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The University of Essex

Universities are in a constant battle for the best students. A clear identity and distinctive tone help set them apart from their rivals. At the forefront of the new wave of universities, Essex were looking for a brand language that reflected their challenger mentality.

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The challenge

Creating a truly distinctive voice in this sector isn’t easy. Most universities offer a similar range of courses, most engage in research, most have links with the community and business. And then there’s the additional challenge of making sure the tone of voice is used. Too often the exercise is academic and the results aren’t implemented.

What we did

Ran workshops

We ran workshops with the marketing team and other stakeholders to canvas views on the right tone for Essex and how we could create something that had a wider use than simple undergraduate comms.

Played to strengths

Essex is a challenger brand – Higher Education’s answer to Virgin or Avis. That allowed us to use the positive aspects of the Essex character – outspoken, not afraid to challenge the status quo, proud of their outsider status. (But drop anything that smacked of Jamie Oliver.)

Kept it simple

Often tone of voice guidelines are so complex, only their authors understand the intent. While we had plenty of tips and techniques we could share with the university, we want to keep it simple. In line with the challenging persona, we distilled their tone down to one word: Bold.

Made it fun

Tone of voice guidelines can be very dry and unengaging. To draw readers in, we created little quizzes to challenge their perceptions and reinforce the techniques. Once the guidelines were agreed, we ran several more workshops to embed the writing style with various teams.

"Brilliant! I want everyone in the institution who writes to do it."

Head of Brand Management

"FANTASTIC! So useful, so practical, I can't wait to try out new techniques."

Head of Internal Comms

From the Essex tone of voice quiz

How direct should Essex be? Question:

  1. Our graduates pursue careers in the
    law and in a wide range of other sectors including business and commerce, accountancy, insurance, banking, central and local government, academia, teaching, social work, the police force, civil service, healthcare, data analysis, human resources, trading standards, project management, consultancy, politics, immigration, and more.

  2. Our graduates are making waves in law and a wide range of other sectors, from accountancy to social work.

  3. Graduates are lawyers etc.

The results

The workshops were very successful at the beginning to embed the idea of a bold tone of voice. Many different teams attended the sessions and the feedback was excellent, with 59 members of staff being trained overall.

One look at the university homepage and you’ll see how a bold tone and look can work together to create a distinctive yet clear identity.

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