How does a college seeking to grow enrollment build a website to market a highly distinctive education? By focusing on institutional priorities, Warren Wilson College, a small school with limited resources, completed a comprehensive redesign and achieved great results — including a 200% increase in self-initiated student inquiries!
From the moment you step onto Warren Wilson’s campus, you realize you’ve found a place that’s a little different. It’s not just the serene mountain setting outside Asheville, North Carolina. There’s also a funky, independent, community vibe that’s totally unique to Warren Wilson, and we’re thrilled we had the chance to convey that in a custom digital experience.
New Brand, New Website
In July 2015, the leadership at Warren Wilson College tapped Janelle Holmboe to be the new Vice President for Enrollment & Marketing. By mid 2016, Janelle kicked off an ambitious project to evolve the Warren Wilson brand and completely redesign its website.
Supported by a small but strong internal Warren Wilson team that included the college’s one web director (the sole staff member responsible for the website), she brought in two external partners after a national search (Ologie and NewCity) to assist with the effort. It was an exciting project to be a part of and both the Ologie and Warren Wilson teams were great partners to work with.
This was Janelle’s first time leading a major web project like this, and according to her, she learned a lot along the way.
Developing a strong partnership with the NewCity team allowed her to feel confident in the decisions she was making.
“Working together felt really good — like in high school when you have the really good group for a group project — it felt like that,” Janelle said. “I was self-aware enough to know that I was never going to be the expert on how to make a website do what I needed it to do. But as the leader of the project who had to defend it and had to keep the ball moving forward, what I valued about our partnership was that I could tell NewCity what I needed the website to achieve and then NewCity could tell me, ‘then these are the things we need to do.’ That clear advice allowed me to move forward with confidence and decisiveness.”
The feeling’s mutual. Janelle and her team were always there to listen to our recommendations and make decisions to keep the project moving forward with a clear vision.
The combination of expertise and energy on both sides made the project special and successful. That trust, respect, and collaborative spirit paved the way for a highly strategic website that not only looks good, but that’s also producing great results.
It’s All About Focus
In order to support Warren Wilson’s ambitious enrollment goals, the college’s website needed to focus on prospective students and their parents.
This meant making the strategic decision that the site was not going to be all things to all people.
“In my opinion, the website is meant to address high-level challenges determined by what the institution needs to achieve. For us, that meant a focus on increasing enrollment. And once you make a decision, you have to go all in for the biggest impact,” Janelle explained. “There is a risk that it won’t pay off, but with clearly defined priorities and the conviction to follow through, you can achieve great results. I also felt that the risk was mitigated by working so closely with NewCity’s user experience team.”
This focused approach can create challenges, especially when facing internal pressures from those who don’t understand that the website wasn’t created to speak to them or who want the site to house every miscellaneous piece of content that springs to mind.
Janelle managed to navigate the politics, employing “administrative courage” to keep the project focused on the results it needed to achieve: supporting enrollment.