Messaging & Tone
Messaging is simply the answer to the question, “What should UM-Flint be saying about itself?” On a campus as large and diverse as ours, there will be necessary exceptions to the rule – but not many. What is the rule? More an overarching guide, it is the UM-Flint brand promise:
The University of Michigan-Flint is the premier urban center for learning, research, and civic engagement.
As long as your communication falls into one of the “buckets” within the brand promise (premier, urban center, learning, research, civic engagement), you are assured – by EMG’s Marketing Research – that your message sets UM-Flint apart, that it is true and authentic, and that it highlights an attribute our stakeholder audiences (esp. prospective students) desire.
The EMG Report also validates many of the claims UM-Flint has used as talking/selling points in years past. While they are not expressly incorporated into the brand promise – due to the fact that they do not differentiate UM-Flint from claims competitors can and do make – key groups are aware of them, do view them as important, and do believe UM-Flint excels in those areas.
It is also true that many of those points can be viewed as additional detail, or proof, of the more differentiating claims within the brand promise. As such, they are part of the brand and still worth communicating, but not with the prominence given to them before.
For example, many respondents to the EMG survey noted UM-Flint’s “small class sizes.” This is true and important, but it is not unique to UM-Flint and can be viewed as falling under the brand promise umbrella as an aspect “premier” and “learning.”
Other Thoughts on Messaging
- Academics In Action
- Flint’s transformation into a “College Town” and UM-Flint’s role in that effort has provided both the city and this university with a new, exciting and well-received way to talk about ourselves.
- However, at the end of the day, the University of Michigan-Flint’s story cannot solely be about what this institution does for Flint’s economic redevelopment. Our story has always been – and must always be – about what this institution does for our students.
- It is up to every member of the University of Michigan-Flint family to deliver on our promise of academic excellence and to highlight the people and practices proving it everyday.
- There are plenty of people outside this campus who will extol the cultural and economic benefits of our College Town-ness. It is up us to remind people why we have colleges in the first place and that the criteria for any successful college or university in any town must always be put in terms of the personal, academic, and professional growth of each and every student.
- Show, Not Tell
- Again, the brand promise is not a tagline, slogan, or stock copy. Your messages should aim to reflect its promise, not repeat it. Nor is it enough to make solitary claims like, “Students learn from real-world experiences.” Which students? Which real-world experiences? What did they learn and how?
- Real, specific, personal stories that exemplify broad claims add texture, authenticity, and a human touch. The result is a more thoughtful, more meaningful, and more likely to be remembered truth about UM-Flint.
Tone is a difficult concept to mandate or build rules around. Every writer has a unique voice. The best writers have different voices for different audiences, for different messages, for different occasions. Tone and style depend entirely on the considerations and characteristics of specific situations. That said, there are some overarching principles to be mindful of when writing for the University of Michigan-Flint:
- Be Conversational
- There is a tendency within academia to turn every communication into a dissertation – complete with academic jargon, scientific disconnection, and insecure, institutional self-awareness.
- Many of us remember being scolded for using the word “you” in our college papers. There is sound reason for that in the realm of scholarship, but not marketing. People like feeling that they are being communicated to as individuals – not homogenous groups.
- Be Brief
- This certainly applies to print, but it is critical on the web. Few people have the time to dig through paragraphs or sift through run-on sentences to find the information they want. Make it easy on them.
- Be Relevant
- The same logic for being brief applies to being relevant. If I’m a first-year student, I’m far more interested in finding course requirements on your department website than an explanation of the importance of a liberal arts education in today’s society.
- Always put yourself in the reader’s shoes, and ask yourself tough questions about what needs to be communicated and what doesn’t.
- Be Smart
- The previous points might have some thinking we are telling you to “dumb it down.” Not true. We are simply driving home the point that smart writing needn’t be longwinded, pretentious writing. Be clever. Try some wordplay. Just don’t over do it. And remember: big ideas are always better than big words.