Stand Apart with Brand Messaging That Sounds Authentically You

June 26, 2023

Stand Apart with Brand Messaging That Sounds Authentically You

tag enrollment marketing | higher education | higher education brand strategy | higher education branding
Stand Apart with Brand Messaging That Sounds Authentically You

Ever read through a college website and started getting a serious case of deja vu? Or noticed how pamphlet after pamphlet and viewbook after viewbook are all saying the same thing? Have you ever had that sinking feeling that your higher ed brand messaging sounds just. Like. Everyone. Else?

You’re not alone. Many brands in higher education (and elsewhere) suffer from bland brand messaging. The root causes may vary, but it usually boils down to playing it safe and sticking with the status quo. And while it may be comfortable, is it really effective?

We think not. And we’re higher ed marketing experts, so we kinda know a thing or two about how to effectively connect with your audience. And as a Senior Copywriter, I may be biased; but in my professional opinion, forging deep connections with your audience starts with messaging that reflects your true brand. 

So, how do you create authentic brand messaging in higher ed that sounds uniquely you? Let’s break it down. 

Reasons Why Authentic Brand Messaging Matters

Before we jump into the “how,” let’s begin with the “why” authentic messaging matters (because this is what’s going to get buy-in from the rest of your team as you lay out the guidelines for how write like your brand):

It makes you relatable.

Choosing a college or university can be an intimidating process, whether you’re a recent high school graduate or a working professional looking to continue your education — especially with how most higher education institutions present themselves: Sophisticated. Scholarly. Prestigious.

Breaking out from the mold and presenting yourself as something different — something fun, exciting, and unique — is going to help you find more right-fit students who really resonate with your school and what you have to offer. 

It gives your students something to hang on to.

Students are usually looking for something specific when researching colleges and universities. Primarily it’s the educational programs, but also it’s the experience. Because higher education is more than just education — it’s an opportunity for students to learn more about themselves, meet new people, and make connections and memories that will last a lifetime. 

By being authentically you in your brand messaging, you’re giving students a much more accurate picture of what they can expect if they attend your school — a distinction that could make their decision to enroll that much easier. 

It helps you stand apart and above your competition.

Almost every college can say they offer the same thing: A vibrant student life. Beautiful campus. Stellar academic programs. Solid career preparation. So, to make the educational experience at your school seem different, it has to sound different. It has to sound like you. 

Are you a small community college in the heart of a thriving metropolitan area? 

Or are you a traditional university located in the foothills of somewhere more rural? 

Or are you something else entirely?

Students are going to resonate with those scenarios differently and be drawn more towards one over the others. So embrace who you are and show how your educational experience really is special and catered to your students’ wants, needs, and goals. Now that we’ve made our case for why you should lean into authentic brand messaging, let’s explore how to make it happen.

How to Make Your Brand Messaging Stand Apart

Not going to lie, I kind of geek out over this sort of thing. Helping brands find their voice and narrow down their messaging to something that’s uniquely them is one of my favorite parts of my job. And there’s no special, magical formula to make it happen. It’s mostly a list of guidelines on finding out what makes your brand different, how to say it, and (most importantly) how to stick with it. 

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Start with your Why.

If you couldn’t tell, we consider the “why” behind everything to be pretty important. So, when narrowing down your messaging, it’s important to focus on why your brand exists. And don’t settle for the first thing that comes to mind, because that’s going to be like everyone else (to help prepare students for the next phase of their education or career). No, to really stand out, you have to dig deeper.

Is it to help students pursue a career in a specific field?

To be the college or university that makes radical changes in a specific industry?

To lead with service and make the world a better place?

Whatever the reason, your why is the foundation of your messaging and what you offer. There are several ways to go about discovering your brand’s why: Research your school’s founding story, hold workshops with key stakeholders, examine your position in the market, etc. We could go into much deeper detail here, but all the above are great starting points for discovering what truly makes your brand stand out. 

Know thy brand and thy audience.

Once you have your “why” nailed down, it’s time to focus on who you are as a brand and who you’re talking to. For this, it’s important to be really honest about what your school brings to the table. What is the experience like at your school and what kind of students does it attract? 

Examine the areas where you really excel and find out what makes you shine there. Talk to current students, alumni, faculty, staff, athletes — anyone who has benefited from what your school offers and ask them why they chose you. 

What made you stand out? 

How were you different? 

What are their interests and what did they find most valuable about their time at your school? 

Understanding who you’re talking to and what resonates with them will strengthen your messaging and help you discover which points to highlight.

Fiercely commit to your tone and voice.

This is the fun part: Discover how your brand sounds to your audience and embrace it. Because your voice and tone should reflect the kind of experience your audience can expect when they attend your school. 

Are you a casual, laid-back campus with lots of opportunities to explore? 

Are you innovative and passionate, motivated to change the world with your educational programs? 

Are you pragmatic and straightforward, built to help students achieve their education and career goals as efficiently and effectively as possible?

There are so many options and avenues to explore when it comes to your brand voice and tone, ultimately determined by your audience and what you offer. And to convey to students that you may be the right fit for them, choosing the right messaging, voice, and tone can show as well as tell them what they can expect from you as a higher education institution. 

Talk like a human to another human.

A common trap most colleges and universities fall into is taking a formal, serious approach to their messaging. Yes, education is important and your school may be prestigious — but so many other colleges and universities can claim that. 

To really stand out, write as though you’re talking directly to your ideal student. Be casual. Be friendly. Use slang, if it’s appropriate. Have fun with it, especially if you’re trying to convey that you’re offering a fun campus experience. 

Even if it’s more on-brand to sound professional, there are still ways to sound relatable, such as:

Avoid industry jargon.

Litmus test: Which sounds less intimidating to a high school senior? “Higher education institution” or “college?”

Trust your contractions.

They’re great! And they flow better, especially in copy.

Use the second person as much as possible.

Because every audience, no matter their age or career status, prefers to be spoken to, not about.


Again, I may be biased. But it takes a VERY specific skill set to write in a voice and tone that isn’t your own. 

We all write and speak in our own way — it’s only natural. But copywriters are trained to write in their client’s brand voice, no matter what it is. 

For example, right now, I’m writing in my own, personal voice as the author of this post. But if I was writing a formal think-piece on behalf of Up&Up, my writing style would be completely different and more reflective of the agency’s brand, not me. 

So, to avoid having all of your marketing materials sound like they’re written by an army of different people with varying writing styles (because they probably are), it’s helpful to hire a dedicated person in charge of your messaging and copy to ensure everything sounds cohesive and consistent. 

(Or you can partner with an agency filled with marketing experts who specialize in higher education, like this one place I know…)

Bottom Line

Authentic messaging for your brand is important. It not only helps your brand stand out, but it sets the tone and expectation for students who may be interested in attending your school — which can help increase enrollment and find more right-fit students who are the perfect match for your college or university. It’s a win-win for everyone… not to mention it can be really fun finding your brand’s voice. 

Now go forth, and speak your brand’s truth! 

Need a little help? Check out what Up&Up can do for your branding.