Higher Education Branding: What’s Hockey Got to Do With It?

Our beloved Pittsburgh Penguins may be the most brand-savvy and well-run organization in sports, with exemplary practices from free pizza for the huddled masses waiting in the student rush line, to season tickets hand-delivered by team stars each summer.

The Penguins have continually surpassed expectation for everything from how they welcome new-arriving players (photos on arena walls before they’ve cleared customs), to how they salute former Penguins who return as enemy combatants (sincere video tributes).

So, what might one of the most sophisticated and talented franchises in the National Hockey League have to teach us about higher education branding?

After a series of late-season trades designed to fill any missing pieces on an already talent-rich roster, the Penguins find themselves trailing two games to none in the Eastern Conference Final. What possibly could have gone wrong?

Viewed as a branding challenge, the issue seems clear. For years, the Penguins have deployed two of the league’s most gifted — albeit distinctly different — star centers. Each brings a different approach and temperament to the sport.

We often find a similar situation in higher education branding — a college or university undecided or divided about its true identity, mission, audience or goal.

One of the more important of the 22 Immutable Laws of Branding is the Law of Singularity.

Uncovering a brand position and speaking your one true brand voice inevitably involves tough choices.  While all brands have layers and complexity, clarity must rule.

Great colleges, like extremely talented hockey rosters, often fail to realize their full potential because they resist the demands of a singular brand position.