You’ve just hired a new employee and asked them to add something to your website. They start asking questions, lots of questions. What size should the photos be? What are the specifics of your color palette? What’s the headline font? How about the text font? Should I capitalize “company?”
The problem is, you don’t know the answers to those questions.
The guy who did that job before left no information behind. Now what? You could call your web developer to get some of those answers, but that’s a pain. They’re busy, you’re busy. They don’t even know all those answers.
There must be an easier way.
The brand and writing style guide is the easier way. Let’s talk about what this style guide is and why you need it.
What is a style guide?
A style guide lays out a set of rules for handling the branding and writing for your business. The guide could include how to use logos and colors; how to format text and images for both online and paper use; and rules for punctuation, capitalization, spelling and grammar.
If that sounds overly restrictive to you, think of it this way. You create a business plan to guide your business activities and stay on a planned path of growth and development. The style guide aides in creating consistent communication for the continuous growth and recognition of your brand.
Rather than restrict, your style guide provides structure.
Three reasons your business needs a style guide
The most important thing the style guide does is help to establish brand identity. Your logo is the visual representation of your business. It must always be shown the same way, throughout all mediums. While the size can change, the shape and colors should never be skewed or changed.
Your marketing materials and website should also strive to build cohesion. The same set of colors should always be used, the same three or four fonts should stay consistent, and the same formatting should be employed. Your brand should be recognizable by the images and text you put out into the world.
Establish your voice
Who your client is and what you sell has some say in the voice your company portrays. However, your personality as a business owner also plays a part. Establishing voice is for a different post on another day, but your style guide helps you keep it once you’ve nailed it down.
How you use acronyms and jargon play a part in your voice and should be included in the style guide. Whether you want your content and marketing pieces to feel casual or formal, peppy or quiet should also be spelled out.
Include written samples in the guide as they’re helpful to newcomers. They’ll pick up your voice quickly when they see exactly how to capture it.
Guide those creating content
The style guide helps content creators, whether in-house or freelance, write brand-cohesive content and maintain the consistent voice you’re striving for. Their work will be better able to establish your brand and professional image.
Your goals and the writer’s goals will be the same: strengthen your voice and build brand recognition. And everyone will be moving in the same direction.
Creating your own style guide
To create a style guide, start with an outside style guide and then adjust its rules for your own business. This provides a large base of guidelines to get things rolling. Let me give you an example.
Most newspapers and magazines use the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook as their guide. It’s a good choice for many businesses as well. Other style guide options include the Chicago Manual of Style (used mostly in book publishing), the AMA Manual of Style (used in scientific journals and academia), and APA Style (used in the social sciences).
One of the rules in the AP Stylebook says to NOT use the serial comma (I used it in the paragraph above). You might feel weird about leaving out the last comma in a series and don’t want to follow that rule. So, after specifying in your style guide you will follow AP Style, you would also specify you WILL use the serial comma in all cases. Easy as that.
Once you’ve chosen a style guide to deal with the writing, punctuation and grammar part, specify how to handle graphics and formatting. Be sure to include any differences between online use and paper use.
You could also include how to write for different social media channels. We write differently for Twitter than we do for Facebook. Spell out the differences so anyone handling social media posts can maintain brand consistency.
The style guide is not a prison cell
Keep in mind your style guide shouldn’t be seen as a prison cell. This will be a living document that can be changed. It should be added to as issues arise.
And, make sure everyone in your company knows how to access it and use it. Otherwise they’ll be peppering you with all those annoying questions you couldn’t answer before you created your handy style guide.
If you don’t have time to create your style guide or aren’t sure how to do it, give me a call. I’ll whip one up for you, and it won’t break the budget.