Words mean things. But how adeptly you use them makes all the difference.
BY: TRACY MARSH
Creating content without a brand style guide is like whispering into a megaphone—the message gets lost in delivery. A well-crafted style guide is the key to consistent communication with your audience. And consistency can be tough when content is coming from different people within your company or organization—strategists, writers, editors, designers and more.
Ensuring that all your messaging works together is crucial, and your style guide plays a huge role in getting you there. It codifies your brand by defining who you are, how you sound and what you look like. From a language standpoint, it empowers your content creators to nail your unique voice by outlining rules for grammar, style and tone. And visually, it standardizes your use of colors, marks, typefaces and imagery. Here are our tips for style guides with staying power.
1. Put one person in charge.
(Or one committee, for larger brands.) Because some of the finer points of style are open to interpretation, you’ll need a shot caller. They should understand your brand inside and out, and genuinely care about protecting it. They should also have a trained ear for language and a keen eye for design. A strong gatekeeper will take ownership, safeguarding the consistency and authenticity of your messaging. Which is the whole point.
2. Keep it short.
Chances are, when your content creators need to check the guide, they’ll already be hot and heavy into a project. The longer your guide is, the harder it will be for them to find what they’re looking for. Aim for 10 pages or less. Good organization and a table of contents will also make it easier to navigate.
3. Illustrate do’s and don’ts.
Pictures do more than please the eye. Research shows that content is more powerful when it includes visuals—people process it faster and remember it better than straight text. So rather than dryly explaining that your brand’s logo should never be stretched or squished, make the rule stick by splashing the page with images of off-limits uses with big red X’s over them.
4. Make it available.
Whether you distribute hard copies or store a digital file on a company server or site, everyone creating content for your brand should have access to the latest and greatest version. The easier it is to find, the more effective it will be.
5. Live and die by it.
Don’t make—or allow—exceptions to perfectly good rules. Enforce them. (After all, we’re not called the Grammar Police for nothing.) Failing to do so causes confusion for both your content creators and your audience. So be vigilant, but not so rigid that you don’t …
6. Let it breathe.
Language evolves. Design best practices shift. So, too, should your style guide. Remain a student of your industry—and be open to discussing and adopting needed changes. When edits are made, notify your content creators (an email distribution list works great) and provide them with an updated copy.