People throughout our campus communicate with a variety of audiences for a wide range of reasons – from recruitment of students and faculty, to feature and news storytelling, to department websites, to day-to-day business emails. While our efforts as individuals may at times seem independent of the University as a whole, each is an important part of UMBC’s story, and a reflection of how the world sees us.
The use of common themes, thoughtful image composition, and a shared tone by campus communicators can help our audiences experience UMBC as the inclusive, welcoming community we know it to be. Just as important, these practices can help distinguish our community from our competitors, and even dispel inaccurate perceptions of our campus by folks who don’t yet know us.
Voice and Tone I Integrating the Brand Into Your Content I News and Feature Writing I Marketing Copy I Tips for Brand-Driven Writing (and Good Writing in General) I Branding and Style Guide I Advertising I Social Media I Branding Hashtag
A shared voice can help us reflect UMBC’s personality in all we do. When writing, we should project ourselves as authentically as possible, using language that is vivid, helpful, fun, and encouraging. We should focus on giving readers information that is both relevant and interesting, and we should strive to be agile enough as writers to recognize how audience needs may change the ways we communicate. We should strive for accuracy, and be sensitive in our use of language surrounding identity and culture.
Whenever possible, we should also strive to use “we/us/our” and “you” language, and demonstrate how the “we” relates to the individual. We should keep readers in mind and try to include them in our language as appropriate, and be conscious of inclusive language standards. As we consider imagery, we should strive to use photography, illustration, and video that help extend our personality — visual examples of collaboration, accessibility, and imagination — and allow viewers to easily imagine themselves as members of our community.
UMBC’s new brand themes are not a replacement for “An Honors University in Maryland” so much as tools for describing to outside audiences what that (somewhat difficult to define) phrase actually means. Using the themes as you write will not only help you bring UMBC’s best attributes to the forefront, but also help you make decisions about what needs to be included.
Think of the brand themes as an invitation for the reader to engage with our community. So, how can you make them a part of your writing? As you begin a writing project, ask yourself where your subject might most naturally fit. (You may see elements of multiple themes; that’s okay! Choose the one that feels best for your situation.)
- Reach Together – Are you writing about a partnership of some sort? You can use this theme to highlight how members of our community work together (and with others) to push boundaries and learn new things they wouldn’t have discovered alone. You can also show the ways we support each other – those bonds between students, professors, staff, alumni, and others, are a special part of UMBC, and very worth noting!
- Claim Your Future – UMBC is about more than just checking boxes on the way to earning a degree. It’s about the grit our students show as they fully embrace how they learn to create a future that builds off personal strengths and networks. Think about ways you can include personal narratives and perspectives to really show how and why UMBC helps people help themselves.
- Explore Every Angle – Our community values people in all their complexity – their perspectives, knowledge, ideas, and experience. Think about ways of telling the stories of people whose work is buoyed by this openness and generosity, and how they are able to do things differently because of it.
- Extend Beyond – UMBC’s community extends far beyond “The Loop” because we have a culture of collaboration in the region and around the globe. Think about ways the experiences, partnerships, and friendships happening between Retrievers in different locations – or, even in seemingly different disciplines – can illustrate the unique way we work together beyond traditional boundaries.
To avoid dry, impersonal language, we should “show, not tell”; that is, we should use our writing to bring the moments and personalities that define our community to life on the page. We should keep readers in mind and try to include them in our language as appropriate. As we consider imagery, we should strive to use photography, illustration, and video that help extend our personality — visual examples of collaboration, accessibility, and imagination — and allow viewers to imagine themselves as members of a community where they will feel supported.
While the brand themes make for easy taglines for advertising, that is not their intended use. Instead, consider them a jumping-off point for new copy aiming to illustrate what “an Honors University” might actually mean to the people we’re trying to reach. When considering your copy, think about how the “You” of your audience relates to the “We” of the supportive UMBC community. (For example: You are ready to learn. We are here to help you.) By exploring this relationship through copy specific to your program or goal, and further connecting to the brand themes, you can help your audience understand what sets UMBC apart from its competitors.
- As you write, imagine yourself as the reader, and ask yourself: Does what you’ve written help advance UMBC’s brand? Does it feel like “us”? Is it as helpful and interesting as it could be? If you’re not sure, try having someone else read your draft for an outside opinion.
- To avoid dry, impersonal language, we should “show, not tell”; that is, we should use our writing to bring the moments and personalities that define our community to life on the page.
- Assume your reader is short on time and interest in what you’ve written. It may seem harsh, but using this idea as a screen for yourself can help you make sure your content is both relevant and interesting. Avoid internal language, acronyms, and overly academic language. Remember that our audiences range from teenaged recruits, to non-English speakers, to donors and foundation partners who might not know – or need to know – all of the details you know.
- Strive to use best practices for web writing – including the use of “plain language” that can be understood by anyone – in order to make your content best viewable by the web public. Not only will your copy be easier to understand, you’ll also be putting yourself in a better position for SEO (search engine optimization). Here is a full list of web writing and publishing tips.
- Make it concrete. In a world filled with overused words like “innovation” and “excellence,” the use of concrete language and examples of impact can help differentiate us from our excellent, innovative competitors.
The campus Branding and Style Guide is an online guide to all University styles, including punctuation, naming conventions, alumni styles, and other tools for writing – as well as information on graphic standards, photography, and social media. We look to our campus communicators as ambassadors of the UMBC brand; in order to present ourselves consistently, we should all use the guide.
To maintain visual and messaging consistency, all paid advertising representing UMBC that will be seen by people beyond campus should be reviewed by the Office of Institutional Advancement as early in the design process as possible.
When promoting the brand and the UMBC community on social media, #RetrieverNation represents the ultimate expression of that sense of community. It integrates easily with the greater institutional message of excellence and pride, and can be used with communications to alumni and the campus community, as well as in recruitment materials and on social media, for building our Retriever community online.