Section Title

Brand Standards

Style Guide: Editorial

The voice of the university

For a brand to become successful and enduring, it needs to focus not only on what it says, but also on how it says it. The brand needs to be expressed through a style of writing — a tone — that is most appropriate for its audience.

In short, what differentiates a successful brand is a distinctive voice that connects in a personal way. 

The voice of the University of Michigan brand is expressed through a number of channels: advertising, print collateral, websites, HTML emails — even PowerPoint templates.

Let’s strive to make that voice more confident but not boastful, contemporary but not overly casual, passionate but not effusive and always clear.


Our brand pillars and key messaging

Below are the pillars of our brand, along with a few key messages for each pillar.

Academic Prestige Public Ethos Heritage,
Tradition, & Culture
  • World-class faculty and students
  • 250 degree programs in 19 schools and colleges
  • Nationally leading research portfolio
  • Comprehensive health system
  • Top-ranked and co-located professional schools: law, medicine, business, engineering
  • Top 25 global university (QS, THE, SJTU)
  • 99 graduate programs in USNWR's top 10 (4th nationally)
  • Priority on diversity and social equity
  • Investment for the common good, not only individual attainment
  • Passion for local and global impact
  • Global engagement; more than 600 initiatives worldwide
  • Commitment to the State of Michigan and its economic well being
  • Thriving, global community of 500K alumni
  • Over 30 Division I national championships in 10 sports
  • Highly collaborative and interdisciplinary environment
  • Transformational learning experiences
  • Deeply embedded arts, culture and creativity
  • Tradition of philanthropy and donors who have enabled transformation
  • Iconic campus

For additional U-M statistics and information visit Michigan Almanac or the 2015 Financial Report.


It may be tempting to take a phrase from the brand pillar, place it in your communications piece, and call it the university’s voice. However, there’s much more to crafting key messages. 

The brand pillars are a jumping off point. Content creators and editors in schools, colleges, departments and units university-wide should be thinking about how to illustrate these ideas with real-world examples. For example, instead of taking “We are home to world class faculty and students” directly from the brand pillar, think about featuring a faculty member who just won an award for a research breakthrough, with a short explanation of the findings. In that way, the brand pillars should inspire and guide your content, instead of just providing text to repurpose. As communicators, the goal is to always be thinking about results and outcomes around these pillars, communicated in an authentic way. 

If you do pull language directly from the pillars, remember that less is more. For example, it would be perfectly appropriate to write: “As a top-25 global university with world class faculty and students, the University of Michigan fosters an extraordinary learning environment.” However, it would be less than appropriate to write: “With 250 degree programs in 19 schools and colleges, a priority on diversity and social equity, an iconic campus, over 30 Division I national championships in 10 sports, and world class faculty and students, the University of Michigan fosters an extraordinary learning environment.”

Developing the university’s voice in your communications

One of the best ways to ensure you’re representing the university’s voice is, ironically, to take U-M out of it. It sounds counterintuitive, but compelling, branded content is often not U-M focused. Rather, it emphasizes outcomes and the impact of all the good work going on across campus. The voice should be prescriptive—that is, directly addressing the needs of the audience, even hinting at their hopes, dreams, and needs. In other words: Why should they care?

Too U-M Centric

  • Our faculty includes…
  • We are a world leader in… 
  • The University of Michigan has…

Prescriptive, Audience Focused

  • You’ll enjoy all the benefits of…
  • You’re already thinking about what you can do…
  • Students will discover and be inspired…

{Maguire Associates, 2012}

The stories you tell and the way you do it will depend on your audience and your objectives. Here are some examples of effective voice and storytelling based on different audiences.


    • Sample project: Brochure for the Ross School of Business MBA Program
      Audience: Potential Ross MBA Students

      Objective: To recruit top students and emphasize the unique learning opportunities available at Ross

      Ideas to communicate from the brand pillar: Top-ranked and co-located professional schools: law, medicine, business, engineering; world elite faculty and students; 99 graduate programs in USNWR's top 10 (4th nationally); transformational learning experiences

      Text used: As a Ross MBA student, you will inhabit a world of powerful ideas and active exploration of them. You’ll be exposed to cutting-edge knowledge in every area of the curriculum. Ross faculty deliver best-in-class training in all disciplines and functional areas, from finance and marketing to corporate strategy and entrepreneurial studies.

    • Sample project: U-M Financial Report
      Audience: A wide-range of university stakeholders including Regents, donors, faculty, and Michigan government officials

      Objective: To convey effective U-M initiatives that are critical investments for the state and beyond

      Ideas to communicate from the brand pillar: National leading research portfolio; investment for the common good, not only individual attainment; passion for local and global impact; transformational learning experiences

      Text used: To grasp the work of a great public research university, look no further than a small, sleek maize-and-blue vehicle.

      It is Quantum, the latest solar-powered car designed, built and operated entirely by University of Michigan students.

      When Quantum soared across the finish line of the 2012 American Solar Challenge, not only was it first, it was a record 10 hours ahead of the next competitor.

      It was U-M’s fourth straight national championship. More important, it was a success that represented the best qualities of Michigan: excellence, innovation, a commitment to sustainability, and work that delivers global impact.

    • Sample project: Admissions Student Brochure
      Audience: Accepted undergraduate students at the University of Michigan

      Objective: Convey leadership opportunities at Michigan and the tradition of excellence that each student will be part of once they set foot on campus

      Ideas to communicate from the brand pillar: World class faculty and students; transformational learning experiences; passion for local and global impact; 250 degree programs in 19 schools and colleges

      Text used: Becoming a leader doesn’t just happen. It takes patience, tenacity, and courage. Leadership develops when you challenge yourself among the brightest and best. It thrives when you surround yourself by two centuries of excellence, tradition, and opportunity. It grows when you immerse yourself in a world filled with big ideas and a passion for the future. It realizes its true potential when you’re inspired by world-renowned faculty at a top university.

      Once you’ve made this journey, it becomes part of you forever.

    • Sample project: LSA Today front-page story
      Audience: LSA students, faculty, and alumni

      Objective: To explain the real-world applications of complex faculty research, and the interdisciplinarity of the work

      Ideas to communicate from the brand pillar: Nationally leading research portfolio; world elite faculty and students; investment for the common good; highly collaborative and interdisciplinary environment

      Text used: [teaser] Professor Mark Newman merges physics and computer modeling to explain networks and relationships of all kinds, enhancing our understanding of everything from six degrees of separation to strep throat.

      [body] Not only does this painstaking analysis explain a network’s behavior in the present, but it is even more valuable in making highly accurate predictions about the future as well. “We study social networks because we want to understand and perhaps predict the behavior of communities and societies,” explains Newman. Network scientists have studied terrorist networks and Newman himself collaborates with Betsy Foxman, an epidemiologist in the U-M School of Public Health, to better understand the spread of serious diseases like HIV and Group B streptococcus.

    • Sample Project: Leaders and Best Giving Facebook Post
      Audience: University donors and members of the campus community

      Objective: To show the impact of giving to U-M

      Ideas to communicate from the brand pillar: Tradition of philanthropy and donors who have enabled transformation; comprehensive health system; investment for the common good

      Text used: "As much as the Woodson event meant to me last year, this year it seemed to mean so much more. I wanted to walk around and introduce my daughter to everyone there, and show them where their money is going. I wanted them to see the face of the child they are fighting to find a cure for." - Mary Ann Bell, mother of C.S. Mott patient, Faith

    • Sample Project: Race Theme Semester Tweets
      Audience: The campus community (especially students) as well as those following the #understandrace, #theracecardproject and #umtheme hashtags

      Ideas to communicate from the brand pillar: Priority on diversity and social equity

      Text used: If you had to sum up your thoughts about race in just six words, what would you say? #umtheme #understandrace

      Join NPR's @michele_norris on the Diag at 12:30 to learn about #TheRaceCardProject and submit your 6 words! #umtheme

The university’s voice: going beyond text

The university’s voice translates beyond the written word. Images are a powerful part of conveying the impact of what we do best. Please see the branding guidelines on using images and remember to: 

      • Let images anchor your social media posts when possible. Engagement rate on Facebook for photos averages 0.37 percent, where text only is 0.27 percent (this translates to a 37 percent higher level of engagement for photos over text). 
      • Your articles and press releases should be grounded in powerful, Michigan-centric images, too. Articles with images get 94 percent more views. Including a photo and a video in a press release increases views by over 45 percent. 
      • Refer to sites such as and, which allow compelling images to carry the day.

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