Join the Conversation

I think we can all agree social media is here to stay. What’s more, it’s a place many of us spend a lot of our time. Ever have a conversation with a friend about one of their tweets or Instagram posts? It can feel like we live double lives—one offline and one online—with increasingly blurred boundaries.

Because social media is so pervasive, it’s important for institutional accounts to themselves have identities. Social media is evolving toward authentic relationships between accounts and those who follow said accounts. If you haven’t yet, check out the Arby’s Twitter feed—theirs is an excellent example of interacting with their base through pop culture references and genuine conversations.

Michigan Tech’s Marketing and Communications team splits up management of the various institutional social media accounts, and I’m largely responsible for @michigantech on Twitter. We strive to give each different account its own identity, and our Twitter account’s personality is a touch snarky, happy to be helpful, playful, and occasionally irreverent.

Yet despite these different identities, we work to ensure the accounts adhere to brand, just in their own ways. Our brand promise is to keep it real: Real people, real opportunities, real experiences. My personality shines through the Twitter posts because I’m a real person, and as you might have guessed, I’m by nature a touch snarky, happy to be helpful, playful, and occasionally (OK, more than just occasionally) irreverent.

At Michigan Tech, we are honest, hardworking, a little quirky, and crazy smart. Therefore, our Twitter feed is, too. Did you catch the banter back and forth between @lakesuperior and @michigantech a few weeks ago? If not, the thread is definitely worth a read! Funny, and proves that our Michigan Tech community extends far beyond the extent of our campus; many Huskies jumped into the conversation, which centered around which is the best university on Lake Superior (we think there’s a rather obvious answer).

Seeking to authentically engage with a community of people on Twitter has led to a surge in engagement during the past year, and an additional 1,200 followers. By becoming part of conversations and engaging with those who engage with us, we’re making our Twitter feed a place people want to stop by daily to check out the latest news. For us, the analytics tell us how we’re doing, but what truly matters are the opportunities to engage with people and get them excited about Michigan Tech.

Kelley Christensen
Science and Technology Publications Writer

(And the voice of the Michigan Tech Huskies! Oh wait, no, that definitely isn’t right… ahem… and the voice of Michigan Tech’s tiny chunk of the Twitter-sphere! #tenacity)

Brand Guide Cheat Sheet

A successful higher-ed brand must be a lot of things. It must resonate with a variety of audiences (prospective students, alumni, research partners); it must be nimble, yet everlasting (remember, unlike a campaign, a brand can hold strong for 10 or more years!); and internally across campus, it’s got to be fairly easy to execute. Unlike perhaps in corporate brands, campus communicators don’t all necessarily hail from a brand marketing background. Communicators should be able to articulate brand essense—and taking it a step further—rapidly demonstrate how the brand manifests itself in copy and design. What’s more, brand should ooze from every touchpoint in our audience’s journey.

It’s up to us as brand ambassadors to share practical tools and ideas for brand implement that apply to our every day.

Check Yourself, Check Each Other

See brand through external messaging by focusing on these three things.
Is your marketing communication?

  • Centered on people, opportunities, and/or experiences (If not, we argue, it doesn’t belong in our messaging)
  • Honest in tone
  • Free of jargon, fussy words, and complex sentences

Shannon Rinkinen
University Marketing and Communications, Michigan Tech

On-Brand Imagery in Enrollment Marketing

A photo is worth a thousand words, right? In enrollment marketing to undergraduate students—targeting students as early as their sophomore year—a captivating, on-brand image can say everything to how a prospective student can envision themselves on campus. In fact, more and more, entire spreads in print marketing do not use words, but instead, appeal to students through strong, beautiful photos.

When selecting imagery for enrollment marketing communications at Michigan Tech, here are a few of the things we mindfully do:

  • Look for ways to highlight Michigan Tech. Three students in a lab with colored gloves could be in any lab at any university in the world. Find ways to show it’s Michigan Tech. Think: branded safety glasses (on subjects or sitting on a lab bench) or posters/banners on a wall.
  • Highlight our incredible area. Select photos that show campus, the water, the environment—the things that make us special and different from other colleges. Data indicates that prospective students are really drawn to aerial photography. 
  • Be authentic to your program. Don’t force diversity. Try not to feature the same star student in all your photo shoots.
  • Show students working together. They don’t have to be camera aware. Highlight how they collaborate, function, and (sometimes) get dirty.
  • Involve faculty or staff who normally work with students in a familiar space. Another great opportunity is students and faculty/staff in casual settings—chatting informally in a computer lab or over coffee. If that’s the culture of your department, show it!
  • Mine for user images. Thanks to smartphone technology, images need not always be professional. Perhaps the image was curated from Facebook (get permission, of course). User images may even offer up that gritty, natural feel we’re after.
  • Get a second opinion. Or a third. How do your colleagues interpret an image? Is there anything off-putting about the photo or the piece as a whole? Thousands of copies will be shared with thousands of people—it’s prudent to seek many eyes.
  • Finally, promote Michigan Tech, always. Students should never (ever) wear clothing promoting another school in our marketing communications. They don’t have to be decked out in Tech gear, but they shouldn’t be sporting another school logo.

Allison Carter
Director of Admissions, Michigan Tech

Good Marketing Problems and How to Have Them

The Pavlis Honors College is redefining what it means to be an honors student at Michigan Tech. Of course, with any big change comes the challenge of communicating the significance and the benefit it brings. Convincing faculty, students, and parents that student success should not be measured by GPA alone has always been an uphill battle.

Increasing enrollment within Pavlis has always been a goal, and we found engaging students before they arrive on campus was key. Working closely with University Marketing and Communications, Pavlis developed materials and digital content to reach out to potential Huskies before most of them had even decided where they would be attending college.

Generating messaging that is authentic and honest is at the forefront of every communication.

This included a letter from the dean inviting students to apply for pre-admission to the Honors College, a brochure, a rack card, a landing page on our website, and social media posts. We let actual current students tell the incoming class why they should apply to the Honors College. The brochure designed by UMC shared six, brief student stories from diverse majors and backgrounds. The video showcased on our pre-admission landing page consisted of our students talking informally about what they do and how Pavlis helped them along the way.

The impact? Of the 3,721 students accepted to Michigan Tech that received our mailings, 151 applied to be Pavlis pre-admission students (as of Jan. 2017). This may not seem like a large number, but generally, we average 20-25 applicants a semester. So comparatively, this campaign was incredibly effective!

With this brand and marketing win, we now focus our attention to making sure we have staff to accommodate the influx of students who will begin their Honors seminar courses and pathway in fall 2018.

Not such a bad problem to have.

Amy Karagiannakis
Manager of Marketing and Digital Content, Pavlis Honors College, Michigan Technological University

Customer Service as a Brand Touchpoint

You know it when you get it—and especially when you don’t. Good customer service. Sometimes it can be the littlest thing that delights us. When Sherwin Williams’ staff carries our paint can to the car. When the print shop includes a peppermint candy with an order. A prompt reply to a Facebook direct message. A refund for a faulty product—no questions asked. Sometimes simply doing what we say we are going to do, when we say we are going to do it can be perceived as good customer service. Brand-aligned customer service can make a huge impact. Afterall, one unhappy person may tell 9–15 people about a negative interaction while a happy consumer is likely to tell 4–6 people. Just one positive interaction can make a person brand loyal for a lifetime.

Building Brand Loyalty

Shoe shopping in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula can sometimes be limited (unless you’re in the market for winter boots, of course). Have you ever purchased shoes online from Zappos? Their free shipping (both ways), free returns, and 24-7 support help define and differentiate themselves. You can call, email, or live chat with a real human, anytime! With Zappos, customer service is a differentiator.

Time and time again we hear from students, parents, and alumni that what sets our campus apart is the people. During move-in weekend, administrators lug TVs up flights of stairs. Car stuck in the ditch? Your faculty mentor offers a ride or a push. Nowhere to go for Thanksgiving dinner? Enjoy a hot meal at the vice president’s house. That’s the norm here at Michigan Tech. These simple acts of service stem from a sense that, here, we’re humble and real. We’re all in this remote paradise together.

Service on Social Media

Volkswagen’s social media advocates get it. They are so engaged, they begin to get to “know” individual followers to the point that their interactions build upon previous dialogue. Their followers take notice. Pretty cool, right? This type of engagement requires plenty of time, human power, and a commitment to brand.

I recently tried out a new brand of protein drink after seeing a brand ambassador “enjoy” it on Instagram. Purchased a case. Had one sip. Loved it. Subscribed for weekly delivery. Within five minutes I had an email in my inbox from the cofounders, expressing their appreciation for my early adoption (the product had just launched a month prior) and requesting a brief phone chat to find out what I loved about the product and what they could do better. The email was genuine and personalized. Wow! I was blown away not only by their healthy product, but by their customer service and brand.

All touch points across all channels should align with Michigan Tech’s brand.

In University Marketing and Communications, we get no bigger bang for our brand buck than implementing a high-touch experience on social media. We personalize engagement by responding to questions using the commenter’s name, and we even “sign” our name. It’s truly a human-to-human interaction—no canned responses here! We also take the time to interact with each and every positive comment. We listen, too. If we’re getting meaningful comments or complaints, we take action—even when it falls outside our scope of work.

We treat everyone as an influencer. Remember A.S.K:

– We are authentic.
– Our responses are simple (no complex jargon here).
– We are kind.

Think beyond day-to-day interactions and how your positivity can impact Michigan Tech’s brand. Communicators, I challenge you and your team to infuse brand through your customer service.

Shannon Rinkinen
Brand Manager

Crafting Powerful Marketing Emails

You want to get your emails opened, read, and in some cases, replied to. There’s a lot to consider when writing marketing emails on behalf of Michigan Technological University—here are 22 tips for maximizing impact:

1. Identify your goal. Is it to strengthen brand? Build loyalty? Achieve a conversion? Then think about tactics (emotional, persuasive).

2. Choose a structure—The 3-Ws (what, so what, now what?), PSB: Problem, Solution, Benefit, etc.

3. Break it up—Three is the magic number; an opener, the meat, and a closer.

4. Develop a persona and imagine you are writing the email to a real person. Go beyond name, age, gender identity, and education to think about what they eat, watch, or do for fun.

5. Ask questions—If you were having a conversation with an actual person, you’d ask questions, right?

6. Tell an interesting story or analogy connecting with Michigan Tech’s brand platform (real people, real experiences, real opportunities).

7. Use our honest tone of voice.

8. Answer “why?” It’s tempting to begin with “what,” but challenge yourself to answer “why.” Why should your audience be interested in what you have to say?

9. Save the best for last, or in this case, the hardest for last. Deciding on the perfect subject line can be tough. Not too cute. Not too clever. Not too long. What, then? Your subject line has two objectives—to get Michigan Tech’s brand in front of your audience and to get the email opened.

10. Considering as many as 60 percent of your audience may choose to open your email on their handheld device, it is prudent to count subject line characters (or emojis!).

11. Make it personal—Subject lines with the user’s name or location have higher open rates.

12. Use numbers—It can help your message stand out as users scan their inbox. Write 85, for example, instead of eighty-five.

13. Close your email with a call to action (CTA). The shorter, the better—five to six words max. Example: “Apply Now” is preferred to “Apply for the Create Your Success Scholarship by November 26.”

14. If you can help it, avoid multiple calls to action. Give only one to make it quick and easy.

15. Use the PS—Don’t be afraid to repeat information or deadlines—chances are, people need it!

16. Keep it above the fold. Readers don’t want to scroll to the end of an email to find the call to action. 

17. Don’t hide your CTA in a wall of text. A separate line or graphical element is more effective. (Make button text large so it pops.)

18. Establish urgency: Limited-time.  Today only.  Limited quantities available.

19. Analyze emails you love—As brands send YOU emails, study them. What made you open? Did you click a link? Did you respond? How did you feel? Were you on your desktop? Phone? Inventory your own habits, and learn and borrow tactics that work for our brand (nothing wrong with that!).

20. Certain times of the day, week, or month could yield higher open and click rates. For example, Michigan Tech Admissions has found that Mondays and Tuesdays are optimal days to send Search campaign emails. Listen to your data and draw conclusions.

21. Test. Send the same email body with two different subject lines. Which performed better?

22. Segment. Create targeted copy variations for each of your unique audiences—the message can be the subtly different, but the results dramatically more effective.   

Jenn Biekkola, Director of Annual Giving
Shannon Rinkinen, Brand Manager

The STEM Lifestyle

We know STEM jobs are in demand. Within the next 25 years, those in the STEM fields must find solutions to some of the world’s most complex and frightening problems, like drought, famine, disease, energy-consumption, and cybersecurity. Today, we have more STEM job vacancies than people to fill them. It’s vital we find new and creative ways to promote a career in STEM.

At Michigan Tech, we understand the importance of demonstrating the ROI of a STEM degree. We also understand the impact of those who choose a career in STEM will have on societies, economies, and the world. Make no mistake; it’s easy to rely on data to tell our story–job-demand, starting salaries, job placements, are all very powerful stuff to promote. Today however, in higher education, the brand power of a university is equally critical.

Simply put, brand power is a result of a strong relationship one has developed with a product, business, or organization. Today it’s not enough for a university to promote what they offer (the product of a quality education).

Data, statistics, and rankings can only empower a message so much.

Now university marketers and communicators must also demonstrate the importance of the relationship one can have with their university as well.

Michigan Tech is a Lifestyle

1980s and 1990s companies targeting skateboarders provided some of the first examples of businesses that made product marketed to embody the culture of their customers. Today, we call them lifestyle brands. Lifestyle brands identify with their audience by embodying and extolling their characteristics to build a relationship. Data can be a powerful tool to demonstrate affinity with STEM enthusiasts–mathematicians love numbers, as an example. However, successful lifestyle brands help to foster a kinship between a brand and an audience. And when done well, it can last a lifetime.

I want the STEM fields to be seen as a lifestyle and I want Michigan Tech to be a lifestyle brand. I want to demonstrate what life is like for a mechanical engineer, a quantum physicist, or a biological scientist at Michigan Tech. I want to focus on the journey and not just the outcomes. I want STEM to not only be seen as necessary and important for our world, but also just plain cool to be a part of. If we can tell this story correctly, not only will it strengthen the Michigan Tech brand, it will also help to fill the current void in STEM jobs for years to come.

Ian Repp
Director of Marketing and Communications

Understanding Our (Web) Brand

Marketing projects move fast. Web projects move especially fast—yesterday’s trend is replaced with tomorrow’s fad. We have to pump out new content. New designs. New widgets. New . . . new . . . new.

Shortcuts happen. You need an intro paragraph for your shiny new webpage, so you cobble something together. You may not think much about the words—you just need to get it out.

When web marketers and CMS liaisons rush—when they just “get it out,” they actually tend to overdo their content. A filler sentence that isn’t needed. An “over explanation.” Words to fill the void because we think we have to get something out there.

In the face of this, it is good to revisit our brand guide, to both refresh and reflect. Our websites are important. Arguably, they are the most impactful piece of external marketing that we have. Our web content was reached over 20 million times last year. It is important that our sites are on brand.


I find myself stressing over one or two sentences now and again. Those two sentences that you need to get a webpage off the ground. I’ve been trained that they need to be full sentences. Lots of meat. You need to have something to say, right? When I go down this road, I often create something that is—yuck.

That’s when I borrow inspiration from our brand guide. Be specific. Straightforward. Honest and to the point. Tell it like it is. And use real voices and experiences from Michigan Tech. When I remind myself of our brand, I question the need for those two intro sentences. Can I make them into something useful? Or, am I just making filler because that is what I was trained to do? Sometimes I cut the intro. Sometimes I reshape it. It might even become a little longer. Word count isn’t the goal, though. Give our users something that will help them; something that will tell our story.

Headlines and CTAs

Our brand calls out the need to tell stories. To focus on action. And to keep sentences simple and flat. Music to my ears!

Our brand guide is a great writing for the web guide as well. If you have experience or training in writing for the web, you know that headlines are important as web users skim content. You need to highlight your call-to-action (CTAs). And you know that great story telling will keep your users engaged and interested.

Reading and rereading our brand guide is a great exercise for anyone who makes updates to our University’s websites. We put the guide together to make your job easier—not harder. I can confidently say that it is a valuable tool for me. I revisit our brand guide monthly to refresh and reflect.

Joel Vertin
Director of Digital Services

Showing Off is Part of Marketing

Modesty. It’s a quality our parents ingrain in us, right from the start. “Don’t brag about beating your brother in the game!” “Don’t gloat about your new tennis shoes!” “Don’t show off—it’s not nice!”

Break modesty down a bit more and you get: “Limited” “Unassuming” “Plainness”. Surely our brand seeks to be bolder than modest.

Why is Bragging Vital?

Michigan Tech is ready to take the next step. We knowing who we are and it’s time we speak confidently about it. No excuses.  If we want to be a national brand, we have to talk that way.

We’ve earned our brags.

The average American takes in 100,000 words every day. Want them to remember your 140-character tweet? We’ve got to be memorable (for good things). Pick your best stories—real and human—and tell them. Keep telling them. You may tire of them, but your audience will not.

How does your brag impact their brand? Consumers want to align themselves with brands that say something about their brand. Here at Michigan Tech, our students want to show their 400+ friends on Instagram that they’re tough (trudging through 218 inches of snow) and crazy smart (late nights in the lab working on paid research as an undergrad).

So, How Do We Brag?

First off, avoid the #humblebrag. Be clear about what you’re touting. Speak boldy, but briefly. Confident, but not cocky.  

Consider brag bites. Don’t share all of our achievements at once. An example: These data points all center on the same topic, student loans. Each are very braggable, but combined are TMI and become forgettable.

Michigan Tech grads can repay their students loans. Compare the student loan default rate among Huskies (2 percent) to the national average (11.3 percent) and the state of Michigan average (11.8 percent). It’s the second lowest among public universities in the state. 95 percent of Michigan Tech undergraduates are able to repay their students loans on time—and with money to spare.

Break them up and sprinkle them on, like this:

Brag bite 1
Michigan Tech grads can repay their students loans. Compare the student loan default rate among Huskies (2 percent) to the national average (11.3 percent) and the state of Michigan average (11.8 percent).

Brag bite 2
Michigan Tech’s student loan default rate is the second lowest among public universities in Michigan.

Brag bite 3
Michigan Tech undergraduates are able to repay their students loans on time—and with money to spare.

It’s been said that if you’re that good, they’ll tell you. So share what’s already being said. Share positive testimonials and quotes. Place them on your website, social media, publications, and emails. And it’s okay to seek these out—ask for them. It’s also okay to edit for length, style, and grammar (just be sure to get approval before publishing others’ words).

Celebrate milestones, awards, rankings, achievements, and accreditations that are already happening. Use data points, facts, and figures to back it up (our STEM-minded audience craves this!). And of course, just like our parents taught us, be honest—we have to live up to the hype.

–Shannon Rinkinen
Brand Manager

We Need Your Help: Brand Guide Audit

Happy summer!
Hard to believe, but it’s been about a year since we launched our Michigan Tech Brand Guide. And so it’s time to ask: what’s working and what’s not? We’d really like to hear from you, the people using it as a tool just about every day. What’s missing? What doesn’t make sense? Which tactic is working? Other thoughts and ideas? Our brand guide must serve you first, to serve for our brand, too!
Questions and ideas relating to our visual brand (logo, fonts, etc.)? Please email Art Director Jackie Johnson (
Questions and ideas relating to our messaging (tone, style, etc.)? Please email Brand Manager Shannon Rinkinen (
Please send your feedback before July 3. 
Thanks in advance for all you to strengthen Michigan Tech’s brand!
–Shannon & Jackie