A lot of work goes into building your brand. Using a style guide can help to ensure that your content is on top form.
Style guides are often associated with major newspapers, but they’re not the only ones who can benefit. If your business creates any kind of content, then an in-house style guide can help to ensure consistency and professionalism. In this post, we’ll run through why style guides are so important, how to create one, and how to make sure your team sticks to it.
What is a style guide?
A style guide is a set of rules governing your company’s content. Typically, they primarily cover written content, though broader guidelines may also encompass your visual identity.
Style guides aim to ensure harmony between all of the content your business produces. They help to guard against the possibility of publishing a piece of content that doesn’t match your brand’s tone of voice. Similarly, they ensure that different writers conform to the same grammatical conventions.
The issues that a style guide addresses may not sound too major in isolation. However, taken as a whole, they can make or break a potential customer or client’s impression of your business. With a style guide in place and enforced consistently, you can ensure a professional tone.
What should I include in a style guide?
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Style guides are about much more than Oxford commas and citations. Together, they provide your brand with a personality, outlook and vision, helping your business to come to life. It’s no wonder, then, to learn that plenty of different elements can make up the guide. This section will run through many of the key points you need to include.
The English language is a funny old thing, and its global reach means that there are varying standards across the globe. We’re not just talking about the different spelling rules you’ll find in the US and UK. This can include everything from comma use through to abbreviations.
You don’t have to do this part completely on your own. In fact, a useful place to start is to check out a few guides from major institutions, such as universities or newspapers. Examples include the University of Oxford Style Guide, or the guide used by The Guardian and The Observer, both of which are freely available online. These can help you to get the basics down with minimal effort on your part.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t make tweaks where necessary. Your website might, for example, have a specific style when it comes to quotes, or even hyphenation. Just make it clear—and make sure it’s in your style guide!
This point may not be hugely important for every business, but your name is one of the most important parts of your identity. That’s why you need to make it nigh-on-impossible for anyone representing you to get this wrong. If your business is simply called “Example Company”, then it’s probably fairly easy for anyone writing about it to get the name right. But if your brand name uses a specific format, such as lower case or camel case, then writers can easily slip up.
Let’s use PayPal as an example. If you received an email that referred instead to ‘Pay Pal’, you’d likely think something was wrong with it. At best, it makes your communications look sloppy; at worst, you run the risk of seeming like a scam. The same works in reverse—for example, Microsoft rather than MicroSoft. That’s why your style guide should include your brand’s name, as well as those of the products you sell or services you offer.
Image source: Natalia Y via Unsplash
When many people write for your business, maintaining a single, cohesive voice can be tricky. A good place to start is by establishing your brand’s personality. Now, we don’t mean that you have to construct a specific character. Instead, think of attributes that you want your brand to embody. You can think of this as a series of ‘this or that questions’. Try answering the questions below.
Is your brand…
- Friendly or formal?
- Modern or traditional?
- Fun or serious?
- High-end or open to everyone?
- Energetic or reserved?
- Mould-breaking or familiar?
Don’t worry if your brand falls somewhere between these two extremes. Likewise, don’t limit yourself to the adjectives above—you choose the personality!
The most important thing here is to ensure that your whole team is on the same page. If your website’s copy is corporate and formal, but your social media platforms are casual and laid-back, you could send out mixed messaging. Of course, subtly different tones can work as required by different platforms, but try to ensure they work together as a whole.
You might not think about including personas of your business’ customers or users when putting together a style guide. After all, isn’t this all about your brand?
However, there’s a compelling reason to do so. When you create content, you’re telling your brand’s story. Your tone of voice is important here, but so is the point of view of the person you’re speaking to. Think of it as a conversation. While your fundamental personality doesn’t shift, the nuance changes depending on who you address.
Of course, it’s quite likely that your business will target more than one type of customer. This doesn’t mean that you need to jump around trying to please them all in the same piece of content. Instead, think about which of your user personas you’re speaking to whenever you create something new, and think about the best way to have a conversation with them.
Key words to use… and to avoid
You know how jarring it is when one of your friends throws a word into conversation that just doesn’t sound like them? Your brand can fall victim to the same phenomenon. To help ward against this, it can help to define words that do and don’t sound like your brand. This doesn’t need to be an extensive list—a few examples should give your team the gist of the kinds of things to aim for.
Skype’s brand book, for example, includes ‘free’, ‘share’ and ‘call’ in its list of ‘words we like’, while warning against ‘peer-to-peer’ or ‘VoIP’. More broadly, this suggests a preference for shorter, friendlier-sounding language and an aversion to more technical terms. In turn, this helps to shape the image of the brand, emphasising warmth and inclusivity.
Image source: Clark Tibbs via Unsplash
Next on your list of things to include in a brand style guide should be a mission statement, or a similar short quote defining what your brand is all about. This can be an easy one to forget—after all, it doesn’t set any specific rules for your authors to follow. However, it will help them to get into the right headspace for writing in your company’s tone of voice.
Say, for example, that helping people is central to what your brand does. This encourages your team to think about empathy, nurturing, and problem-solving. Perhaps innovation is key instead, in which case you’ll know to talk about your achievements and breaking boundaries.
Mission statements can come in various forms. Commonly, they run to a couple of sentences, but they can encompass a few points or be as short as a simple tagline. You may alternatively wish to define company values for your team to embody when creating content.
The written side of your style guide requires care and attention to get right. However, this doesn’t mean that you should neglect the visual side of things. After all, content with the wrong look and feel can be just as damaging to your brand as poorly written text. All of the following rules have a home in your style guide:
- Logos: Include the variants of your logo to be used in print and online. Specify what modifications are and aren’t allowed, such as altering the background. You should also state where the logo can be used, including its position on web pages, slideshows, social media graphics, and whether it can be combined with other elements. It’s equally important to include some key don’ts when it comes to your logo, so users can avoid them.
- Colours: Your brand will most likely have a one or two defining colours (such as Supersede Media’s shade of red!). In your style guide, include these, alongside their RGB and/or Hex codes. You can also specify lighter or darker shades, as well as complementing colours to form a brand palette.
- Fonts: On your company website, it’s likely that most people will stick to the default fonts used in your CSS files. But when creating content such as presentations or infographics, your team may go off-piste. Keep them on the right track by including a list of brand-approved fonts and where to use them (e.g. titles, headings or main body text). Include links to download fonts that users are less likely to have automatically. You should also specify preferred sizes and weights.
- Image guidelines: The images accompanying your text play a big role in the overall feel of your content. Do you use stock or in-house designs? Photos or animations? What dimensions do your images need to conform to? Is there a specific template for your images to follow, such as overlaying a logo or graphical element? Where do images appear in relation to your text? There are plenty of questions to answer, so make it clear to anyone creating content on behalf of your brand.
Getting your team to use your style guide
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So, you’ve gone about creating a style guide that suits your business to a T. The work isn’t yet done, though. Now, you have to make sure that everyone uses it.
Getting your team to consistently apply the rules can be tricky. This isn’t because people intentionally reject them, but rather that old habits die hard and errors can easily creep in. So, here are our tips to ensure that your style guide gets the respect it deserves.
① Provide training
Your team may be great writers, but they aren’t born with an in-built knowledge of your brand. So, when someone new joins the team—or if you’re implementing a new direction—take the time to help them become familiar with your style guide. Interactive training sessions can help the new rules to stick, and provide the closest thing to real-world uses for your guide.
② Explain your rules well
You might know exactly what you mean when creating your style guide, but that doesn’t mean that your team will. Telling someone that your brand uses camel case is no use if they don’t know what ‘camel case’ means, for example. Be as clear as possible with the guidelines you set out, providing examples of dos and don’ts, and explanations of points that could be unclear. And if someone asks, help them!
③ Be logical
If your staff simply don’t understand the reasons behind your style guide, they’re less likely to get behind it. Creating a guide that makes good, logical sense from the off means that people will instantly understand the reasons for it. In turn, they’re more likely to adopt it in the content they create for your brand.
④ Make it easy to get answers
Even a clear style guide can be difficult to follow if it’s near-impossible to get to the right page. This is where a good linking structure can work wonders, as with the left-hand sidebar in these guidelines from Spotify. If possible, make your guide searchable, or even include an index. If you’re going for a more basic Word doc, then use your table of contents to make it as easy to navigate as possible.
⑤ Build it into content creation platforms
Certain content platforms, such as GatherContent, allow you to import your style guide. This means that they will appear in the system itself, and may resemble a spelling or grammar check. Though not an option for every business, this can be a powerful tool at your disposal, and can help to ensure maximum consistency across your content.
Now you have all the information you need on creating your own style guide. Looking for a team who can create content in your tone of voice? Supersede Media is here to help! Just get in touch to discuss how we can help your brand to make a big impact.