A higher education marketing challenge: creating a real SUNY brand
You live outside New York and hear or read the term “SUNY”… what comes to mind? For one student at a university in Ohio, it was a reference to a Sunni religious university.
The State University of New York has a serious brand challenge, both within the state and without.
Nancy Zimpher and the Quest for “Systemness”
The conference featured an excellent presentation by SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher
. Before moving to SUNY, Zimpher helped guide a remarkable brand campaign at the University of Cincinnati. If she is half as successful at SUNY, she will have achieved an equally remarkable transformation. But the challenge is quite different.
University of Cincinnati had a position in Ohio higher education independent of other large universities within the state. It was not part of a “system” that included, say, Ohio State University, University of Toledo, Wright State University, and every other public institution within Ohio.
Autonomy vs. Partnership
Here in New York, her challenge is much different. Dozens of SUNY schools from 4 research universities to 4-year colleges, community colleges and specialized institutions jockey for varying degrees of autonomy under the SUNY umbrella. And so the Chancellor has invented a new word, “systemness” to help convey the advantages of collectively working together within the SUNY framework on various initiatives around the state.
Will she succeed where others have failed? We’ll know that 3 to 5 years from now.
SUNY Outside New York State
Outside the state, the “SUNY” label itself presents a problem. Few people who read or hear the term will have a clue what it refers to. Stronger use of the full “State University of New York” will help define the term. But what, of course, is the “State University of New York”? It isn’t yet a “system” at all by most definitions of what “system” means. Perhaps in time “systemness” will help create more coherence. In the meantime, one suspects that Binghamton University
, University of Buffalo
, University at Albany
, and Stony Brook University
will remain the major way of identifying the 4 research universities in New York.
In her talk, the chancellor mentioned the recent, and so far unsuccessful, effort by the University of Wisconsin to achieve new independence from the system in that state. She hopes to take SUNY in a different direction.
This is a fascinating brand exercise that Chancellor Zimpher is about. Everyone interested in higher education marketing should watch what happens over the next few years.
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