How Brand Voice and Tone Build Stronger Connections With Your Students

Beacon Blog Article

By Victor Ayala | Published June 25, 2021 | Categories: Higher Education , Digital Marketing

You Want To Teach Them, But First You'll Have To Reach Them!

Whether you're in academics, student life, career services, alumni relations, or anything in between, you've put a lot of love and effort into what you offer your students. You've got the highest hopes for them, your faculty and staff are second to none, and you've got a legacy of teaching excellence and community involvement behind you.

But how much of that comes across on your site? Do students feel the warm welcome you intended? Or are they picking up a chillier, more distant vibe? It might be that, for all the wonderful things you have to offer, your website's tone and voice aren't closing the distance between your students and your intent.

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Why You Need a Voice

Your voice, to put it simply, is how you come across to your readers. It comprises everything from word choice and point of view to the level of formality you take with your reader.

Voice is key for creating a unique identity and building trust online. Your degree programs, student-to-teacher ratios, and affordable tuition are impressive and awesome, but so is how you talk about them. Crafting a unique voice to amplify your differentiators pulls you even further ahead of the competition and helps you stand out in the minds of undecided prospective students.

The Basics of Voice

A good voice can be difficult to pin down. To start, imagine your institution as a person. Now, ask yourself some questions about this person:

  • What are they like? What do they stand for?
  • How do they speak to students? Directly or indirectly?
  • Are they almost parental in their warmth and understanding? Or are they more like a coach, inspiring from the sidelines? Are they lofty and aspirational when they speak?
  • What words do they use?
  • How do they address different audiences?

To illustrate our points, we first created our imaginary university "Beacon Technical University," or BTEC. Then, we started thinking about how to craft its voice. Hopefully, BTEC can help you think of how to approach voice on your site!

For BTEC, we're imagining a warm, welcoming person who understands that their students can come from all walks of life. We'll speak plainly, but with energy and enthusiasm, and never alienate our audience with jargon or dense sentences. Because we want to welcome all students and make them feel at home, our voice is warm and always speaks directly TO students, not about them.

"The Admissions Department welcomes its new admitted students to BTEC. It is the purview of the Admissions Department to recruit new students, process applications, and facilitate the selection of new BTEC students. Students interested in applying are asked to view the resources in the links below."

Ew. Let's smooth this out a bit.

"Welcome to the BTECU family! We're thrilled to know you've decided to check us out! You're one step closer to joining our proud, enduring legacy of academic excellence, community impact, and equitable access to education. Check out the links below or contact us for more information!"

We're no longer talking about our students as if they're not there. We're talking to our students. We've also worked in some of our most important brand messaging AND given clear directions for the user to follow. All while being much warmer and more welcoming.

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Stay Grounded in Your Values

For schools, attracting students is about more than getting those tuition dollars. It's about changing lives, expanding the world's knowledge, improving communities, and more.

The same goes for students. Their choices are not one-dimensional; they're looking for a school that aligns with their passions and convictions, that respects their differences and challenges.

Be open, honest, and consistent about your school's mission and values. Let that mission and those values inform your voice.

For example, one of the three pillars of BTEC's mission is a dedication to public service by our students, faculty and staff, and alumni. We keep that theme of service in mind for every page, not just our "Mission Statement" page or "About" page. We let it provide energy and purpose to our program pages, electrify our student life pages, and give motivation to donors on our alumni and giving pages.

"The BTEC Nursing Program offers an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing. Students that complete this program will be eligible for careers in nursing. Student learning outcomes in this program are..."

We'll stop there because it's painful—and all too accurate to some higher education web pages out there. Our students deserve better. And who we are as an institution deserves better. Let's rework this to include some of our values and see what happens.

"Saving lives. Easing suffering. Improving patient care. What you learn during your time in the BTEC Nursing Program will transform your life by providing the skills and experience needed to save and improve the lives of others. While pursuing your A.A.S. in Nursing with us, you'll learn how to..."

Our dedication to service is much clearer now. We're still introducing our nursing program, but again, we're speaking directly to our students. We're also being a touch more creative in trying to capture the imagination.

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Mind Your Tone

In short, tone is how your voice is inflected for different audiences or purposes. But mastering tone isn't as simple it seems at first. If your tone changes for the audience, does your voice change with it? Nope! Let's look again to BTEC.

The BTEC voice never changes, but it does take on slightly different postures depending on the audience and purpose of the page. We know BTEC is warm and welcoming, and that it values public service. We already saw that in action in copy aimed at a student audience. But what about our alumni audiences? Let's take a look at a line of copy from our (imaginary) alumni network page:

"Once a BTEC Emu, Always a BTEC Emu! Welcome to the Flock, the BTEC Alumni Network. Since 2072, BTEC alumni like you have gone on to make a profound impact on our community, country, and the world! Whether through creative endeavors, public service work, or scientific breakthroughs, your contributions bring pride—and more than a little joy—to your alma mater. Join the alumni newsletter, make a gift, or get involved today!"

We're no longer addressing students, and we're trying to encourage some engagement. We're being less inspirational/aspirational and a bit more celebratory. But our voice hasn't changed. We're still warm, welcoming, and dedicated to public service. All that's changed is the way we've inflected that voice to reach a different part of our audience.

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Be Consistent

Every page of your website should read as though it came from the same source, the same voice. Otherwise, you risk losing your reader's attention and trust, all the while looking like you don't pay attention to detail. It's a shame to hook a student with an exciting, inspirational landing page, only to present them with dry, uninspired copy on a key program page.

The first challenge to maintaining consistent brand voice in higher ed institutions is often related to staffing. If your institution doesn't have a dedicated communications team—or only a very small team—you may rely on faculty and staff to provide written content on their respective areas. You may even need them to upload and update the content themselves, with little oversight from a centralized team. This is where establishing clear branding guidelines, an editorial style guide and a well-established review and approval process comes in.

By providing clear guidelines and examples for all of your content creators, you help writers craft more consistent copy for their pages. This can be especially important if these content creators are in academic departments, where professors and instructors are accustomed to the elevated discourse of their disciplines. For many of these writers, it can take time to adjust their voice and diction to be more accessible.

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The Long Story Short (TL;DR)

1.) Think of your institution as a person. What are they like?

2.) Speak TO your audience, not ABOUT them.

3.) Make language warmer and easier to understand for all audiences.

4.) Let your mission and values guide your voice.

5.) Tone may change, but voice remains consistent.

Need Help Bringing Your Content to Life?

In addition to offering digital marketing and web design services, we're also content experts with a proven record of helping higher ed institutions tell their stories online. As longtime partners of colleges and universities, we're intimately familiar with what connects with today's students.

By analyzing your audiences and learning about your brand, we can help you create a wholly authentic and consistently inspiring website. Contact us to get started crafting the web experience your students deserve!

Let's get to work!

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