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Voice and Tone

Too often we think of branding as an exercise in colors, logos and taglines. In truth, how we talk about our institution and its various departments and services is as important as consistency in design. In fact, because our use of voice and tone extends into less-visual media such as presentations and radio advertising as well as social media posts and online articles, it’s difficult to reinforce a brand without consistency in voice.

Here are a few tips for writing about your program or unit:

Tip No. 1 – Upward-Moving Verbs

Complementing our use of angles in our graphics style and reinforcing our brand personality, we often use upward-moving verbs in our marketing copy.  We look for verbs that convey the idea that we are reaching toward the next step. They demonstrate our sense of purpose and limitless exploration, and they can be consistently used for multiple audiences and to represent all parts of the institution.

2 examples of identity design that show voice and tone


WCU Verb List

Here are a few of the verbs you may see us use often, each inspired by the student experience as defined in student focus groups:













Note: Resist the urge to overuse these verbs, which can create confusion or redundancy. One powerful and active verb to open a headline is all you need.

Tip No. 2 – Embody the brand personality

When you are writing marketing copy, remember that you aren’t just representing yourself or your program, you’re representing the WCU brand. With that in mind, it’s important to check your copy against our brand personality traits.

Example – Brinson Honors College Introduction

More like this:

Western Carolina’s Brinson Honors College offers high-achieving students far more than a set of “honors-level” courses. Rather, the honors academic experience at WCU is an entirely individual experience designed by each student in partnership with his or her honors advisor to meet particular academic goals and to purposefully create challenges that will push each student to excellence.

Less like this:

Western Carolina’s Brinson Honors College partners with academic units to offer special courses and programming to students who meet set academic requirements. First-year students are invited to the program based on application performance, and upperclassman may apply to join if they meet criteria. Many Brinson Honors College students participate in undergraduate research.


The first example defines the honors student as “high-achieving.” Rather than talking about a set of academic requirements, it shows we value the work put into meeting those requirements. It describes an “individual experience designed by each student in partnership with his honors advisor,” demonstrating our strong and supportive community. It points out that the honors experience is set up to “meet particular academic goals,” showing a sense of purpose in the pursuit. 

Tip No. 3 – It’s not about you. It’s about your audience.

At WCU, we understand the power of our community and we believe in the potential of our people. For that reason, our brand voice should always uplift our community and put the audience, rather than the institution, first. When you are writing about WCU, know your audience and remember that it is not about how great we are but how great we will all be together.

Example – Admissions Acceptance Letter

admissions acceptance letter


More like this:

Wecome to Western Carolina University. A university is defined by its people, first and foremost by the students that call its campus home. With that in mind, we recognize that our admissions decisions have great impact. We’re building a community, and those whom we invite to be a part of it demonstrate who we are and determine who we will become as a university. We choose you.

Less like this:

Congratulations on your acceptance to Western Carolina University! As a leading regional public institution, WCU offers a wide variety of degree programs to meet the demands of students and the region. You will have access to top quality academic facilities and professors who are leaders in their field. Join us in Cullowhee.

Tip No. 4 – Be clear and concise

The WCU brand is purposeful and has a clear vision forward. In the same way, our language should always be direct and to-the-point. We don’t attempt to be “catchy” or “cute” in a way that distracts from the central message of the piece.

Example – Sport Management Print Ad

sport management print ad


In this ad for our Master of Sport Management program, note that the headline captures the attention of the audience, uses brand language and speaks to the target audience’s desire to be more competitive in the industry. Then, we use a subhead to immediately indicate the primary call-to-action. We also highlight important selling points with the use of the call-out bar.

Note: Clarity should always be your primary goal. If you find yourself struggling to find the balance between using brand language and clearly communicating your point, go for clear and concise every time.

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