Every Creative Director and Marketing leader knows that brands need a style guide to effectively communicate their value to customers and to ensure all external (and internal) communications are consistent. A successful style guide will help you craft a stronger and more cohesive brand identity and develop your customer rapport. It will also make it easier to get your entire team on the same page and bring new marketing and creative talent up to speed quickly.
Where some style guides fall short is leaving out one of the most critical brand style elements: written communication.
For any business, having copy and content that’s high quality, consistent, and on-brand is as important as its visual presence. How do you ensure quality, consistency, and adherence to brand guidelines? You got it, a style guide.
When developing your brand’s style guide, make sure to include the following editorial fundamentals:
Language and Word Choice
Your customers will learn a lot about your brand through its word choice, phraseology, vocabulary, and any slang you might use. Choose your words wisely to boost customer engagement.
Keep in mind:
-Never exclude potential customers or turn existing customers off with unfortunate or even offensive word choices. Employing bias-free language will signify your brand’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity so everyone feels welcome.
-Depending on your product and targeted customer segment, your content may require technical language, or on the flip side, a more conversational way of communicating. Make sure to tailor your brand’s language to its audience/s.
-Be aware of your use of industry jargon, techspeak, or other super niche terminology. In the right moment, the appropriate lingo can convey authority and facility with the subject matter. In the wrong moment, it renders your content difficult to understand to laypeople.
Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling
Be consistent and thoughtful about these elements in your writing to convey your smarts (written, while scanning for my own!).
Ask your team:
-Will you use American or British standard spellings?
-Do you favor a particular style guide (AP, Chicago, etc.)?
-How free will you be with exclamation points (!!)? How about colons, semi-colons, and ellipsis usage?
-Do you approve of contractions, or prefer more formal usage?
-Will you give a thumbs-up to emojis like smiley faces, or other symbols, in your digital communications?
Dates and Numbers
Stay consistent in this area, too, to make your communications easy to read and digest.
-Will you record dates as 01/01/2018, or January 1st, 2018?
-When writing numbers, at which point will you transition from ‘one, two, three’ to ‘13,14,15’?
Voice and Tone
Your customers will engage with you through the voice and tone of your content. Convey both of these well to attract your ideal customers and build your relationships with them.
To learn more about voice and tone, read this AMJ blog post on the subject.
Titles, Naming Conventions, and Acronyms
You want your customers to rely on you for information. Be consistent across these seemingly small elements and you’ll build your customers’ confidence in your brand.
-What merits capitalization? Think: headings, subheadings, product names, etc.
-How about abbreviations? Will you use Dr., TV, and OK, or doctor, television and okay? Will you substitute ‘tech’ for ‘technology’?
-What are the naming conventions of your industry, and the ones that your customers will expect?
-Also, include product, service, and technology-naming conventions.
“Bigger ideas and fewer words” -Microsoft
Content Patterns and Elements
Clarity across content patterns and elements will provide a boost to your message.
-Will you use simple or complex sentence structures?
-What’s your preferred length for content blocks? Longer blocks may convey more detailed or technical information, while shorter ones can feel action-oriented.
-If mobile is your primary platform, how do you plan to make your content easily scannable? Again, shorter content blocks are much easier to scan and digest.
-What’s the ideal style, look, and feel of your headlines and Calls-to-Action (CTAs)?
Also consider including your brand messaging elements: positioning, value prop, brand promise, benefit statements, proof points, etc. They will serve as a critical guidepost for how your brand talks about itself across communication touchpoints.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but one that can get you started when considering the ins and outs of your brand’s written communication. And remember, while a style guide is extremely important, it is also not written (pun unavoidable) in stone. It can, and should, evolve as your brand does. Think of your style guide as a living document that responds to your organization’s own shifting needs: a work-in-progress, if you will.
If your creative team, marketing department, or agency needs help establishing and/or articulating your brand’s editorial guidelines, contact AMJ. Let’s work together!