North Carolina Rural Center: Website and Branding Success Story

The new NC Rural Center logo in white on top of a photograph of a country road in autumn.

NC Rural Center’s partnership with Unity shows what makes North Carolina great

The NC Rural Center opened its doors in 1987 with the vision of improving the quality of life for all rural North Carolinians. During the past three decades, the definition of a rural county and the needs facing rural communities have shifted, but the mission of the Rural Center has never wavered.

Today, the NC Rural Center serves all 80 of North Carolina’s rural counties (population of 250 or fewer per square mile). Historically, the NC Rural Center has been a resource for leadership, entrepreneurship, and research. In addition to providing coaching and capital to rural small businesses — especially Veteran-owned, minority-owned, and female-owned businesses and solopreneurs — the Rural Center is focused on expanding their advocacy work.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Homegrown Leaders is a regional extension of the Rural Economic Development Institute that works with communities to identify new and emerging leaders. This program also supports leaders in building regional networks of community leaders to promote learning, resource sharing, and collaboration.
  • Rural Day each May brings advocates to Raleigh to engage with elected officials and celebrate what makes rural North Carolina strong. This year Rural Day was May 29th.
  • Rural Assembly brings together rural leaders for a two-day event to discuss a specific topic of interest. The Rural Center has been hosting Rural Assembly for 15 years and last year’s event brought in nearly 400 rural leaders from across the state. The next Rural Assembly takes place on November 15th and 16th.

Also, to really listen to the populations the NC Rural Center serves, Patrick Woodie, the president of the Center, took a Rural Roadtrip in 2017 and 2018 to visit all 80 counties. This listening tour will shape programs and initiatives for years to come.

The Situation

Under Patrick’s leadership and following the 30-year anniversary in 2017, the NC Rural Center has been focused on building their reputation as a forward-looking organization. Achieving this goal has meant rebranding and recreating the public face of the Center.

When the NC Rural Center wanted to find a digital agency to help them think creatively about the new direction for the website and brand, Senior Director of Public Affairs, Todd Brantley, contacted Unity Digital Agency. Being familiar with the work Alisa had done for other nonprofits, Todd knew she would be a great fit to develop a fresh take for the NC Rural Center’s website and brand.

The Opportunity

Before Todd started working with Alisa and her team, the website was antiquated and had a lot of functionality issues. The older CMS had been hacked several times and the backend of the website was clunky and difficult to use. So when Todd started working at the Rural Center almost two years ago, his top priority was to give the website an overhaul.

A screenshot of the Rural Center website before Unity redesigned it

In addition, the Rural Center was seeking new branding to reflect their more forward-looking approach. The new brand included a new logo, of course. Todd and his team wanted a fresh, modern graphic. But it was important that the new logo also tied back into the history of the Center and preserved the cultural connection to rural places. They also wanted to invoke a larger, often overlooked narrative of optimism about rural places.

The Results

Alisa and her team at Unity provided digital tools enabling the NC Rural Center to tell their story about North Carolina’s resilient rural community. Unity partnered with the Rural Center to think creatively and come up with a unique branding look and feel. “Being a small business owner herself, I think Alisa really appreciated our vision,” says Todd.

The new logo developed by Unity Digital Agency is a fresh, artisan-style take on a quilting pattern. The quilt is traditionally a symbol of resilience and an easily identifiable mark of a rural place. With the sleek, modern look, the Center’s new logo represents functionality as art.

The New NC Rural Center logo

The new website is beautiful, clean, accessible, and functional. But more than that, the feedback Todd’s receiving tells him Unity “hit the mark.” He describes working with the team as easy, “Alisa and her team listened and I could tell they really got what we were saying,” says Todd, “I knew they would tailor the work to exactly what we needed.” The new branding speaks directly to the people NC Rural Center seeks to engage and serve.

A mockup of the final designs for the new branding, logo, business cards, style guide, and responsive website

Website design and development is a complex process. Inevitably, there are bound to be bugs and tweaks needed in the days and weeks following the launch of a new website. Todd was especially happy with the customer service he received. Unity’s team was there and continues to be there to respond to any issues promptly. Alisa, Johnny, and the whole team know how to take care of their clients.

Unity Digital Agency consistently meets and exceeds expectations. NC Rural Center loves how their new branding and website helps them continue to learn about, engage with, and celebrate rural North Carolina.