Crafting Your Institution's Voice

Pete Schauer

Marketing Director

How schools can craft their voice and tone for students

If you read enough articles about higher education marketing, the idea of “finding your voice” begins to sound like a broken record. Even though the wording is redundant, the advice is solid.

Finding your voice is crucial. Look at what poor Ariel from the Little Mermaid had to go through to find her voice. Without it, she was just another girl. But with it, she was magical.

Even though you’re not living under the sea, you are living under your own territory. This is kind of neat. You have a very distinct audience to speak to, but you need to be able to speak to them. The schools that are most successful with their marketing strategies are those that know exactly who they are talking to, what they have to offer and what separates them from competing schools.

In this post, we are going to go over the basics of finding your voice and applying it to your marketing strategies. Whether you need to fine tune who you are speaking to, or you need something new altogether, we hope that you find this information helpful.

Let’s begin!

Understanding the Difference Between “Voice” and “Tone”

The first step in crafting your institution’s voice is to understand who you are speaking to. When you recognize who you’re engaging with, you can develop a better strategy for how you talk to them.

There are two elements that you must consider. The first is your institution’s voice, which is essentially your personality. The second is your tone, which is the attitude or mood for the occasion.

It’s easy to confuse voice and tone, but this isn’t an excuse to do so. If you don’t keep your voice consistent, you’re going to confuse your audience and leave them unsure of who you are. It’s also possible that you may produce content that contradicts your school’s message.

Your school’s voice should remain fixed, just as someone’s personality is fixed. Even though people can be complicated, they still have a certain personality and are who they are. Your institution is what it is, too. Read more about finding your brand’s personality here.

On the other hand, your tone can change depending on the circumstances. If you are sharing an anti-bullying message, your tone is going to be serious and compassionate. If you are gearing up students for homecoming weekend, your tone is going to be energetic  and fun. Despite the changes in your tone, your voice will remain the same.

How to Find Your Voice

If you’re not 100% sure you’ve found your voice, don’t fret. You can discover and fine tune your voice until you feel it’s right. Here are some tips for doing so.

Start by listing your school’s most basic values. What is important to your institution? What do you want your students to be like? How do you want people to describe your program? How do you compare to other schools that are similar to yours?

Get opinions from as many groups as possible, including students, staff, faculty, alumni and individuals in your admissions and marketing offices. Discover why students chose your school and why staff and faculty wanted to be a part of it. The purpose of getting a variety of perspectives is so that you can see your school from all angles and create a voice that makes sense.

As you get a better understanding of how people view your college or university, decide what works and what doesn’t. Are there some things that you don’t want your school to be known for? Does your school have an image that isn’t exactly true? You can use your voice to change the perception that people have. Though it won’t happen overnight, your voice will have an impact over time.

Combining Voice and Tone

Once you have your school’s personality down pat, you can adjust the tone to fit the context. For instance, if your school has a more formal voice, you’ll want to keep your tone formal throughout, even though you can be more conversationalist in blog posts. If your school has a more fun and playful voice, you can keep it that way, but you’ll probably need to be a bit more reserved on things like brochures and magazines.

Also think about how you plan to address your college or university. Will you refer to your school as “it” or “we?” The latter sounds more warm and friendly, while the former sounds more professional. These small words may not look much different on paper, but they can send an entirely different message to students and prospects.

Keeping Things Consistent

Share your voice/tone message with people and departments across campus, particularly those who will be writing content for your school. You want everything to be consistent across channels: social media, email newsletters, website, direct mailings, etc.

It’s easy for different departments to develop their own voice, but that’s only going to lead to a disjointed experience for your users. Encourage the different departments to develop their own tone that fits its primary audience, but the underlying voice needs to stay consistent.

The departments should be happy with this, because it will ultimately guide their interactions and provide a sturdy framework for how they should be communicating with their audience.

Conclusion

Developing a consistent voice helps you define a keyword strategy, influence content decisions and instill trust and credibility in prospects. Plus, this consistency gives your content a level of authenticity and reliability that many schools have yet to achieve. Are you ready to develop your voice?

About the Author: Pete Schauer

Born and raised at the Jersey Shore, Pete Schauer is the Marketing Director at SEMGeeks. He holds a M.A. in Digital Communications from William Paterson University and has 8+ years in the digital space with companies such as Bleacher Report and Social Media Today in addition to SEMGeeks. His background includes creative and professional writing as well as strategic digital marketing communications and management.

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