Case Study

Chamberlain University

Strategy: built a national campus footprint 

Target Audience: define the needs of self-starter nurses and students

Profiles: detail each profile to determine commonalities and unique needs

In March 2005, DeVry Inc. purchased Deaconess College of Nursing for $5.3 million in cash. As part of the agreement, DeVry had to rename the nursing college and branded the institution as Chamberlain. While the 120-year connection to Deaconess in St Louis provided instant credibility, the nursing programs and leadership had to be redesigned. Ten years later - after hiring new deans for their four campuses, improving NCLEX pass rates and instilling more community involvement - the school needed to define and distinguish the Chamberlain brand.

A greater need and role for nurses

In hospitals and medical facilities around the country, nursing is undergoing dramatic changes. With an aging population and higher life expectancy, demand dramatically outpaces supply. And as healthcare costs continue to climb with a shift to patient outcomes (versus fee for service), the role future nurses play in primary care is transformational. 

From a regulatory perspective, healthcare reform pushed nurses with associates degrees to return to school for a Bachelors (BSN) degree. In turn, nurses with a BSN were four times more likely to pursue a Masters (MSN) and possibly turn to teaching. So nurses were increasingly becoming more like general practitioners and doctors were moving to become specialists – all of these dynamics created a market need for nurses with advanced degrees.

Need to differentiate 

While Chamberlain could claim a 120-year history, its success in scaling the program nationally would require an ability to attract the best faculty and practitioners. But getting lost in the midst of a broad range of local, national and online schools was very real. A spillover from national programs was benefitting schools like Chamberlain but over the longer term its association with DeVry, for profit model, and a lack of differentiation put the Chamberlain brand perception in the undesirable middle position - between national schools (top tier) and for-profit schools (some fly-by-night) and community colleges.

Low awareness and lack of differentiation made it impossible to enter new markets and establish a viable program.

Emotional over functional needs

After conducting qualitative research in Columbus and Chicago, we validated our hypothesis that students choose a nursing school primarily for functional reasons and that the supply-demand imbalance in most markets has meant that brand has rarely had to play a role. To own a space in the category the ideas of student centricity and a singular focus would take the Chamberlain brand in a more emotionally impassioned and differentiated direction.

Also, the Chamberlain seal emphasizes a long, established history but at the same time puts the brand in a position of over-promising and under-delivering. In rapid growth mode the school would be evolving, and in some cases developing, the structure, talent, faculty and culture. Calibrating a clear vision and expectations with room for iterative improvements would be a necessary requirement to meet.

Singular focus on nursing

Given careful consideration of student segments and health institution needs, the Chamberlain brand positioning encompassed a singular focus on nursing where: 

  • faculty came from the practice setting
  • the model nurse would have the foundational elements of being a competent, professional, and compassionate nurse.

While several positioning concepts were tested, For Nurses By Nurses resonated most strongly with the goals of the program and the ambitions of future nurses. The positioning provided flexibility in terms of being nationally anchored but activated and serviced locally. This flexibility was critical in creating centers of excellence, community outreach, and strong clinical partner relationships.

The strong visual connection to actual nurses reinforced the sense of duty and calling while minimizing a sales organization perception in admissions. Since the brand positioning exercise the footprint has grown from 4 campuses in the Midwest to 22 nationwide.

Relevance: separate tablestakes unique attributes

Differentiation: take advantage of the white spaces

Quantitative Research: relevant and differentiated brand platform

Presence: organically fuel the brand