BlogBusiness WritingHow to Create a Great Brand Style Guide

How to Create a Great Brand Style Guide

Alice Musyoka
Copywriter and Content Strategist
Published Feb 26, 2020

WritingaStyleGuide

When Coors ran a campaign in Spain, their famous slogan "Turn it loose" was translated into "You will suffer from diarrhea."

A big mistake that could have been avoided.

Most of the time, branding mistakes happen because there is no clear style guide. This results in inconsistency and miscommunication among team members.

In order to be successful, a business must establish itself and stand out in a crowded market. One of the ways it can do this is through savvy marketing and advertising. Any business that wants to succeed must build a charismatic, recognizable brand—its identity and character. To do so, it needs a style guide.

Building a memorable brand is all about consistency. The best brands stick in our minds. They use the same logos, images, fonts, and colors. After we've seen them a couple of times, they become instantly recognizable.

The only way to build a memorable brand is by creating a brand style guide.

Contents:
  1. What Is a Brand Style Guide?
  2. How to Write a Style Guide People Will Use
  3. What to Avoid When Writing a Style Guide
  4. Features of a Great Style Guide
  5. Enhance Brand Consistency with a Style Guide

What Is a Brand Style Guide?

A brand style guide is a rule book that defines your company's branding. It covers grammar, word usage, tone, point of view, logo usage, visuals, colors, and much more. It ensures all the departments in a company are on the same page and that a unified vision of the company is presented to the public.

When you have a complete brand style guide, your published content is enjoyable, consistent, polished, and recognisable. A well-thought-out style guide focuses on the readers. It creates an engaging, recognizable voice and personality readers can form a personal connection with.

In this post, we’ll tell you what to include and what to avoid in the rule book.

How to Write a Style Guide People Will Use

Have a Target Audience

Before you start crafting a style guide, figure out who’s going to use it. Will the guide be for bloggers, editors, or publishers? Will it be for people who work in the company or freelancers? Or is it for subject matter experts who are not writers?

Answering these vital questions about your style guide's audience will ensure you craft your message according to their level of expertise. When you know who your audience is, you have a better idea about the technical details to include.

If the style guide is meant for people who contract on behalf of your company but don't actually work there, you will need to include basic information about the company itself. If it’s meant for professional editors, you don't have to include all the details on grammar basics. They already know what's required. Simply write about specific style points.

You may also have to include lots of examples related to what you want. For maximum clarity, use bad, okay, and great examples. Being explicit is better than being implicit. Add detailed explanations and include screenshots if necessary.

Explain Your Brand’s Voice and Tone

Details about voice and tone help writers to understand your company's perspective. Include the mission statement, content examples, and company values. In the style guide, talk about your brand as if it's a real person.

You can also create a list that describes your brand's personality. Come up with adjectives that describe your company and elaborate on them. Such a list can help writers to understand where your brand falls on the personality map.

HowtoCreateaBrandIdentityGuide

Here are some adjectives you can use to describe your company:

  • Expert but not bossy
  • Cool but not alienating
  • Fun but not childish
  • Confident but not cocky
  • Weird but not inappropriate

When writing the style guide, be very descriptive and use certain examples to help people understand it better. Don't just say that your company's voice is casual or funny. This means different things to different people. Give examples as they provide more clarity. You can even give "we say" and "we don't say" examples.

For instance:

  • We say: get your free guide
  • We don't say: provide your email to receive a complimentary white paper

Explain Content Types with Examples

You may know the scale and spectrum of your company's content, but your contributors may have no idea. If your company produces different types of content, list each one and elaborate its purpose.

In the section, describe the different reader types, especially if your audience varies based on the type of content. Writers will be able to tailor their writing to specific audiences.

When you separate content types in your style guide, writers quickly understand what is required of them. For instance, you can include a section about writing for your company's blog.

If you have different publishing processes for the different content types, provide quick tutorials or link to them. For example, you can include screenshots from WordPress Admin if you use the platform to publish blog posts.

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What to Avoid When Writing a Style Guide

Not Involving the Content Team

Your company’s CEO may have in-depth knowledge about how it operates, but they may not know how to write well. This means you may end up with a disorganized guide that doesn't describe how to add images or whether to use the Oxford comma.

The style guide may put a lot of focus on the preferred company phraseology and jargon and not explain in detail the grammatical structure needed. Involve the content team as they will be responsible for creating the content in the style guide.

Not Using External Sources

If you want to create a style guide that follows best practice, use a style guide template. The Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Stylebook, and style guides from companies you admire can all serve as inspiration. Go through each of the guides carefully, settle on the style that fits your company, and write your style guide based on it.

By referring to the best brand style guides, you can see whether you've missed any sections. If you start writing a style guide from scratch, you may omit important sections that will have to be added later on.

Overdoing It

The main point of a style guide is to ensure consistency in the way a business sounds and acts. It's not a tool you use to micromanage employees as they go about their work.

An effective style guide should state the principles for creating the company's content. It should not specify how people must organise elements on a page or list a complete dictionary of synonyms and antonyms.

Features of a Great Style Guide

It Has Personality

Your style guide shouldn't just have logos, typography, colors, and layouts. It should show the conversation you want to have with your audience. In traditional communication, what is said is important. However, how it is said is more effective.

That's where personality comes in. A style guide creates a personality and a voice for your brand. It adopts your brand's tone and voice, streamlines your message, and prevents confusion among your audience.

It's Comprehensive

A style guide should be a brand bible, a one-stop shop where people can quickly find answers to frequently-asked questions about your brand's identity. It should include guidelines for written copy and detailed information about visual assets.

Some big brands prefer to create different style guides for different departments of the company. However, you can decide to include them all in one comprehensive guide.

It's Pre-Approved

When you have written rules for your brand, you help entrench its identity. When these rules are included in a brand style guide, people don't have to seek approval each time the company's assets are used in a new context.

In your style guide, give guidelines for common use of assets and state situations where additional permissions will be required.

It's Easy to Navigate

From time to time, your company may hire freelancers. People working with the brand must be able to quickly find answers to common questions. Most style guides by big brands make use of a visual hierarchy.

Visual hierarchy means presenting or arranging elements in a manner that suggests importance. It influences how the human eye perceives what it sees. A visual hierarchy makes it easy for readers to skim the content and quickly find what they are looking for.

Enhance Brand Consistency with a Style Guide

If your company publishes content regularly, a style guide is a must-have. While it will not turn people into great writers magically, it will ensure everyone is on the same page and help keep the content consistent.

If you have a lot of people who communicate on behalf of your organisation, consistency is a must. All the content must sound like it came from one person.

When well written, a brand style guide saves writers, editors, designers, and publishers a lot of time. People are able to make quick decisions and fix things without looking up past examples or debating rules. With time, they become so familiar with the style guide they don't have to open it every time they have a question.

Writing a style guide will also help you to enhance your company's communication and personality. You may smooth out inconsistencies that existed before and answer important questions people may have. Everyone who uses the style guide will be able to work with confidence.

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Alice Musyoka
Copywriter and Content Strategist

Alice Musyoka is a versatile copywriter and content strategist who helps businesses see results from content marketing. Her goal is to make people pause, smile, and read. She's a previous contributor for Stagetecture.

When she's not working, she usually goes for long walks with her son and reconnects with nature. She also loves watching funny movies.

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