Creating a content style guide is a vital part of establishing a business, but one that often ends up neglected. As a business with extensive experience providing content marketing services, we have seen our share of unmaintained and inefficient content style guides. In most cases, this is because they are created without sufficient preparation or aren’t kept up to date as the brand grows and changes. So why is an internal style guide so important, and how should you properly write and manage it?
What is an Internal Style Guide?
An internal style guide is a list of specific guidelines for communicating your brand with the outside world. These instructions are typically used by the company’s employees when writing articles, advertisements, blog posts, and other types of content.
What are the different types of content marketing style guides?
Some articles tend to use the terms “style guide” and “brand book”/“brand guide” interchangeably. To avoid confusion, it’s best to clarify early on whether you are writing a brand guide — a general set of instructions that might include anything from visual design elements to technical aspects of maintaining a brand — or a style guide, which focuses on writing and editing text-based content.
A visual guide, or design guide specifies things like official brand colors, possible variations of the company logo, white space usage, and so on. Maintaining consistency in the graphic representation of a brand helps keep released materials looking polished, professional, and memorable. Visual elements can tell a story of their own — images, colors, and their usage can convey impressions of friendliness and professionalism, or a lack thereof, letting customers form their own subjective feelings towards the brand, and giving them a coherent visual experience and impression.
Content Style Guide
A content style guide is a document that lays out what language to use, and how to use it, when communicating an aspect of the business and its story with the outside world. This is the type of style guide on which we will focus here, and oftentimes, it can be the trickier and more slippery one to get to grips with. Note that this article is meant for business purposes, which is why the terms content style guide and corporate writing style guide are used interchangeably.
Why do you need a corporate writing style guide?
Whether you run a major corporation or are just launching your own small business, a style guide is essential to create a coherent and lasting impression. An effective style guide results in content that wins over customers by communicating your brand’s values in a way that resonates with the target audience. After all, consumers differentiate between similar products by the way companies present themselves.
A content marketing style guide makes sure that, even with multiple contributors, the brand content stays consistent. Not only does this look more professional, but it also helps a business deliver a clear message that is just right for the target niche. Consistent brand identity and style create a sense of trust and reliability, winning people’s loyalty. Research shows that most consumers treat brands as people and form emotional attachments, just as with individuals. Being consistently recognizable will help a business to be perceived as familiar and trustworthy. Sticking with a good corporate writing style guide will lead to all representations of a company being perceived as one whole, and each interaction with the brand will be combined into one positive impression on the consumer – there will be integration and coherence – whether the customer is aware of this consciously or unconsciously, the impact will be huge.
What should a content writing style guide look like?
Corporate writing style guides typically range from three to five pages. Brevity is your friend here: be specific in your instructions, including detailed examples if needed. For instance, would you define your company as classic and traditional or modern and trendy? Accessible or upscale? Casual or corporate? The answer to these questions will influence how you want to write about your company, and the types of language, grammar and writing conventions you may choose to follow. Consistency is key, and your style guide will ensure all your written content is consistent and in line with the brand image you’ve defined. A brand with a great content marketing style guide knows what sets them apart and how to use that to its advantage.
What are the existing style guide options?
The best style guides for writing include Associated Press, a style guide designed for journalists, and the Chicago Manual, which is often used in academia. Although corporate needs tend to be more specific, both of these styles include general third-person English that is perceived as neutral by most readers. In certain circumstances, these existing style guides might come in handy even for business use; for instance, when writing technical manuals or white papers. However, you’ll need to decide upon certain conventions of spelling, punctuation, date and numerical format and industry-specific terms and collocations that you will consistently adhere to, that suits your company and brand. However, let’s rewind a little…
How to create your own corporate writing style guide?
Defining Your Brand
Before starting the journey of creating a content marketing style guide, try to define your brand: field of operation, target customer base, core mission, and future plans. What are your core values and how would you describe your brand’s personality? All of these elements combine to create your brand identity, and a strong brand identity is what sets you apart from your competitors.
Try writing a mission statement that includes company goals, values, and motivations. Then, consider what kind of customers would buy this product. In other words, who is your target audience? Include any existing market research in your considerations.
With your target audience in mind, it is important to decide how you would like to be perceived. Are you casual and friendly, or are you serious and straight to the point? Will your target audience relate to you more if you appear to be modern and trendy or present a more classic, traditional image and tone?
Writing out a list of words you’d like to be associated with, or creating a vision board to gather inspiration are tried and true methods for determining your brand identity. Feel free to analyze your competitors and online content style guide examples, and to gather inspiration from your past work. Among all of these inputs, there are bound to be elements that come up repeatedly — these are the defining characteristics on which you should focus.
Gathering Inspiration and Research
After your brainstorming, you can start directly working on your content marketing style guide by making a rough draft.
- Introduce your brand to the world: your history, your motivation, and your goals.
- The most important part of the corporate writing style guide will be defining the tone of voice. This is how customers will perceive you and what personality they will assign to your brand. Consider the target audience for your products or services and what they expect to hear from you. For example, SEMrush is a good example of thought leadership in the SEO field, so their tone of voice is typically official and authoritative across their copy.
- You will need to define any formatting requirements, like fonts and sizes. Look at different fonts and consider the associations they bring. Consider the smaller details as well: sizes, alignments (left, right, or middle), kerning, and spacing. HubSpot does a great job of making their posts consistent in terms of font, font size, and alignment. The company uses Avenir Next as the font for their digital communication, making it pleasant to look at and easy to read. Additionally, they center copy on their webpages to instantly catch the attention of the reader.
- Finally, consider all forms of media that your brand uses to communicate with customers. Do you sell physical products, and are they represented in brick and mortar shops? Will your brand be all digital? To what extent do you need to focus on social media? Consider all methods of communication and prioritize them. Depending on your company’s preferred way of communicating, you may need to make additional adjustments to your content marketing style guide. For instance, Exadel has an eloquent presence across social media platforms — including LinkedIn, Facebook</a., Twitter, and Instagram — to grab the attention of existing followers, potential customers, and would-be employees. Exadel’s posts maintain a friendly, engaging tone, making it easy for readers to relate to what is written.
Writing the Internal Content Marketing Style Guide
Now, you can finally sit down and polish your corporate writing style guide. Here are some elements you should not forget:
Formality: how formal or casual is your brand image? Will this be a consistent trait, or will you prefer to switch it up, depending on context? Narrative style: do you want your content to be wordy and descriptive, or brief and to the point? Sentiment: do you want your writing to be emotive, or would you rather it be restrained and reserved? Clarity: does your line of business entail the use of technical language? How should it be formatted? Who is the audience and will they understand you? Miscellaneous: consider punctuation (such as the Oxford comma), preferred language or dialect (e.g. US vs. UK English), emoji use in social media posts, acronyms, and abbreviations. Now, all you need to do is put this information together and distribute it to employees.
Things to consider when writing a content marketing style guide As a last word of advice: remember that the readers of your style guide are your employees, so try to include helpful tips that will save them time while they are writing. Answer commonly-asked questions in your corporate writing style guide: should you spell out numbers or leave them as numericals? Should the brand name be capitalized or abbreviated in any way? Remember, style guides aren’t just something you create because all other brands have them; they’re meant to serve a purpose – constantly keep that purpose in mind and communicate it to those who are going to be using the guide.
For tech companies, a corporate writing style guide might specify how to write technical terms and nomenclature: eCommerce vs. ecommerce, back-end vs. back end, Machine Learning vs. machine learning, and others. Some style guides might even specify how best to deal with sensitive topics in a respectful and professional manner for your brand. Figuring out these small details early on will help you avoid any faux pas in your content marketing as time goes on.
Maintaining your content style guide
Any corporate writing style guide should evolve with time. To update an existing style guide, put yourself in your customers’ shoes. How should you provide useful information in a convenient and satisfactory manner that meets your clients’ needs? As your brand and customer base grow and change, so should your corporate writing style guide.
How often a style guide should be revised really depends on the business and brand. The corporate style guide examples you see today have not always looked this way — as media forms evolved, so did style guides to accommodate new users and readers. Online content marketing style guides have not always been as popular, or even as necessary, as they are now, but the speed of information sharing and the modern need for constant communication with customers has created the need for easily-accessible style guides that are constantly updated. Modern style guides now account for more types of media and formats than before, from print to web pages to emails.
Making a difference with a content marketing style guide
We hope this article helps you on your journey to create the perfect content marketing style guide for your organization, forming a unique and memorable brand identity to establish yourself in the market. A strong brand identity can make or break a business, but with a well-written and polished corporate writing style guide, you can feel prepared to face anything the world springs on your enterprise.
Author: Baska Ganbaatar