The Penn State brand is what comes to mind for current and prospective students, alumni and friends, and faculty and staff when they hear “Penn State.” The size and scope of our university—20+ campuses in Pennsylvania, online programs, business, law, and medical schools, and global connections—make consistency in the use of our brand essential.
Informed by market research, our brand helps us as marketing communications professionals to look broadly at the University’s needs. The brand also provides a framework through which we can tailor communication to specific audiences while still conforming to a consistent and unified message.
In all communications, we strive to ensure that the University’s image reflects our mission of teaching, research, and service, as well as goals that include:
- Diversity and inclusion
- Showcasing academic research, global reach and responsibility, and a high-quality student experience
Our brand positioning guides how we talk about what distinguishes us from other colleges and universities.
Penn Staters are "inspired doers," nurtured by a culture that encourages lofty goal setting and investing the effort to achieve them. They are molded in an environment that values success, teamwork, and service to others, and are intent upon living inspired, purposeful lives.
All universities talk about producing leaders, but ask employers where they go to find individuals who inspire others, know the value of hard work, and lead by example. They find them at Penn State.
What is an “Inspired Doer?”
Penn State’s inspired doers combine personal ambition and perseverance with passion for a larger purpose and a commitment to service. They are focused on learning and achievement, and they are hard-working builders: of careers, families, communities, and institutions.
As a group, they are inspired by goals that bridge the divide between individual achievement and social benefit, and are strongly motivated by a sense of gratitude and a desire to give back.
The qualities and values that Penn Staters share:
View the Brand Storybook project, which focuses on inspired doers around Penn State who are using their many opportunities at the University to make a difference.
The brand platform is the core idea or emotion that sums up the brand, to be used as a starting point to inspire marketing and communications messaging.
Our personality encompasses everything we say and do and should shine through in our messaging. Every communication should seek to evoke at least one of the following characteristics:
- Excellence – Stands out in ability and achievement
- Collaboration – Team-oriented and works well with diverse points of view
- Passion – Inspired and driven to make an impact; moved by a feeling of lifelong connection to the institution and fellow alumni
- Innovation – Willing to think outside the box to achieve new goals
We strive to focus our messaging on what makes Penn State different from other colleges and universities. In addition to underscoring our academic and research reputation through the brand pillars, we differentiate ourselves from other institutions through the emotional aspects of the brand, the feeling of family and connectedness, and the brand positioning of the inspired doer. When Penn Staters put their heads and hearts together—when they combine knowledge and passion, hard work and inspiration—they can change the world. Penn Staters don’t just dream of creating change—they learn how.
In marketing collateral, focus on differentiators by portraying the emotional experience of being a member of the Penn State Family.
View a feature article that demonstrates the brand's creative platform.
Pillars and Messaging
The brand pillars and supporting messages should be used as guideposts for targeting communications efforts, choosing stories, and finding appropriate angles for those stories.
The pillars support the brand through describing the most important aspects of our University’s image and values. These should serve as a guidepost for messaging efforts.
- Academics: Penn State is committed to the success of each student and provides support, leadership and engaged scholarship opportunities, mentoring, and jobs to help them achieve their dreams and goals.
- Research: Penn State makes important contributions to society through education and research, as well as stimulates economic development. We have a world-class research faculty, and students at all levels contribute to and learn from their research efforts.
- Global: Penn State is a university with an eye to the global community. Penn Staters are prepared to be citizens of the global community through perspectives in the classroom and engaged opportunities to experience the world at large.
- Experience: Penn State fosters a sense of family and community. From day one and for the rest of their lives, every Penn Stater shares a DNA that unites them to every other Penn Stater.
These supporting messages are specific enough to bolster our positioning and support our creative platform but general enough to allow for individual expression. Every communication should include at least one of these messages.
This first group of messages supports the inspired doer positioning by expressing the University’s goal of developing students who will make an impact in the world:
- Penn State graduates are highly sought after by companies for academic achievement, team-oriented attitude, and strong work ethic.
- Penn State is committed to the success of each student: providing support, mentorship, leadership opportunities, and jobs to achieve their dreams and goals.
- Penn State is marked by a strong feeling of lifelong family, community, and unity.
- Penn State makes important contributions to society through education, research, and stimulating economic development.
The following messages support Penn State’s high reputation across the country and around the world as an academic and research institution:
- Penn State is highly ranked across a wide range of academic disciplines and one of the world’s elite universities.
- Penn State is a world-class research institution.
- Penn State faculty are world-renowned educators and researchers dedicated to seeing that students realize their goals and dreams.
- Penn State provides a comprehensive wealth of offerings, opportunities, and choices in degree programs.
- Penn State is a student-centered research university, acknowledged worldwide for the number, quality, and impact of its research programs.
- Penn State offers an impressive breadth and depth of academic offerings.
View how supporting messages are incorporated into the creative of these postcards.
Brand Content Approach
Content is critical to bring the brand to life—particularly with regard to Penn State's storytelling approach. To promote the brand, we rely on storytelling: leveraging the hundreds, if not thousands, of examples that demonstrate Penn State’s impact and relevance around the globe.
Content that simply delivers facts about Penn State can be dry and difficult to absorb. Relaying important messages about the University through exemplary stories about our students, faculty, and programs help us engage our audience through both the "head" and the "heart." It helps us to show others what it means to be an inspired doer.
Incorporating Storytelling into Content
Consider the audience and purpose of the materials, and ensure the content plan is tailored to each.
- Review existing marketing research on the target audience. Contact Sara Simcox, assistant director, for more information.
- Consider the appropriateness of each communication channel (e.g., ad, feature article, brochure, video, etc.).
- Plan for visual elements of the content, and ensure all photography and film conform with the photojournalistic style and show action and engagement. This style of photography is consistent with the storytelling approach and adds richness and dimension to the story.
Prioritize communication that speaks to the key supporting messages and reflects the "inspired doer" positioning.
- Identify the story’s associated brand pillar(s) and supporting messages.
- Think about the ways in which the subject is an inspired doer: hard working and passionate about making a difference.
- Utilize the brand’s storytelling approach and integrate first-person elements when possible.
Reflect the mission, principles, and values of Penn State as one of the world’s leading academic and research universities.
- Communicate a problem or need that requires a solution, what Penn State is doing to solve the problem, and how the audience specifically benefits.
- Showcase the broad impact Penn Staters are having across the world.
- Find ways to emphasize Penn State’s differentiating factors.
- Combine fact-based, rational content with highly emotive stories that aim to inspire action.
- Underscore the idea that becoming a Penn Stater means becoming part of a family—one whose work ethic, values, and commitment to service creates lifelong connections.
This viewbook spread demonstrates how storytelling is incorporated into marketing materials to provide an emotional representation of the brand.
Strong photography in a photojournalistic style—which prioritizes action and emotion over posed photos—is key to the brand. Photos should capture candid moments to show our inspired doers in action, providing a compelling visual experience while reinforcing our brand strengths.
- Plan to photograph your subject in their natural environment doing what they do routinely. Ideally, your subject will have someone or something to interact with. Your subject should not look camera-aware.
- Keep in mind what the brand is representing: excellence, innovation, passion, collaboration, and a can-do spirit. All of these things can be portrayed and represented in a strong photograph.
Including strong visuals in all communications should be a priority. The images also should convey a sense of place, putting Penn State in a visual context and reminding users that our locations are accessible to them across the state.
Evoking Brand Strengths
Global Reach: Students or faculty working and studying in international environments. Ideally, the images should illustrate interaction with people who live or work in other countries or settings clearly international in context; active participation in an academic, research, or service function, showing Penn Staters teaching and working with people to improve quality of life; and/or collaboration on a global level that respectfully portrays cultures outside the United States.
Academics: Students in academically related activities or doing field/lab work. Showing interaction between students and faculty is especially good in terms of visual interest. Avoid standard photos of students looking down at books, in a traditional library, etc.
Research: Show students (alone or in a small group) working a research setting, alone or with a faculty member. Showing utilization of instruments/technology/equipment is preferred, or an activity in a setting that is obviously related to scientific experimentation, environmental study, etc.
Penn State Experience: Consider this broadly and take into account our different audiences, including the student experience as a high school student would want to see it: student life, including campus life, the arts, and athletics, experiences unique to Penn State, etc.
Penn State is an incredibly diverse institution, and we want to ensure that the photography we feature in our publications and on the web represents that. Diversity informs everything we do and should be a part of our approach to photography. Consider diversity in many areas, including age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, genetic information, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and veteran status.
Though the Office of Strategic Communications does not lay out any specific design standards for the Penn State brand, included here are some commonly used elements that can be used by campuses, colleges, and units to create a look and feel that fits within the brand family style.
Again, these guidelines are not prescriptive but can be used as a starting point to create materials that feel similar to those created within the brand.
The two primary fonts used in Penn State print marketing materials are Serifa and Avenir.
Thoughtful use of typefaces can accentuate primary messages and grab the viewer’s attention. Deciding upon appropriate usage of fonts should always include consideration of audience and purpose. For example: In print marketing materials for prospective, traditional-age students, the attention capturing headline often thoughtfully combines serif and sans serif fonts. However, this should be used sparingly and only in appropriate situations. On the web, readability and consistency across browsers should be a primary goal.
Though there are two official Penn State colors, these colors are not required for use in marketing materials and should be used sparingly. It is suggested that a wider palette of colors be used to add visual interest.
The Office of Strategic Communications does not prescribe a palette of colors, though some palettes do exist for various situations that users across campuses, colleges, and units can use as a starting point to create materials with a similar look and feel.
Download the teen color palette here (pdf).