How to create a content style guide for your brand

4 JUN 2018 0

Okay, so you're a small to mid-sized business or organization and you've recently jumped into the content creation game. You've got a small team of people working to produce content that you hope will attract eyeballs to your site and drive conversions. Maybe some of the people on your team are experienced marketers or designers with some background in the content creation field, more likely, this is a completely new experience for many members of your team. So how do you get everyone on the same page?

With a content style guide!

A content style guide is a road map that will guide your content production efforts. It's an accessible document that outlines the do's and do-not's for your brand that let you present a unified, and cohesive voice to your customers. Ideally, it should include everything from font choice and the use of brand images, to the tone and vibe of your writing. Assembling one is a bit of work, you'll need to sit down and hammer out the answers to questions you might not have even considered yet, but the pay-off can definitely be worth it.

How will a style guide help?

The big benefit of a style guide is consistency. The clearer your brand voice is, the more you'll connect with your target demographics and actually have an impact with your content. Variety might be the spice of life, but nobody wants to read a blog that feels like a game of roulette depending on who happened to write the post for the day. 

But a style guide also pays out in less immediate ways. Having everyone on the same page will reduce the amount of time spent on editing and revisions, keeping the process quick and easy. A good style guide can also help provide direction for content producers who might find themselves unsure of how to approach a subject or idea. It's all about making things as easy as possible on your team and keeping the content rolling!

So let's take a look at a few of the topics your style guide should include.

Who is your audience?

Who exactly are you creating content for? Ideally, you'll want to have a specific kind of audience in mind. Knowing who your writing for is crucial since it will determine many other standards and rules for your style guide.

Are your target audience members familiar with your business? Are they casual window browsers who may not understand exactly what you do and why, or do you cater a very involved and knowledgeable customer base that won't be interested in superficial takes or general commentary? Do you know which kind of person your speaking to so you can understand what connects with them?

Start your guide with a breakdown of your audience. Who they are, what they need, and what kind of interests they may have. This will help you anticipate what will resonate with them and give direction to the rest of your guide.

What kind of content does your business or organization create?

This might seem like a basic question, but there is a bit more to it than you might think. Obviously, you'll want to work out exactly what kind of content you create. This will likely include things such as blogs and guides, but it could also include things like opinion pieces, questionnaires, videos, and so on. These different kinds of content present different kinds of challenges and you'll need to know the ground rules for all of them.

After you know what kind of content you're going to create, break it down. If your team will be writing blogs, what kind of length should they be aiming for? 500 words? 2000 words? Are listicles the best way to drive engagement to your site, or the bane of all existence that must be purged from this world?

Do your blogs need to include images? If so, how many? Where can you source those images? What about creating your own, is that okay? These are all questions you should be asking now instead of reacting to later.

Technical points

When writing for the web, you need to consider the technical side of things as well. Formatting choices such as fonts, heading sizes, when and where you use headlines and sub-headlines, and so on. Do you capitalize every word in a title? Is your brand name written with a hyphen, or all one word? When you refer to your products, do you always use a full and proper name that is hyperlinked to the sales page, or do you just call it by an easily recognizable short form?

How big should images be? Both in terms of resolution and file size. Are GIFs allowed? What about YouTube embeds? How bout YouTube embeds from other sources? These are all things that should be ironed out early in the process.

These might seem like small trivial questions now, but in a year or so when you've produced a few dozen blogs it will be the answers to these questions that determine whether they are a mish-mash of inconsistent, off-brand, disparate voices, or a single unified voice. 

Writing best practices

Establish some guide lines for the quality and type of writing you will publish on your site. Purchase an actual style guide such as the AP Style Guide or the Canadian Press Stylebook that you can refer to when in doubt. If you do business in both Canada and the US, it's best to pick either Canadian or US English and stick with it, jumping between the two can be confusing for both the audience and the editor.

How will you treat jargon and industry terms? If your committed to keeping as wide of audience as possible, there should be rules about avoid jargon or terminology that is too "inside baseball.” But, if you're marketing to B2B customers, or a specific and knowledgeable audience, embracing more advanced terminology can actually improve your appearance. Figure out what works best for your brand and make it a law

What is your brand voice?

While many of the other points we've mentioned so far have to do with technical rules and black and white situations, brand voice is a little more nebulous, but it is also one of the most important aspects of your style guide. 

Simply put, your brand voice is the personality you want to project for your business. How do you want potential customers to see you? If you serve a very professional and cautious customer base, your content should reflect that. In those cases you should strive to write similar to a newspaper, with a slightly detached, calm, and factual presentation. But what if you're trying to appeal to an audience that bristles at formality? Your brand voice might be better off a little looser, less formal, or even provocative. Again, this is going to depend on your business, your audience, and your goals. 

Putting it together

Answering these questions should give you a solid foundation for your style guide, but just in case you need a little inspiration, check out some of these amazing brands that have helpfully made their styleguides public knowledge.

A List Apart – A List Apart publishes detailed, informative articles written by designers, for designers. They know they are speaking to a knowledgeable and capable audience so their styleguide reflects that, focusing on clarity.

MailChimp – MailChimp invites you to steal, hack, and rebuild their styleguide! While there is a lot of detailed content to go over here, their TL:DR section is a great primer. Even a small guideline sheet like this can help improve the efforts of a new content team!

Frontify – Is your brand very visual? Consider Frontify's very image conscious styleguide for examples on how to keep your logos, iconography, and design on point. 

Take a look at how these businesses have constructed their style guides and get inspired! Now is the perfect time to take control of your content production!

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