Translating brand messages into website content (webinar summary)

Translating brand messages into website content (webinar summary)

Translating brand messages into website content (webinar summary)

Translating brand messages into website content (webinar summary)

Paige Toomes

Copywriter and Digital Marketer

This is a summary of our higher education webinar with Rachel DeLauder, who specialises in designing editorial systems and processes for higher ed websites. She develops sustainable content strategies at NewCity for clients that support users’ goals as well as organisational realities.

The webinar is all about how high-level brand concepts can apply to functional and informational content across your website, not just your About Us page.

Rachel goes through brand messaging in terms of design thinking framework and stages. We have included some slides for context, with plenty of examples along the way.

Where does brand messaging belong?

Where does brand messaging go on your university website?

  • Home page
  • About page
  • Mission and vision
  • Appeals to donors
  • Paid advertising
  • Policies?
  • Instructions?
  • Applications?

It can be difficult to convey taglines like “groundbreaking innovation” or “global excellence” on financial aid and legal policies, and other logistical pages. This webinar will take you through how to translate brand messages into practical pages.


A slide from a webinar which has the text: Messaging is not copy, it's subtext', a quote from Marcia Riefer Johnston of the Content Marketing Institute.

It’s not about the words themselves, it’s about evoking feelings for your audience.

Institutions need a whole-site content strategy that can drive your messaging copy. Consider the entire site as a single complex system that is working together to reinforce your overarching concepts. This can help you improve your website content for users.

So how do you do that? You need to practice adapting the pieces of your system for an array of specific and sometimes competing purposes, situations and audiences. Here is one example:

Case study


A slide from a webinar which shows the homepage for the Warren Wilson College homepage. There's a campus image with text overlaid saying 'We believe the world needs curiosity.' Underneath they have their philosophy and navigation.

This is from a private global liberal arts college in the US. Their website takes high level messaging and extrapolates it to apply it to real-life concrete situations in their content.

They had done some work with a branding agency to create a new logo, and a new look and feel with brand guidelines and voice and tone guidelines.

At NewCity our task was to translate the brand work into a new digital design system to convey messages to audiences. They are a small college up in the mountains, with a unique requirement that students have to serve on a college work detail as part of their degree curriculum. This is a big differentiator of theirs.

The old site gave information of the mandatory requirements and logistics for this work programme, but was missing an opportunity to show off all the good things the programme added to the larger college experience.

On the new site we wrote fresh copy to refocus the programme as a manifestation of their community shared values, and really show how it was tied to a well-rounded education.

Another page from the Warren Wilson College website. This page is the Academics main page with text about their work program.

We did this with words, and also images. We talked about the sense of solidarity and pride that these students get from being an active participant in the community, and the benefits to social life and their resumes.


Another screenshot of the Warren Wilson College website. This image shows a call to action box that says 'Hands-on, All-in. The best way to understand how work fits at Warren Wilson College is to see it in action.' Then there is a button that says 'Plan Your Visit.'

One of the things in their playbook from the branding agency was a concept for a printed marketing campaign with postcards they could mail to prospective students.

We thought these were a really cool way to demonstrate their threefold approach to education - academics, service and the work programme applied to individual people.

A screenshot of the Warren Wilson College website. This shows a photo of a student looking at the camera with text overlaid saying, 'Land conservationist', 'Motorpool chief', and 'Published researcher.'

To bring this idea to the website, we gave it a digital twist by creating a component for their page which lists out their academic programme. This is a fun little tool with a randomly generated mix of links for terms, giving different results each time. That links out to their academic programmes, their service activities and their campus work crews. So you can get real examples of what it’s like at the university.

A page from the Warren Wilson College website. On the left is text about the programs of study  and on the right it says 'Need some inspiration?' with a list of randomly generated program areas such as 'comedian', 'fiber artist' and 'activist'. There is a call to action button to 'do it again' and generate another set of random roles.

This sort of thing inspires themes and motifs that you can use throughout the site, giving you ideas that are not just repeating words like "curiosity" and "creativity" and "we’re different" but using the content you have to show these things.  

How do you bring a whole-site messaging strategy to your website?

So, how do you find and implement branding-related ideas that you can carry across on your own site?

Design thinking

You can use a version of the design thinking process as a tool for building a whole-site messaging strategy. This graphic shows that process:

An image of a process diagram. Shows five different colours hexagons and from left to right to words in those shapes are Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

It is bookended by a focus on users, keeping your creative work grounded in the people who are using your product or tool or system. This is a systematic approach to problem-solving. Here’s how you can apply this to writing and content on your website when doing messaging work.

1. Empathise

We start with empathy. We research our audiences and learn everything we can about what is at the root of their problems that we need to solve.

For any interactive system to work, its essential for us to examine our assumptions and best practices. So we not only build something that is stunningly beautiful and a work of art, but also something that is effective for users. Here are some qualitative and quantitive research methods:

This slide shows different research methods to understand your audience. There are six listed with an icon and text. They are Google Analytics and heat maps, interviews with stakeholders, intercept and email surveys, messaging workshops, comparative usability testing, and web research.

It’s best to start with a basic review of what’s there. This tells you the ‘wheres’ and the ‘whats’ of a strategy. You can do this with a content inventory in a spreadsheet, or you can start with a list of pages from your CMS, or you can do this by clicking around and taking notes on the main areas of the site.

How do people navigate through your site?

You might want to see how people navigate. You can run something called a ‘tree test’ that will give you maps and data which will show you how students are moving through your website. Google Analytics can also help you understand what people are looking for.

Sketch out your audiences

Your quantitative research can help you dig up the right questions so you can identify what you want to ask your audiences directly. What are they thinking about, what are they feeling when they go through your website? What do they know already? What do you need to teach them, like jargon terms?

To find this out, you can do:

  • Interviews with audiences on motivations and preferences
  • Pop up surveys about why they came to the site
  • In-depth surveys about their preferences

What are they thinking?

This Google trends report for higher education is a great place to start. It is a really long document you can download via the link, but it rings true. It talks about how a typical conversion is 120 days or four months for the learner's journey. You can use this to think about your site,  and what roles different parts of your site might be playing at different steps of this journey so you can tailor it.

2. Define

This is where you decide where to focus your energy to meet both audience needs and institutional goals. You need to analyse your data and define your problem better and draw the edges of your box that you work in.

To design strategies to work around key user pathways as we talked about, you want to use data and analytics to guide decisions, and take advantage of particular SEO opportunities. See how people are coming into your website and where they are going. If they aren’t coming to places where you put the messaging, then put it where they are going.

I’ll use an example from the Sanger Institute where we shifted focus to people profiles:

An image showing an example from the Sanger Institute where on the left it says '30-50 words summarizing your role and what this means.' and on the right there is an example of a published personas role with name, job title, headshot and short bio.

Here we worked with Tracy Playle at Pickle Jar Communications to develop the content strategy. The academic profiles of 30-50 words summarising their roles and what this means. The academics wrote these themselves, and these helped to:

  • Extract value from the old pages
  • Put people at the heart of the website.
  • Showcase expertise and credibility
  • Help visitors understand their work

3. Ideate

After you’ve identified a main focus and defined site-wide priorities, it’s time for the ideation stage. What feelings do you want to elicit with your brand messaging and how will you do that?

Message architecture exercise

A good first step is to gather your stakeholders and develop a message architecture where you can create patterns across your website. This is a collaborative way to gather input and generate discussion across a broad group so everybody feels heard, and gives you something solid to lean on.

For this exercise, start with a stack of index cards with descriptive words. This is talked about in the book Content Strategy At Work by Margot Bloomstein. You ask your faculty and your staff in the group to sort these into three categories:

  1. Who we are
  2. Who we want to be
  3. Who we are not

Then you arrive at a shortlist of words that the group feels really represents their community Here is an example:


A slide showing different coloured and sized circles and each has a word inside it including trusted, curious, accessible, global, passion, diverse, innovative and visionary.

Messaging strategy

The exercise above can inform your message strategy. This is where you balance your art of the messaging craft with the usability of your website.

I’ll use an example from the Oklahoma State University website here. They did a redesign of their scholarships and financial aid content, to live up to and embody their brand personality ideas of being friendly and helpful. As a lot of financial aid content is, it was originally deep, dry and had a lot of jargon, hiding a lot of the answers to questions prospective students had.

A slide showing what the Oklahoma State University website used to look like. It is text heavy, lots of grey, orange and black text and boxes.

The new content they designed answers key questions in a visual way, and tells the story of the page without lots of text. They used boxes and highlighted what the university course would cost, which was a key question for prospective students.

The Oklahoma State University website after its redesign. Noe there is a lot more white space, content is structured in boxes and there are headings to help users find the information they need.

4. Prototype

This is the stage where you get to work on the real things for users. It’s creating and compiling your content (live and mockups).

Writing page copy

Drafting interactive copy is more like solving a puzzle than a work of art. It’s about content design, and this is a balancing act between:

  • Context in site
  • Position in architecture
  • Goals to accomplish
  • Feelings to convey
  • User tasks and questions
  • Format, structure

Using images strategically

Don’t neglect the opportunity to use images. Sometimes they can mean you don’t have to use writing at all, which can save you space. Think about how the graphics and copy are working together on the page to convey messages.

Thinking about literary devices

These can help you with web copy to help you find alternative ways to convey meaning, rather than just repeating messages.

5. Test

The last stage is test, which is about validating messaging ideas and execution. This is about showing the value of a whole-site messaging strategy to your organisation.

You can do tests on the messaging itself on your target audience - is it doing its job?

Test for proper placement

Sometimes you can have the right message, but it isn’t in the right place or context on the website. You can use heat mapping software to see where your audience is looking and clicking.

Watch the full webinar on-demand

Making use of the design thinking model means you can see and prove what is working and what isn’t, which is a great way to get people on board with a site-wide messaging strategy.  Watch the full webinar on-demand for more detail and examples.

This is a summary of our higher education webinar with Rachel DeLauder, who specialises in designing editorial systems and processes for higher ed websites. She develops sustainable content strategies at NewCity for clients that support users’ goals as well as organisational realities.

The webinar is all about how high-level brand concepts can apply to functional and informational content across your website, not just your About Us page.

Rachel goes through brand messaging in terms of design thinking framework and stages. We have included some slides for context, with plenty of examples along the way.

Where does brand messaging belong?

Where does brand messaging go on your university website?

  • Home page
  • About page
  • Mission and vision
  • Appeals to donors
  • Paid advertising
  • Policies?
  • Instructions?
  • Applications?

It can be difficult to convey taglines like “groundbreaking innovation” or “global excellence” on financial aid and legal policies, and other logistical pages. This webinar will take you through how to translate brand messages into practical pages.


A slide from a webinar which has the text: Messaging is not copy, it's subtext', a quote from Marcia Riefer Johnston of the Content Marketing Institute.

It’s not about the words themselves, it’s about evoking feelings for your audience.

Institutions need a whole-site content strategy that can drive your messaging copy. Consider the entire site as a single complex system that is working together to reinforce your overarching concepts. This can help you improve your website content for users.

So how do you do that? You need to practice adapting the pieces of your system for an array of specific and sometimes competing purposes, situations and audiences. Here is one example:

Case study


A slide from a webinar which shows the homepage for the Warren Wilson College homepage. There's a campus image with text overlaid saying 'We believe the world needs curiosity.' Underneath they have their philosophy and navigation.

This is from a private global liberal arts college in the US. Their website takes high level messaging and extrapolates it to apply it to real-life concrete situations in their content.

They had done some work with a branding agency to create a new logo, and a new look and feel with brand guidelines and voice and tone guidelines.

At NewCity our task was to translate the brand work into a new digital design system to convey messages to audiences. They are a small college up in the mountains, with a unique requirement that students have to serve on a college work detail as part of their degree curriculum. This is a big differentiator of theirs.

The old site gave information of the mandatory requirements and logistics for this work programme, but was missing an opportunity to show off all the good things the programme added to the larger college experience.

On the new site we wrote fresh copy to refocus the programme as a manifestation of their community shared values, and really show how it was tied to a well-rounded education.

Another page from the Warren Wilson College website. This page is the Academics main page with text about their work program.

We did this with words, and also images. We talked about the sense of solidarity and pride that these students get from being an active participant in the community, and the benefits to social life and their resumes.


Another screenshot of the Warren Wilson College website. This image shows a call to action box that says 'Hands-on, All-in. The best way to understand how work fits at Warren Wilson College is to see it in action.' Then there is a button that says 'Plan Your Visit.'

One of the things in their playbook from the branding agency was a concept for a printed marketing campaign with postcards they could mail to prospective students.

We thought these were a really cool way to demonstrate their threefold approach to education - academics, service and the work programme applied to individual people.

A screenshot of the Warren Wilson College website. This shows a photo of a student looking at the camera with text overlaid saying, 'Land conservationist', 'Motorpool chief', and 'Published researcher.'

To bring this idea to the website, we gave it a digital twist by creating a component for their page which lists out their academic programme. This is a fun little tool with a randomly generated mix of links for terms, giving different results each time. That links out to their academic programmes, their service activities and their campus work crews. So you can get real examples of what it’s like at the university.

A page from the Warren Wilson College website. On the left is text about the programs of study  and on the right it says 'Need some inspiration?' with a list of randomly generated program areas such as 'comedian', 'fiber artist' and 'activist'. There is a call to action button to 'do it again' and generate another set of random roles.

This sort of thing inspires themes and motifs that you can use throughout the site, giving you ideas that are not just repeating words like "curiosity" and "creativity" and "we’re different" but using the content you have to show these things.  

How do you bring a whole-site messaging strategy to your website?

So, how do you find and implement branding-related ideas that you can carry across on your own site?

Design thinking

You can use a version of the design thinking process as a tool for building a whole-site messaging strategy. This graphic shows that process:

An image of a process diagram. Shows five different colours hexagons and from left to right to words in those shapes are Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

It is bookended by a focus on users, keeping your creative work grounded in the people who are using your product or tool or system. This is a systematic approach to problem-solving. Here’s how you can apply this to writing and content on your website when doing messaging work.

1. Empathise

We start with empathy. We research our audiences and learn everything we can about what is at the root of their problems that we need to solve.

For any interactive system to work, its essential for us to examine our assumptions and best practices. So we not only build something that is stunningly beautiful and a work of art, but also something that is effective for users. Here are some qualitative and quantitive research methods:

This slide shows different research methods to understand your audience. There are six listed with an icon and text. They are Google Analytics and heat maps, interviews with stakeholders, intercept and email surveys, messaging workshops, comparative usability testing, and web research.

It’s best to start with a basic review of what’s there. This tells you the ‘wheres’ and the ‘whats’ of a strategy. You can do this with a content inventory in a spreadsheet, or you can start with a list of pages from your CMS, or you can do this by clicking around and taking notes on the main areas of the site.

How do people navigate through your site?

You might want to see how people navigate. You can run something called a ‘tree test’ that will give you maps and data which will show you how students are moving through your website. Google Analytics can also help you understand what people are looking for.

Sketch out your audiences

Your quantitative research can help you dig up the right questions so you can identify what you want to ask your audiences directly. What are they thinking about, what are they feeling when they go through your website? What do they know already? What do you need to teach them, like jargon terms?

To find this out, you can do:

  • Interviews with audiences on motivations and preferences
  • Pop up surveys about why they came to the site
  • In-depth surveys about their preferences

What are they thinking?

This Google trends report for higher education is a great place to start. It is a really long document you can download via the link, but it rings true. It talks about how a typical conversion is 120 days or four months for the learner's journey. You can use this to think about your site,  and what roles different parts of your site might be playing at different steps of this journey so you can tailor it.

2. Define

This is where you decide where to focus your energy to meet both audience needs and institutional goals. You need to analyse your data and define your problem better and draw the edges of your box that you work in.

To design strategies to work around key user pathways as we talked about, you want to use data and analytics to guide decisions, and take advantage of particular SEO opportunities. See how people are coming into your website and where they are going. If they aren’t coming to places where you put the messaging, then put it where they are going.

I’ll use an example from the Sanger Institute where we shifted focus to people profiles:

An image showing an example from the Sanger Institute where on the left it says '30-50 words summarizing your role and what this means.' and on the right there is an example of a published personas role with name, job title, headshot and short bio.

Here we worked with Tracy Playle at Pickle Jar Communications to develop the content strategy. The academic profiles of 30-50 words summarising their roles and what this means. The academics wrote these themselves, and these helped to:

  • Extract value from the old pages
  • Put people at the heart of the website.
  • Showcase expertise and credibility
  • Help visitors understand their work

3. Ideate

After you’ve identified a main focus and defined site-wide priorities, it’s time for the ideation stage. What feelings do you want to elicit with your brand messaging and how will you do that?

Message architecture exercise

A good first step is to gather your stakeholders and develop a message architecture where you can create patterns across your website. This is a collaborative way to gather input and generate discussion across a broad group so everybody feels heard, and gives you something solid to lean on.

For this exercise, start with a stack of index cards with descriptive words. This is talked about in the book Content Strategy At Work by Margot Bloomstein. You ask your faculty and your staff in the group to sort these into three categories:

  1. Who we are
  2. Who we want to be
  3. Who we are not

Then you arrive at a shortlist of words that the group feels really represents their community Here is an example:


A slide showing different coloured and sized circles and each has a word inside it including trusted, curious, accessible, global, passion, diverse, innovative and visionary.

Messaging strategy

The exercise above can inform your message strategy. This is where you balance your art of the messaging craft with the usability of your website.

I’ll use an example from the Oklahoma State University website here. They did a redesign of their scholarships and financial aid content, to live up to and embody their brand personality ideas of being friendly and helpful. As a lot of financial aid content is, it was originally deep, dry and had a lot of jargon, hiding a lot of the answers to questions prospective students had.

A slide showing what the Oklahoma State University website used to look like. It is text heavy, lots of grey, orange and black text and boxes.

The new content they designed answers key questions in a visual way, and tells the story of the page without lots of text. They used boxes and highlighted what the university course would cost, which was a key question for prospective students.

The Oklahoma State University website after its redesign. Noe there is a lot more white space, content is structured in boxes and there are headings to help users find the information they need.

4. Prototype

This is the stage where you get to work on the real things for users. It’s creating and compiling your content (live and mockups).

Writing page copy

Drafting interactive copy is more like solving a puzzle than a work of art. It’s about content design, and this is a balancing act between:

  • Context in site
  • Position in architecture
  • Goals to accomplish
  • Feelings to convey
  • User tasks and questions
  • Format, structure

Using images strategically

Don’t neglect the opportunity to use images. Sometimes they can mean you don’t have to use writing at all, which can save you space. Think about how the graphics and copy are working together on the page to convey messages.

Thinking about literary devices

These can help you with web copy to help you find alternative ways to convey meaning, rather than just repeating messages.

5. Test

The last stage is test, which is about validating messaging ideas and execution. This is about showing the value of a whole-site messaging strategy to your organisation.

You can do tests on the messaging itself on your target audience - is it doing its job?

Test for proper placement

Sometimes you can have the right message, but it isn’t in the right place or context on the website. You can use heat mapping software to see where your audience is looking and clicking.

Watch the full webinar on-demand

Making use of the design thinking model means you can see and prove what is working and what isn’t, which is a great way to get people on board with a site-wide messaging strategy.  Watch the full webinar on-demand for more detail and examples.

Webinar Recording

Translating brand messages into website content

Learn how high-level brand concepts can apply to functional and informational content across your website, not just your About Us page.

August 20, 2020

4:00 pm

Register now

Webinar Recording

Translating brand messages into website content

Learn how high-level brand concepts can apply to functional and informational content across your website, not just your About Us page.

August 20, 2020

4:00 pm

Watch now
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About the author

Paige Toomes

Paige is an English Literature and Media graduate from Newcastle University, and over the last three years has built up a career in SEO-driven copywriting for tech companies. She has written for Microsoft, Symantec and LinkedIn, as well as other SaaS companies and IT consulting firms. With an audience-focused approach to content, Paige handles the lifecycle from creation through to measurement, supporting businesses with their content operations.

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