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#1 in finance (in the world). Top 10 for MBA salary increases. The University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business is the fastest rising B-school, recently jumping 20 spots in the Bloomberg Businessweek rankings.

And its grads lead at top investment banks, Fortune 500s, Big Four audit firms, and startups in Iowa and around the world. But amid the cluster of best B-schools, why wasn’t the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business breaking from the pack? It’s all in the storytelling.

The University of Iowa


  • Draw more qualified students.
  • Position Tippie College of Business as a top competitor.
  • Represent Iowa City as a metropolitan city, where students have great potential and access to industry leaders, rather than as a flyover zone.
  • Promote innovations in emerging fields like analytics and entrepreneurship.


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Developed a new brand platform that serves as the playbook for all future communications, including key messages for four different program audiences as well as state residents.

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Unified undergraduate, MBA and other grad programs with distinct identities under a single brand and rolled out key brand tools.

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Developed an integrated sub-brand for Tippie’s entrepreneurial programs across the University of Iowa and around the state.

The University of Iowa


The University of Iowa


Living out the Hard to Beat concept

After conducting a brand audit, Zehno tapped into Tippie’s unique mix: personalized yet Big Ten experience + connected professors and alumni + career-launching experience = impressive outcomes.

We used “pivot points” as a repeated storytelling device in the college’s new communications tools to highlight defining moments: personal success stories, institutional innovations and confidence-building experiences that are uniquely Tippie. The new Hard to Beat concept uses confident language and bold design to position Tippie as a national contender. The concept conveys pride with typical Midwestern understatement. And the key messages — always brought to life by specific pivot examples — tell a brand story that is undeniable. The design reinforces those pivotal moments with pointed, multi-dimensional graphic devices.

Tippie’s recruitment materials don’t just tell the facts. They convey larger key messages about what it’s like to be a Tippie student. Personal stories show prospective students how they can get what they want: the career, the business experience and the return on investment.

MBA recruitment materials, for example, convey how Tippie grads have pivoted careers (from journalist to financial analyst, from the Peace Corps to Citibank, from researcher to advisor). Profile stories spotlight students who consulted for companies that hired them after graduation, and connected with alumni to secure job interviews and insider perspectives.

This new approach to storytelling has helped Tippie stand out in a crowded regional market, even among competitors that have higher rankings.

The University of Iowa


The University of Iowa


Learn from our process

Phase 1: Brand audit

Our discovery phase included two site visits; online surveys with Tippie students, university students, alumni, Iowa residents and regional employers; a review of competitors’ brands; and a review of Tippie’s existing marketing materials. During this process, Tippie gained an understanding of current brand perceptions across audiences and how the college should position itself competitively. The brand audit put key college stakeholders on the same page and created a solid foundation for the next phase of brand development: the brand platform.

Phase 2: Brand platform

During phase two, Zehno defined messages that unify and differentiate the college from its competitors. These included brand attributes, brand promise, brand position statements, key messages and elevator speeches. The new messaging attracts the best-fit students for Tippie, greater recognition across the state and region, and more charitable giving. The result is a shared playbook that guides all communications — whether messages come from the dean’s office or development officers or campus tour guides.

Phase 3: Brand creative

The creative process brought the brand platform to life. Zehno presented two creative concepts to Tippie. Each concept’s mood board included a color palette, typography, graphic elements, photo style, editorial tone and examples of how the elements all work together. After Tippie selected the Hard to Beat concept, Zehno created a brand vision that showed potential applications of the creative concept—from website to swag—which laid the groundwork for developing actual communications pieces.

Tippie’s new brand conveys a style and tone that’s relevant to all prospective audiences, authentic to the college and aspirational as Tippie moves ahead. Coupled with the brand platform, the new creative will guide the development of consistent and distinctive marketing and communications campaigns for years to come.

Phase 4: Brand launch planning

Zehno consulted with Tippie’s marketing team on how to roll out the new brand across audiences and channels.

Phase 5: Brand content

Zehno planned and executed flagship content for Tippie, including photo shoots, video shoots, profile writing and infographics. The content contributes to a growing bank of premium, unique stories that embodies Tippie’s key messages and can be used across multiple tools and channels.

Phase 6: Brand integration

After developing the marketing and communications plan and flagship content, we collaborated on these early tools for Tippie’s brand launch:

  • Undergrad viewbook
  • MBA viewbook
  • Environmental graphics
  • Dean’s development brochure
  • Video/commercial
  • Website

Then we taught in-house teams how to do great work all on their own. We supported Tippie in educating and energizing internal audiences about the new brand with presentations at key college events. We coached college staff on planning and art directing photo shoots. We also led a writers’ workshop with key marketing staff members who had deep knowledge about the college but needed to learn how to write for the new brand and its new messages.

What Zehno did

  • Brand platform.
  • Brand vision.
  • Brand launch planning.
  • Flagship content including profiles and photo shoots.
  • Admissions campaigns: MBA, PMBA and undergrad viewbooks.
  • Training: writing for the brand.
  • Website consulting.
  • Email campaigns.
  • Videos.
  • Development brochure.
The University of Iowa

Tips for your team

  1. Use environmental graphics to showcase your brand in public spaces. Your on-campus audience matters.
  2. To emphasize outcomes beyond your campus, coordinate a multi-day photo shoot with successful alumni in the top metros your students move to after they graduate.
  3. For your viewbook, move the nitty-gritty details into a companion piece. Use the viewbook to shout your brand’s biggest stories. Put the curriculum and admission policies in a workbook-style separate piece that’s easy to update (and cheaper to produce).

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