Branding and Brand Identity in Higher Education

– [Announcer] Support
for Digging Deeper comes from the PennState
Alumni Association. Connecting alumni to the
university and to each other. The Alumni Association
is powered by pride. Learn more at and from viewers like you. Thank you. (enthusiastic violin music) – Hi, I’m Maddie Biertempfel. Commercials and
advertisements for colleges and universities
are a common sight. They’re a regular
presence on social media and part of any collegiate
athletic broadcast. But how do universities
engage in branding and what does their branding
say about their identity? On this episode
of Digging Deeper, Penn State President,
Eric Barron, talks to Lawrence Lokman, Vice President for
Strategic Communications at Penn State and Lee Ahern, Associate Professor
of Advertising and
Public Relations. – Thank you so much
for joining me. Interesting topic, branding. So, what is branding in
higher education mean? – I guess I would, heard a
very good definition once from a firm called Stim-ats,
which specializes in it. Said it’s about
promises made and kept. Students are willing
to pay tuition for the education they
receive, donors are willing to invest
in the university, employers hire students
that are graduated, faculty and staff
commit their careers to the university because
of their perception of what the brand delivers. – So, I like this whole idea
of promises made and kept, but my thought is that,
you know, here you are branding a cereal
or an automobile and there’s a tendency
to have it go, okay, this is advertising. I don’t know whether
I should trust this. So, if I combine
the words branding and university or
higher education, is there some negativity
to this or is it really something just like
any other thing that we’re advertising for? – Well, branding, more
generally, I think can be positive and
negative and that you mentioned advertising
specifically and I think certainly
any time brand messages are in that advertising format, you’re gonna have people
that push back a little bit and consider it
just advertising. They’re gonna discount
what they’re hearing. Doesn’t mean that the
message necessarily is not gonna have
the desired impact. That’s one of the hallmarks
of effective branding is to be able to tell
people what you want them to think about your
brand without them counter-arguing what
it is you’re trying to convince them of. And so, I think the
way we teach branding in College of Communications
tries to unpack some of the ways you can do that and what separates a good
brand from a poor brand and what are the
aspects of branding that can really help
you if you’re trying to create equity, which is
often included along with, you know, branding as
creating brand equity. So, how do you do that? – So, there’s a lot, it seems
to me, to unpack on there. One is, you didn’t
necessarily use the word advertising
with branding. So, this is really, you’re
incorporating messaging in a very big way
about an institution. – Yeah. People think of advertising
when they think of branding and it’s really fun
to look at advertising as kind of–
– A component of it. – A component, the most
visible one, right? – [Eric] Yeah. – So you can really
look at a well done ad and I was just talking
to Lawrence about some of the recent
Penn State spots that I think have been very good and it encapsulates
it all for you so you can really look
at what the messaging is and what the strategy is. But, there’s other elements
in the marketing mix that are probably even more
important for building a brand: Innovation, excellence, quality, market share, market
capitalization. All of those things
are gonna impact how people perceive your brand. The advertising is
just one that you have complete control
over and is the one that should really
distill your message exactly the way you want it. – Go ahead.
– I think there’s a point to be made, too, that
the claims you make in communications,
advertising, public relations, word of mouth, have to be real. There ought to be proof points attached to the communication. Brands get themselves
in trouble when they, there’s too much
hyperbole and the claims that they make about
a company or products or service aren’t consistent with how people experience them. And so, you need to
take very seriously what you really can say
and that part of it– – So, that was the other,
one of the other parts there that I was sort of
thinking in terms of unpacking it ’cause this
is what you want someone to know about you, but
you can’t make it up. – [Lawrence] Right. – So, it’s not a good brand
strategy to say Penn State is the best in this and
we’re the best in this and, gee, we’re the, you know,
better than anyone in this. That’s not a good strategy? – Not a good strategy. It doesn’t mean that
we talk with confidence about what a wonderful
university we have and all of the great
measures of that and the stories that
help to demonstrate it. But, too much hyperbole
can get you in trouble. – [Lee] You just,
nobody believes it. – And there’s a
role in this context that Lee and I were
talking for voice and messenger and tone. And so, a lot of
universities have these spots where they talk about
really how great they are in the voice of the university. But, really, alumni and
faculty and students sometimes are the best voices
for what the university does and much more believable
to the public. And so, when they
tell their stories, whether it’s
through advertising, public relations,
or other means, people will listen differently. So, it’s not just what you
say, it’s what people hear. – So, how important then does, it sounds like it’s very
important that the mission of the institution, the
culture of the institution, all of these, now the
voice of a student, that’s more believable. But, if this is gonna be real, you need to really
analyze who we are or what we are as a higher
education institution. Do we do a good job at this? – I think we do a very good job. As a matter of fact, I had– – Does higher education
do a good job at it? – I think higher education
is, Lawrence and I were talking about it, is
a little late to the game. So, some of them wanna
play by the rules of branding that
were really perfected by consumer packaged goods firms and auto makers
that you mentioned. That might not be the best
model for something as complex and, you know, has so
many different dimensions, facets, as a university. So many different audiences. You know, got the alumni,
you’ve got the students, you’ve got the faculty,
and they all have different kind of meanings for what
the university represents and how they connect
to it emotionally. So, it’s a real challenge. But, branding done well is
really about creating a symbol and a symbol that is
visual, that represents something emotional or
something intangible. So, this is what all the
best brands try to do and if you do it well, you
can get past some of that pushback or that reactants that the psychological
term that people have as soon as you try to
convince them of something as soon as you have an
argument that seems to have different elements, a
premise and a conclusion, it’s just natural to
try and unpack that and say well, wait a
minute, is that true? Are you trying to
convince me of that? – [Eric] Right. – Whereas, if you just
present a story of a student who’s here, who gets
to explore and discover about themselves and
people around them, there’s no real argument there. It just is and it’s–
– So, then the viewer is, is the one that’s
discovering the message. – Discovering the
message and, therefore, not counter-arguing and
not arguing with it, and, also, connecting
on an emotional level, which is what most
brands will try and do. And that also comes back to
this idea of brand equity. In other words, can a good
brand and can the development of the good brand make
your product, university, whatever it is, more
valuable than it was. It’s worth more than
the sum of its parts and how do I create
that brand awareness? And you mentioned
arguing, you know, we’re number one in that, number two in that, and
those are all great points and when I mentioned
the, you know, market share or
innovation, you know, when you walk down
the street in New York and see an Apple store,
that’s part of your brand awareness
of the brand and– – It is, yeah.
– You see a big store and it’s very impressive and it
just super forward looking and innovative and it
creates an awareness and a meaning for you,
whereas if Apple had an ad that’s said we’re the
best and most innovated and we’re number one in this
and that and the other thing it would come off as wrong. It wouldn’t come
off as resonating. It’d come off as preachy. – Yeah. you’re just
trying to pitch, pitch me something.
– Right, so there’s different ways that you can
convey you’re number one or you have a big market
share or you’re tops in research funding or you’re
tops in faculty production and there’s ways those
things will get communicated in the context of a 60 second
spot or a 30 second spot. You tell the story
a different way. – You know, it’s
interesting ’cause you said late to the game and I would
have said we’re terrible at it, not Penn State,
(laughing) but I would say, so
when I came into this, I have it all in my head
based on the advertisement, I did it again, at football games
or basketball games, which for every
university in the country seems to be the obligatory
shot of students walking through the
gate of the campus. There has to be a gate, an
opening, you’re coming in or something like that
has to be a diverse, you need to communicate that
you’re a research university, so there must be someone in a
lab coat or holding a beaker and this is so far from
a modern university. I mean, Lawrence, I don’t
know how you feel about it, but I would have
said universities are terrible in this space. – I wouldn’t give universities
a high mark, in general. – Uh huh.
– Too much hyperbole and a sea of same with the spots as you describe.
– Yup, a sea of the same. – And you can almost take
the name of the university and swap on the spot.
– And substitute. – And it wouldn’t
make a difference. – [Eric] Yeah. – And part of the
idea of branding in the communications realm
is to differentiate, actually, and identify proprietary
messages and opportunities that, depending on
your business goal, are appealing to your
stakeholder or your customer. We have a unique
educational model between World Campus
online and 24 campuses, the ability to do research
as an undergraduate. So, there are ways to
begin to model those things that are proprietary
to Penn State. We have a strong community
and we train our students very well for employers
and we can point to surveys and examples that
demonstrate that. And so, if you use
branding in the combination of advertising and
public relations, messages, slogans, you
can begin to communicate those messages in
differentiated ways that can actually help
to drive applications and acceptances by the
students we’d like to recruit. – So, I hear an important
point in here, too, and that is, you know, there
are over 5,000 universities and colleges in this country. We need to have some
differentiation. So, a huge portion of
this brand development is literally to somehow
not have a Penn State be the same and the same
again or however it is that you phrased it,
that differentiation. So, let’s just take a couple
minutes and do it right. You’re sitting in university X, you’re gonna walk in
there, you’re gonna develop a brand strategy,
what do you do? – Well, I think you
have to figure out who the decision makers are and that plays a huge role
because what you described to me of these kind of plug and
play, different versions of a university ad–
– Yeah – Says to me that, at
some point, an agency who probably wants
to be more creative comes up against
a decision maker who’s naturally–
– Who’s dull. (laughs) – Well, risk averse.
– Risk averse, okay. – And said, well, and there’s
another psychology there that Lawrence and I were also
talking about a little bit and that is that the
nature of universities and the way they developed
at the leadership levels might feel like
branding is tawdry. This is maybe something
I don’t even feel like we should be doing.
– Goes back to the beginning discussion about, yes.
– It’s too much like what they do in consumer
packaged goods or automobiles. So, you get the pushback
and if I’m gonna do anything at all, I’m
gonna be super straight and I’m gonna go with
the cookie cutter interchangeable
model, which doesn’t differentiate you at all.
– Yeah, I just couldn’t do that.
– Which is that, well, we got the right decision makers here
(laughing) that, obviously,
went with creative. That was a lot more interesting and I think pays off
when you do that. But, the whole point
of modern branding is to take an
undifferentiated product and make it different.
– Yeah. So, then, what’s next?
– It’s how they evolve. – Do you have the
leadership and convince them that the differentiation
is important and that’s step one. What’s step two? – Step two is identifying
a set of goals or objectives. – [Eric] That you’re
trying to achieve. – That you’re trying to achieve. – Enrollment, funding.
– Increased funding, research, dollars supported
from grant organizations and donors supporting
new campaigns and campaigns that may
be focused, for example, on energy security
or food security as we have here at Penn State. So, when you begin to look
at what the enterprise’s overall needs are and
goals, then you look at how can I align the
communication’s function in a campaign to reach
the right audiences to move forward
communications that make them predisposed to be
aware of our priorities and their role in
making them successful for the institution
and for them, that they feel ownership
as well by the investment or the support. And so, you need to
set those objectives and objective could be
we need more advocates and supporters in
Pennsylvania who appreciate the value of how we enrich
the economic development in their communities,
to talk to legislators, join our advocacy or,
you know, program. – So, you have the objective–
– To help us bring in more state funding.
– You have the objective and then you gotta
have the stories that fulfill it
and the messenger. – Right.
– Mhm. – Is this sort of the
sequence that you– – And at the end of
the, well, you have to manage expectations when
it comes to the measurable on something like a
60 second ad because, oftentimes–
– It’s a different story. – Yeah, people will
watch it and maybe have a great connection and
like it and you’ll ask them whether they saw the ad and
they won’t remember, right? Even though, on a
deeper level, they do. They did have a connection. So, oftentimes, difficult to
measure it in a concrete way the impacts of any one message. But, what I always teach
in terms of advertising, it might be hard to
quantify the effectiveness, but we know it works
because everybody’s doing it and people pay millions and
billions for advertising for years over time because
they know it’s working. Unfortunately, the
location of brand equity and the location of
brands is someplace that’s very hard to get to
’cause it’s in people’s brains. – Yeah.
– The brand it not that logo. The brand is not that color
combination or the typeface and why brands are valuable
is because all the individuals out there who have some
kind of an association or meaning that goes
along with a brand or with Penn State
that’s in minds. – This is that
association they have. – And that’s the value. – So, let’s take a look at
a Penn State example here and we’ll watch it. – [Narrator] Our process
that we’ve invented improves survival
rate of plants, it’s designed to reduce
the environmental impact of fertilizers. Better roots make
for better plants. I was able to take advantage
of Invent Penn State and explore my business idea without all the risk associated. I went from being a
plant science student working in a lab to now
being an entrepreneur. I feel like I’m
making a difference. – So, let’s dissect that. What do you see in
terms of identity? What was the messaging? How is it contributing
to exactly what we said of differentiation
and communicating to people what Penn
State’s all about? What do the two of you see? – You’re probably
pretty invested in this. It’s the first
time I’ve seen it. – Uh huh.
– So, you go first. – Okay.
– And then I’ll say what I– – Well, first of all, it’s
in the voice of a student. – Nice.
– So, it’s about an experience, it’s about an
experience of empowerment. – Yeah.
– Of them to be able to take what they’ve learned and
what they started to discover as interesting and to carry it
forward in a meaningful way, almost a journey
of self discovery. And, I think that
the choice of imagery to go along with
that, obviously, the nurturing and the
growing and the watering is, you know, we’re not just
watering and growing plants, we’re watering and
growing people, so that they can, you know, grow into their fullest potential. And so, I think the emotional, underlying emotional
message here is empowerment. – [Eric] Mhm, and the tag line? Or your intent? I happen to like it a lot. – Yeah, well, I think one
of the wonderful things about Penn State is the
strength of community. – Yeah.
– And the size of the community
of so many people doing those kinds of
things who are actually making the world a better place. And so, part of that
message is to demonstrate the ways in which we all
benefit from what’s happening at Penn State through
students like Hunter. – So, I know we don’t
have roo much time left, but I want to make sure I ask. So, there’s a
message, 30 seconds, how does it end
up as a campaign? How does it end up as
an organized effort at branding Penn State? – Well, the way we
usually teach branding is the brand theme, which
would be the We Are and that’s something that
would go over several years or maybe even decades. There’s some brand themes
that have been out there for a long time. And then, the individual
campaigns are organized around some concept and this one would be student
empowerment, I would imagine. You could have another, a
couple of different spots that all speak to how
that happens here. You could have
another set of spots that are about, more
explicitly, about community. You could have a set
of spots that are more explicitly about maybe
excitement and fun and self discovery in that realm and those could each be
individual campaigns. – [Eric] And Lawrence,
your thought here in our final seconds? – So, we have about a 15 or so– – Of these.
– Of these types of stories and we do research to see
how they affect alumni and faculty and staff
and other supporters of the university
and we see that they feel more connected
to Penn State, more motivated to
give or volunteer or hire a graduate
as business people and that’s what I
want them to feel and that, of course,
then supports our efforts to engage them more in the
life of the university. – You know I’m gonna
end on a yes, no. Do we know which is the
favorite of alumni of the 15? – This is one of the favorites. It’s not, I don’t know–
– Their favorite, yeah. – That we have one favorite.
– Favorite. But, we have some that attract more, okay.
– Yes. And the science of it is
we can actually adjust how we move it out based on which ones are responding
the best in the marketplace. – I have a lot more questions. It’s such a fun topic, but thank
you so much for joining me. (enthusiastic violin music)
Fascinating. Thank you.
– Thank you. Welcome. – Well, thank you so much
for being here today, President Barron.
– My pleasure. – Branding, interesting topic. – Very, yeah.
– A lot of aspects to it. So, something that
you guys talked about was how branding isn’t
necessarily what you say, but what people hear.
– Yeah. – So, I think, with Penn State, a lot of people tend to
think of football games and the We Are
chant and a lot of school pride kind
of associations. – [Eric] True. – But, how would you
describe Penn State’s brand for somebody who might
not know that much about the university? – You know, I think there
are a lot of parts of it. And, you know, I
would say land grant, except who knows
what that means. But, in fact, the
message there is in service to society and that’s part of
that one community impacting many is
this is our role and it’s not just commencement
and graduating student, it’s about all that
used for research, it’s about the outreach we do, it’s about the
service that we do. So, in my mind, that is a
key element of what makes Penn State special. We actually live this
mission of serving society. There are a lot of
sub-elements to that, but, in my mind, that
when I’m thinking about where the university should go, that’s what I’m thinking about. How do we serve society? – And the whole service
outreach component of Penn State extends beyond University
Park with World Campus. – It is phenomenal,
World Campus. But, we have Innovation
Hub, Invent Penn State. Within 30 miles, we have
a facility within 30 miles and 96% of the population
of Pennsylvania. Same thing for our campuses. We have Ag Extension agents
that are helping agriculture and farmer in every
single county. If you look at our new
program that’s related to substance abuse, huge
problem in Pennsylvania and the nation, we have
programs and people in every county in the
state of Pennsylvania. So, if you look
at our TV station and the reach of
that and the radio and the reach of that, we
literally live this state. – And, with so many
different entities, how does Penn State work
to keep a consistent brand? – So, you know,
there, in my mind, there are the
simple pieces of it, so that if you go
anywhere within Penn State and look at it, you
see the same colors, the same messaging,
the same symbols, so it looks like
there’s a, I don’t think that’s subliminal, but
it’s the same thing. You’re in Penn State,
you’re in Penn State. And after all, we only have
a degree from Penn State. We don’t have degrees
from other places. So, all of these are part of it, so that you give a flavor. So, for example, when
we admit a student and they’re at a campus,
we now what they see is the campus they’re going to, not something that’s generic but it still has that same
flavor of the messaging and branding of Penn State. So, the team
actually worked to be very consistent in that space. – Mhm. And, talking a little bit
about how higher education branding is kind of
similar across platforms among other colleges,
Penn State actually has a lot of branding
classes for students to start thinking about their
own professional identities. So, why is it
important, do you think, for students in college
to start thinking about their own brand? – Well, I think we actually
heard from our experts. So, if you have 5,300
universities and colleges, how do you distinguish yourself while also
communicating the truth? Communicate and communicating
in a way where people hear it. This has to be the same
thing for students, with thousands and thousands
of college graduates, how did you distinguish yourself while it also being the truth,
real, and your messaging enables somebody
else to hear it? So, I would say that very
same conscious thought process through branding a university makes sense to me for a student. – Absolutely, and I
know a lot of these are kind of targeted toward freshmen to start thinking about early as soon as they step on campus. So, really great opportunity and thank you so much for
talking with us today. – My pleasure. – [Announcer] Support
for Digging Deeper comes from the PennState
Alumni Association. Connecting alumni to the
university and to each other. The alumni association
is powered by pride and from viewers like you. Thank you. (clicking)
(air whooshing)

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