes even within— the tri-county area, Armstrong did not suffer so much from inaccurate perceptions as from no impression at all.
Potential best-fit prospects up and down the eastern seaboard already viewed Savannah as an attractive, one-of-a-kind destination city, but had no knowledge of Armstrong academically or of its role in shaping Savannah’s rich cultural scene. Meanwhile, the booming cross-town institution calling itself SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) ensnared enviable attention with its downtown building rehabs and quirky style, leaving Armstrong to linger “out of sight, out of mind.”
Our CRANE team knew that any national branding messages must grow from, rather than ignore, Armstrong’s deep local roots and showcase the university’s position as a center for Savannah’s economic, scientific, cultural, and civic vibrancy. So we developed a simple equation that reveals the inextricable Armstrong-Savannah connection: the university’s attributes plus the city’s assets equals the Armstrong experience.
The new Armstrong message—warm, locally minded, and regionally aware— emphasizes the university’s strong legacy of undergraduate teaching, offering prospects the kind of personal, coastal city experience they couldn’t receive at any of Georgia’s larger flagships: student-focused, teaching-first. To further differentiate the institution from the state’s big publics, we recommended dropping the confusing acronym “AASU” in favor of the simple, personal, resonant “Armstrong.”
Following the program’s launch, Armstrong filled the new freshman residence hall to capacity, and undergraduate enrollment reached an all-time high of 6,918 (an increase of 4.6%). Beyond the happy and intentional increase in enrollment numbers, the campus community and local leaders rallied around the new identity, expressed via billboards, web ads, and a 75th-anniversary celebration, and embraced this fresh articulation of Georgia’s first-city university.