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A style guide helps a business outline the requirements and components of a content and/or marketing campaign. Using such a guide, a business can ensure that every piece of content, advertisement, product, etc. stays on-brand and never feels “off.” However, these guides can be somewhat complicated to get right. Take a look at our explanations and advice for creating an awesome style guide. With this, you’ll have an excellent roadmap that your team members and outsourced help can follow with ease.
Image via Flickr by patchtok
To wrap it all up in a single word: consistency. Brand style guides clearly establish what tones, phrases, statements, etc. are okay to use in your branding, as well as what is never okay. Since so much of branding is about non-verbal matters, the guide will also largely involve what colors are ideal, what typography to use, where and how to include logos, and in the case of video or audio, what sort of voice work, sound effects, musical selections, etc. are acceptable.
Imagine you rely on a particular brand for insurance, and it’s one that won you over with a simple but down-to-earth and honest approach. Suddenly, the business breaks brand in the next commercial you see, trying to get wacky, funny, or ironic. When a business goes off brand like this, customers can see it as confusing, a betrayal, or an indication that the business didn’t know them very well after all. These are impressions you want to avoid at all costs.
You should look at a brand style guide as a roadmap showing how your business will communicate the right messages to its ideal audience, with explanations for why the rules should be followed. With all that said, let’s move on to the actual creation process.
A good style guide cannot be based on conjecture. The outlined instructions should be based on research and experience serving your target audience. If your target demographic is young mothers, for instance, you may have learned that a gentler but upbeat and encouraging tone works best, coupled with a brief and to-the-point writing style that acknowledges how busy they are. You’ve probably also gained countless other little insights, such as the effectiveness of baby blue and girly pink color tones.
This information can only come from testing and trying to appeal to your audience, so if you aren’t particularly clear on your ideal customer, now’s a good time to study whatever data you can. Whether you base it on website traffic data, metrics on advertising, or even just what types of people respond the most on social media, figure out who you are trying to appeal to with your brand style guide.
Most businesses that worry about marketing and making a brand style guide are probably not widely known to begin with, which is why crafting a brand story can be central to your guide. More concrete and relatable than a mission statement, a brand story should be a brief, easily summarized tale of how your business got started, or how it reached the point that it’s currently at, in the context of serving customers. This is especially important for businesses that are changing things up for one reason or another.
When your team members see your guide and all the rules about why something needs to be more serious and calm, it only comes off as instructions with no clear reason. If you attach a relevant brand story, however, such as a relief effort made to those in need that changed how you viewed your responsibilities as a business, the directions will make clear sense and be easier for writers and designers to relate to. The story doesn’t have to be grandiose or dramatic — only true and a good explanation behind the style guide’s rules.
How your business “speaks” to people through visual assets such as logos is what you might call a “visual dialect.” The term is taken from visual language, which refers to what the visual, nonverbal aspects of something communicate. For example, you might decide that your logo should always be presented with a certain amount of clear space around it or always in one of several possible corners in a piece of content. Different acceptable color schemes, font styles, symbols, and more, along with what isn’t acceptable, will help maintain the ideal brand feel you want to present.
If you haven’t already, be sure to establish some branded design elements, such as very specific colors to use and color schemes with different ratios. Only when you know these things can you communicate them clearly in a brand style guide.
While the visual dialect is how all of your nonverbal elements are to be used, brand voice encompasses every rule regarding words and written content. Get specific and make it clear what is and isn’t on-brand. This could apply to broad concepts, such as never mentioning negative topics, as well as the tiniest of writing specifics, such as certain grammatical structures or punctuation to use. Or, if you wish, you could keep it simple and just establish some general guidelines that give writers more freedom. It all depends on your industry.
If you need content created at a high volume, you’ll need to rely on multiple creative people. Without a style guide, every writer’s personal quirks and preferences will bleed into the writing and lead to an inconsistent experience. Creativity is fine, but the goal is for each content piece you release to feel like it came from your brand. When the tone is off or the sentence structure is suddenly different from what came before, it subconsciously confuses visitors and causes them to engage less.
Keep these tips in mind as you design and polish a guide for your brand. Creating a brand style guide will save you a lot of headaches when you commission new content, advertisements, and other branded items. Take the time to build the perfect guide, and consider it an investment in smoother, more effective online marketing in the future.