The ‘OU human’: Dartlet workshops aim to strengthen marketing


Grace Turner

Tyler Borders (center, standing), co-founder of Dartlet, a brand strategist firm, helps lead a series of workshops to find and develop OU’s identity.

Last week, students passing through Vandenberg Hall were puzzled to see open doors leading to “Vandy II,” the closed-down first-floor cafeteria.

Though some poked their heads in, hoping for another on-campus dining option, not many stuck around to participate in the workshops going on inside.

Dartlet, a reputation strategy firm and owner of the trademark “The Science of Communication,” was visiting campus to conduct a series of workshops to get at the heart of “who” Oakland University is.

John Young, vice president of Communications and Marketing at OU, said Dartlet’s goal was “to run an interactive, live workshop to begin defining the human personality and story of Oakland, and to see how the university community would respond to this type of approach.”

Twelve total workshops were held, with half focusing on the personality of OU, and the other half on its platform. Anyone who knows and understands OU was invited to participate, including faculty, staff, students, alumni and other stakeholders.

“The way that we think is about the psychology of a place,” said Dartlet co-founder Tyler Borders. “We’re thinking about the human that is Oakland University.”

During the interactive workshops, participants were asked to identify, rank and defend traits that they believed could be tied to OU. “Collaborative,” “neighborly” and “resilient” were some traits that came up repeatedly throughout the week.

Working sometimes individually and sometimes in pairs or groups, participants also built an archetype for the “OU human,” anonymously selected this human’s fault and drafted preambles for the university.

Dartlet asked the participants to consider both the current OU and the ideal OU, and whether the university’s faults are actual or perceived.

“We take the workshop data, we combine it with a competitive audit, then combine it with external reception data,” explained Jorie Antuma, Dartlet’s director of account management. “We take those three things, we look at them all together, and then we do a bunch of calculations and strategical analysis.”

Dartlet has conducted over 50 of these analyses for colleges and universities, health care centers, insurance companies and banks, Antuma said.

For example, Dartlet has worked with Valparaiso University, University of Alabama and Saginaw Valley State University.

The firm will return to OU in late May with its “strategic deliverable” — a book that will guide university marketing strategy.

“We call it our ‘strategic deliverable,’ but ultimately it’s a personality solution and messaging map,” Antuma said.

The strategic deliverable will also help keep marketing consistent when the new university president takes office, according to Young.

“Even if it’s the same core message, it might just be a repackaging,” Young said.

Dartlet co-founder Scott Ochander expressed concern over low student turnout to the workshops, saying the number of students who attended — about 70 — is atypical for a university of this size.

He hopes to bring the number of student participants up to at least 250 through the use of a condensed online workshop, available at

The workshop should take about 15 minutes to complete and will be open until 5 p.m. on Friday, March 24.