Making Your Brand Sing -- While Following the Rules

You know the problem: branding at universities is highly political. There are strict hierarchies to follow, centralized university guidelines to mesh with individual unit guidelines, and all too often the result is brand soup — lots of logos and marks but no clear identity.

But brand matters for higher ed groups just as much as it does for corporations, maybe more. Especially in a highly competitive recruitment landscape, students are choosing a story. And branding is one of the best ways we have to tell stories.

The College of Arts & Architecture knew their branding was inconsistent. So part of our work for them was defining that brand, creating rules and guidelines, to make sure the brand was consistently telling the right story and supporting the college’s vibrant, exciting identity. All, of course, while navigating the university’s brand guidelines and story.


Reinvigorate a powerful, distinguished brand

We worked closely with A&A stakeholders to develop the visual assets, brand voice, stories, and strategies that could create a powerful and easily sustained brand.


Create usable guidelines and assets

In any large organization, more than one group will use your brand assets. How can usable assets be provided–along with guidelines–to ensure the broader team has what they need, without “breaking” the brand identity?


Strategic alignment

At its best, brand management needs to align with audiences and goals, as well as visual and technical strategy. It’s an incredibly complicated balancing act.


Coordination with other brands

College brands don’t exist in a vacuum. The Arts & Architecture brand had to clearly fit into the Penn State community, standing out while not challenging central guidelines. Working closely with university branding groups is a must for this kind of work.


90% of 18-29-year-olds use social media regularly. Having brand alignment across channels is an absolute must.


Our collaboration with the client was key to understanding how to strategically position the college’s visual identity. Our comprehensive discovery and insights process gave us the information we needed to know exactly who we’re talking to, and why. These efforts helped our team craft and curate a highly distinguished identity through assets, brand voice, tiered messaging, and information architecture.


Brands are more than logos (and the college’s logo was already defined, anyway). We had to strategically build a look and feel around that mark. A look and feel that would support the group’s goals — most importantly, recruitment. Taking a strategic approach to design is one of our agency’s strengths, and we sure got to use it on this project.


In a university context, individual unit marks need to stand out, and follow the rules. How could we make sure that Arts & Architecture had a brand identity that set it apart from all of the other colleges at Penn State while sticking to university guidelines? By working really closely with central communications, of course. We cooperately figured out exactly how far we could stretch the university brand guidelines without breaking them, coming up with assets and branding materials that stood out, while fitting in, making the individual college and central communications both happy. Phew.

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