If someone reads a piece of your brand content without your logo or brand name, would they know the content is yours?
With a practical content style guide, the answer should always be yes. Unfortunately, however, many teams fail to harness their style guide’s full potential. This is often because brand style guides focus on the look and feel of brand content, omitting the critical audience details and background necessary to bring your brand content to life.
Whether you’re building a new style guide or refining your existing brand style guide, here’s how you can create a robust content style guide that will help all of your brand content creators thrive.
What is a Content Style Guide?
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a content style guide (also called “content creation guidelines”) explains and showcases how your company speaks with and presents itself to your community. It serves as a one-stop-shop for your entire team to understand your brand personality and visual identity and convey that on every brand asset they create.
Why Are Content Style Guides Important for Marketing Teams?
Content style guides are valuable for teams of all sizes, not just companies with multiple writers. Here are just a few reasons why content marketing style guides are an essential resource for your content team:
- Consistency: A style guide ensures consistency across your content, which helps to reinforce your brand identity. This consideration is amplified as your team grows—more writers could mean new styles and tones creep into your brand copy—or as you partner with outside writers that are not immersed in your brand messaging.
- Efficiency: Reinventing the wheel is a horrible use of your team’s resources. Style guides answer common questions and give creators the resources to complete their work confidently. The style guide is also a valuable document during any employee onboarding.
- Streamline workflows: No more waiting for someone to send a logo or approve a description. Instead, this document allows team members to self-serve.
- Strengthens your value proposition: Melanie Graham, a seasoned writer and content marketer specializing in the healthcare industry, says that a “style guide provides critical details on your customers and the messaging that addresses their pain points. This information helps all teams use the strongest, most relevant value props that ultimately sell your product or service.”
Tod Cordill, founder of Moderno Strategies, adds that style guides are valuable for channel partners, too. “A style guide should also include guidelines for channel partners that detail the correct usage of your logos, trademarks, and other brand assets,” he says. “For companies with a lot of brand complexity, this might be a separate document that is maintained in parallel with the style guide used internally and by contractors.”
What Should A Brand’s Content Style Guide Include?
A helpful content style guide will explain your guidelines and showcase them in action. Below are the main elements to include in a style guide, and, when possible, include examples or images that reinforce your points.
Audience or Key Personas
Who does your brand hope to reach, and what do you need to know about these personas? Overview your audience personas and explain the challenges they face, their goals, and how your product or solution helps them thrive.
“Don’t duplicate content if personas are extensively described in other documents,” Tod says. “Maintaining duplicate content is either extra work, or you end up with different versions. Whether to include detailed personas in the style guide, or mention and link out to them, depends on how often you are comfortable editing the style guide.”
Brand Colors/Color Palette
List your brand colors with multiple ways for designers and content creators to use those colors. The CMYK, HEX, RGB, and Pantone codes are all important inclusions (and you can learn more about each here).
Company Naming and Taglines
List all company products, trademarks, and taglines or slogans with any necessary trademark or copyright symbols. Also include your Board members and executive team members and their official titles and preferred names.
Company nicknames are essential to note, too, says Tod.
A thorough style guide will include a company description and key company facts for easy reference when creating content. Consider also including your company press release boilerplate, plus company descriptions of typical lengths to make trade show listings, social bios, and other such uses consistent.
“Set a standard email signature for everyone at the company,” Melanie reminds us. “Consider whether to include the company logo, calls-to-action (“Sign up for our newsletter!”), phone numbers, emails, and job titles.”
Font and Typography
What are your brand typefaces and font sizes, and when are they used? Name all primary and secondary typefaces and explain how they should appear across different uses. For example, your brand style guide could (but, truly, should not) list Comic Sans as your primary typeface, with a bold 18 pt font with title case for headlines and regular 12 pt font for standard text.
Frequently Asked Questions
Your team will inevitably have questions about your brand style, even if you think you’ve covered everything in the style guide. So, track and address these questions in a dedicated FAQ section within your style guide.
Images and Photography
Define your photographic and graphic design style. Does your brand prefer hand-drawn illustrations? What about well-lit photos of actual humans doing their jobs? Or are you all about product shots and nothing else? Don’t forget to add a link to the approved image repository in this section.
Tod advises you to include guidance for various use cases where images are used, such as a website, social media posts, digital or print ads, print collateral, and banners.
Detail how your brand logo should appear, including all color, shape, or size variations, plus versions for social media platforms. Link to a folder containing logos for download, with various file types (.jpg, .png, .svg) and sizes to meet any web or print needs.
Embed a messaging framework into your brand style guide, or include a link to a separate document. Melanie reinforces the importance of this, explaining that “your messaging framework should be an overview of your company’s positioning, differentiators, proof points, customer benefits, and some example messaging (one-liners) you use in external channels.”
Mission and Values
Explain your company mission and values alongside your company overview. A well-built brand will have a cohesive narrative across its purpose, mission, and values, and the brand style should complement this narrative.
Preferred Style Guide and Dictionary of Record
“Explain your preferred style guide (MLA, APA, etc.) and dictionary of record for your organization/brand,” says Carmen Hill, founder, principal strategist, and writer at Chill Content. For example, “unless otherwise specified, we follow AP style and use the Merriam-Webster dictionary.” If your preferred guide does not have guidance for commonly used words, she recommends you create an A-Z word guide specific to your team.
Melanie says that “this section should also call out any brand-specific grammatical preferences that don’t fit within the preferred style guide—Oxford commas, academic degree styles, etc.”
Carmen says that formatting and publishing conventions are another must-include item, especially for internal team members and contributors. “Detail your formatting and publishing conventions for headlines, subheads, titles, calls-to-action, lists, metadata, quotes, and references and source citations.”
Include links to any branded templates your team may need, such as slide decks, social visuals, or letterheads.
Video is becoming more prevalent in marketing communications and deserves a spot in your brand content style guide. According to Tod, “videos should have consistent intros and outros, voice style, music, tempo, and graphic style that is consistent with brand images. This can be difficult to define in a written document.” Link to exemplary videos to help your video creators understand what an ideal brand video looks like.
Voice and Tone
Every brand should have a distinct personality. Do you want to be a fun, playful brand? Would you prefer a direct and instructive tone? Your brand style guide should define the brand’s voice with plenty of examples that showcase your brand tone in action.
What Not to Do
Use this section to outline whatever you don’t want your team to do—like using a specific word or phrase, or evoking a particular emotion. Carmen recommends you provide guidance on what to do, instead of simply saying “no.” For example, she says you can create a table with words or phrases to avoid with suggested alternatives, such as “Instead of ‘leverage,’ try ‘use, take advantage of, or maximize.”
Tod recommends you include a list of companies, most likely competitors, that content creators should never mention.
The final section of your style guide can include additional resources that will empower your team and coach them to be better writers. For example, Carmen recommends you link to plainlanguage.gov and its guide for writing in plain English, Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips, grammar and spelling tools like Grammarly, and this guide to UK vs. US English.
How To Gain Team Adoption Of Your Content Style Guide
Creating your content style guide is a significant step. But for your efforts to pay off, you need to socialize your style guide and ensure all team members are aware of its existence and actively use it for content creation.
“A style guide, like any tool, is only useful and valuable if people actually use it,” says Carmen. “This is really the biggest challenge. Regardless of how you decide to share the guide, include a link to the shared document in any channels and tools that inform content writing and creation, like your content brief, content templates, and guidelines for guest writers/contributors.”
Melanie adds that “it’s helpful to include your style guide in onboarding materials for all new employees, so they understand the brand guidelines and resources from the get-go. You may also want to consider short training sessions on the style guide, either at an all-hands meeting or with individual teams.”
Example Content Style Guides
When building your brand style guide, it helps to look at other teams’ brand guidelines for inspiration. Some organizations even encourage you to use and adapt their style guides for your needs.
As a starting point, check out these great brand guideline examples:
- MailChimp: This thorough style guide covers everything in short, easy-to-digest sections. There’s even a TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) that summarizes the most important things to know, and the word list is a perfect model to follow.
- Salesforce: This microsite houses everything related to the Salesforce brand. Check out specific sections on logo guidelines, color, and brand voice to see how Salesforce activates its branding.
- Skyscanner: Audiences should notice when you change your branding. This Skyscanner page announces its branding update and clearly communicates the brand’s visual identity. We love the descriptors on the brand colors that put the choice into context.
Style Guides Are An Evolving Brand Asset
By addressing the key brand style guide elements we outlined above, your team will be able to create more consistent content faster, no matter who’s helping. Regularly update your style guide with necessary background or details, and communicate these changes as they happen. Consider creating one-sheeters that distill vital information for specific use cases, like graphic design or blog post writing.
To help you start writing your content style guide, download our free brand content style guide template. And in case you haven’t already, download our brand and content style guide checklist for ongoing reference.
For more background on how to create an effective brand style guide for your team—including common mistakes to avoid along the way—check out this #ContentChat recap with Maddy Osman, founder of The Blogsmith.
Need some help crafting a style guide for your content marketing team? Get in touch—we’d love to help!