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While variety may be the spice of life, it doesn’t drive brand consistency. When you first start branding your business, you define your business’s identity. As your business grows, so does the number of people creating content for it and, with that, the need to have a set of clear-cut guidelines increases. Your business and brand should have its own style, voice, messaging, and preferences, and one of the best ways to hone in on that is by developing a content style guide.
What is a Content Style Guide?
Style guides are there to make sure that all of your content creators are on track with your business’s goals and messaging. Creating better brand consistency strengthens customer satisfaction, trust, and loyalty which can boost your bottom line. So, it’s a no-brainer to spend some time developing this set of standards for your team.
But before we jump in, what exactly is a content style guide? While they can vary from a bullet-pointed one-sheet to Mailchimp’s sectioned document that’s long enough to warrant a TL;DR, they generally include a few key aspects. At a minimum, effective style guides contain a clear description of your brand’s personality, preferences and suggestions regarding copy content, and grammar and spelling rules to follow. Ultimately, these parts get broken down into the following pieces:
- Voice: Voice dictates how you want your audience to think about your brand. It includes a set of unchanging characteristics that describe the personality of your business.
- Tone: Unlike brand voice, tone shifts to stay appropriate and relevant across different scenarios.
- Style: Brand style defines what you want the content to look like, including word choices, formatting, grammar, and more.
To start defining these aspects for your business, ask the following questions.
How Do You Want to be Perceived?
Your industry, audience, and brand preferences will inform what the right voice for you is. Consider what makes your company unique and how you want your consumers to think about you. Do you want to be perceived as high-end and exclusive or lighthearted and approachable? While a corporate and professional demeanor makes sense for a law office, an offbeat and humorous voice might fit better for a food truck.
Feeling stuck? Sit down with a group and come up with five or six adjectives that describe your brand, ask the CEO what made him or her start the company, or brainstorm who the ideal celebrity spokesperson for your brand would be to get started.
How Can You Communicate These Values?
Okay, so you know how your brand wants to be seen. Unfortunately, how you want to be perceived and how you appear can be two completely different things, especially for brands. To effectively communicate your messages, you’ll need to have a clear picture of your audience. With your target audience defined, you can better determine their point of view to determine what types of messaging will resonate with them.
What Content Types and Situations Do You Communicate With?
While the first two questions mainly impact the voice aspect of your style guide, this question starts to address your brand’s tone. You may want to consider the different types of content and shift accordingly, like making a blog post educational while keeping social media posts more laid back. Tone can also address the various states of mind of your readers. Are they stressed out about an issue and reaching out for assistance on social media? Did they just complete a task and are landing on your ‘thank you’ page? Determine how much leeway your content team has to shift the brand’s tone to fit the reader’s needs.
Do You Follow a Stylebook?
Finally, lay some ground rules for grammar and mechanics so that your writing style is clear and consistent. You can default to following the Chicago Manual of Style or AP Stylebook, but you should also note if there are ever situations to break from the standard. Ideally, you’ll want to define the following, and give examples of content that is relevant to the brand:
- Active or passive voice
- Grammar rules
- Punctuation; hyphens, the oxford comma, ellipses, and more
- Capitalization guidelines
- Formatting; sentence spacing, lists, and the use of italic, underlined, or bolded text
- Numbers, dates, times, and addresses
- Linking policies
How Will You Share it with Content Creators?
A content style guide is never truly complete. As an extension of your business, it is a living document that will grow and change over time. So, however you decide to present your new style guide, make sure that it’s accessible, easy to update, and collaborative.
With these questions answered, you’ll have the insights you need to start developing your own style guide. Of course, if you find yourself struggling, the Front Porch team is always happy to help with all of your branding and content marketing needs!