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May 28, 2018 (Updated: February 28, 2020)
In March of 2018, WordPress reported more than 82 million blog posts were published on WordPress sites alone.
In 2016, Instagram reported users were sharing 95 million photos and videos every day.
This means in one month on just two platforms, nearly 3 billion pieces of content were created and shared.
That is a staggering amount of content, and yet it represents just a small portion of the content shared online every day.
Between Facebook and Instagram and email and news sites and Twitter, there is so. much. content. It is overwhelming, and most of it isn’t worth the time it takes you to read it.
With so much content vying for your audience’s attention, it seems impossible to create content that really stands out.
Write “great” content they say, but what does that even mean?
The short answer is simple: great content is information that is useful to your audience. Great content provides a solution to a problem your audience has.
Great content is also consistent in style, tone, imagery, and layout.
The benefits of consistency fall into two categories. There are benefits to you, as the content creator, and there are benefits to your audience, the content consumers.
From a business standpoint, consistency allows you to streamline your content creation process. This means you can spend more time creating in-depth, well-researched content and less time worrying about, for example, whether the featured image is going to hang awkwardly off the page.
From a content consumption standpoint, consistency helps to set expectations and build trust. Consistency is why I return to the same burger joint week after week, it is why I stay with my credit card company, and it is why I buy the same style of jeans over and over again.
The first step in creating consistent content is creating a brand style guide.
In the world of marketing, consistency might not seem sexy. But it is powerful, and a brand style guide is the framework that allows you to create that consistency.
A brand style guide is regularly updated internal document that outlines what your content should look like. A style guide might address tone, grammar, font choice, image size, colors, logo usage, and where images should be sourced from.
We touched on the general benefits of consistency in content already, but there are several specific benefits of creating a brand style guide.
Have you ever watched a short order cook work? Their hands instinctively know where the spatula is, where the eggs will land, and how long to let the burger cook before expertly flipping it. Cooking day in and day out creates muscle memory, which allows them to cook faster. There is a rhythm that comes from repetition.
Creating content regularly creates the same type of rhythm — the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Publishing content regularly has SEO benefits, but many brands stall due to the time investment required. Having a brand style guide means many of the decisions are already made, allowing you to focus on the writing, editing, and publishing.
Pair your brand style guide with your editorial guidelines, and you’ve drastically simplified the content creation process. You can now create content better, faster, and more consistently.
On a recent flight, I passed several people in the airport carrying white paper bags with a very recognizable red C. This meant one thing — there was a Chick-fil-a somewhere nearby. I was hungry and my flight was delayed, so I went searching for waffle fries and chicken sandwiches.
I didn’t need to see the entire logo or even more than a corner of the bag to recognize that a tasty chicken sandwich could be found somewhere nearby. By being visually consistent, your content can be just as recognizable as a Chick-fil-a bag.
A brand style guide lays out requirements for colors, logos, margins, and image design so customers will immediately recognize your content — even if they don’t see your logo.
Does the idea of brand trust feel a little vague to you? It is one of those squishy marketing words that seems to get thrown around when people don’t know what else to say. “But, it builds brand trust!” It sounds good, right?
The reason brand trust feels so undefinable is because it is more of a feeling than a measurable quantity. But it can be extremely powerful.
According to a study by Lawrence A. Crosby and Paul J. Zak of Claremont Graduate University:
“…the neurochemical oxytocin (OT) is synthesized in the human brain when one is trusted or simply treated well. The OT molecule, in turn, motivates reciprocation. The release of OT signals that the other party is ‘safe’ to be around and that cooperative behavior will not be exploited.”
By setting expectations and meeting them, you increase the trust people have in your brand. And when they trust you, they are more willing to purchase from you.
Recently, I have been trying to limit my dependency on Amazon, which means I have been shopping from smaller brands’ websites more. What I notice is many of them do not have a clear path to check out.
Take, for example, online retailer FingerHut. It took me four clicks just to get to the page with toaster ovens, and now I can’t even see a path to add it to my cart. I’ll need to click on the item first.
Click again, and there is still no add to cart button visible. (It is below the fold, which requires me to scroll down.)
The company Brandless, on the other hand, makes is easy to check out. I added one item to my basket, and there is a pop up asking me if I want to check out. I love this! I don’t even have to click “Keep Shopping” if I want to keep adding more items.
But, what does conversion rate optimization have to do with a brand style guide?
A lot, actually. Your guide should include where CTAs and check out buttons are placed, what color they are, and even their font.
Keeping these aspects of the offer process consistent makes it easier for customers to convert and download that white paper, opt in to that email list, or buy that course you spent weeks creating.
Now that we’ve covered the benefits, let’s discuss what your style guide should cover.
Just like your marketing plan, your brand style guide will need to be tailored to your brand’s needs. Does every page need a footer? Do you want to make sure all blog posts have a featured image with your logo? These decisions will all inform your style guide.
Use the following information as a general guide and tailor your brand style guide to your brand.
Here are a few components every brand style guide should include:
Your brand’s credo, or mission statement, is a short explanation of who you are as a brand. It should include your core values and how you want to be perceived. This is a vital part of your brand style guide because the visual guidelines should reflect how you want to portray your brand.
Argento, a wine from Argentine, included this credo in their style guide:
This section outlines the different variations of your logo and when they should be used. This should include your primary logo, secondary logo, and word or image-only options. Be sure to also include recommended size, required margins around your logo, and if there is a color and black and white variants.
FourSquare included these guidelines for the usage of their logo in their 2014 style guide:
Including examples of what not to do is also good practice:
Times New Roman, Sans Serif, Papyrus, or Arial? This section should outline what font is to be used online and in print. Be sure to include the name, size restrictions, and colors.
You might also include:
Medium.com’s style guide includes two different fonts, a hierarchy of type, and guidelines on when and where different fonts and sizes should be used.
This section of your brand style guide should include the RGB or HEX code of your main brand color, as well as complementary colors, if applicable. It should also outline rules for where colors should be used and if any colors are restricted to accent usage only.
Take a look at this color pallet from Black Watch Global, an intelligence and risk management company. It includes guidelines for both primary and secondary colors.
This section can cover many different components including image sources, size, colors, etc. Examples include:
This section is going to vary a ton based on what your data tells you works best for your site.
For example, do CTAs need to be red or did blue test better? Should you always put an arrow next to a button? How big are your margins? Should there be a table on every service page?
To start, consider the following elements and then add as needed.
Your editorial guidelines will outline elements such as tone, word usage, etc. For example: email or e-mail? First person or third? Brands that publish regularly or who use guest bloggers might create an entirely separate document.
A few examples of information to include in your editorial guidelines:
Consider including a few examples of top performing content to be used as a reference.
With so many details to cover, creating a brand style guide might feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be! Start with the seven elements listed above and add guidelines that make sense for your brand.
Start by creating a shareable document in Google Drive or a similar program. Add the seven elements listed above, then add additional guidelines as they make sense. Remember to revisit the guide at least once a year to add new guidelines.
Keep in mind, your brand style guide is an internal document, so it can be as detailed or as broad as you need it to be. There are no dead set rules; there is just what works best for your brand.
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