Positioning a University Center for Success

Starting a new center is hard. Clearly communicating a new center’s purpose and offerings can be particularly complicated. The Corporate Engagement Center (CEC) was no exception. As a relationship-based center intended to nurture industry partnerships, it needed to appear approachable. But it also had a complex series of messages about the types of engagement available and how the Center could help internal and external groups navigate industry relationships. At the same time, it had to be positioned among other groups at the university who might at first glance seem to have similar offerings. A tall order!

Project Goals

1

Unified messaging

There’s so much to say, and so little time! The Center came to us knowing their messaging had to be sharpened before web content could be created– they couldn’t say everything to everyone.

2

Clear, approachable website

Saying everything on the web is even harder. The Center needed a clear information architecture to support its unique messaging to multiple audiences. And, of course, they needed everything to look and feel every bit as sophisticated as the Fortune 500 businesses they were partnering with.

3

Digital metrics

The site had to support users, and we needed to be able to tell whether it was working as needed. This all had to be planned from the ground up, in a sophisticated information architecture.

4

Graphic identity

As usual, the Center needed its own visual identity without violating university guidelines. How could they have a unique look and feel while remaining in the Penn State brand? They needed a design team to work closely with central communications to maintain compliance while also developing a unique look and feel.

5

Support for future growth

Finally, the Center needed everything — messaging, web, and collateral — to be smart and scalable for future growth.

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The Corporate Engagement Center has over 58 years of experience in industry and university relations. The website for the center has to be clear and easy to navigate when there is so much history and information to share. We had to build them a powerful tool.

Discovery

We dove into the Center’s world. What were they offering, and how were they positioned among other groups? What did similar centers at other universities offer? And what were audiences looking for when they reached out to the Center? Understanding all of this helped us better understand the Center at the same time it sharpened their own self-understanding. We left the discovery process ready to develop a strategic approach to messaging and web presence.

Strategy

We provided detailed strategy documents, applying our discovery research to the Center’s needs. These documents helped guide them through their initial marketing efforts and provided a future roadmap for how their marketing could evolve as the Center grows. We also created an information architecture. Far more than a site plan, this strategic document mapped out the pages of the site, with clear connections to goals and content types for each. It’s how we make sure that each component of a site adds up to a cohesive whole.

Design

As we designed the Center’s website, we faced a classic higher-ed challenge. How could we create a unique look and feel without deviating from the Penn State brand? We like a challenge, so this was a fun project to design. It had to “fit” with academic audiences and industry audiences, and convey a friendly but highly professional relational feel. Patterns overlaid on photos (real, not stock) made sure that we maintained an on-brand look while showing actual humans as much as possible.

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