Whenever I start writing for a new company, one of the first questions I ask is whether or not they have a style guide. Why? Because one of the best ways to learn about a company is to read the guidelines governing how they present themselves.
A brand style guide is a manual that lays out how a company wants to be presented across channels. It typically includes guidelines around imagery, colors, voice and tone, logos and typography. Some companies also have specific writing style guides that go more in-depth about copy-specific details like punctuation, capitalization and word choice.
Why Style Guides Matter
Style guides allow you to document your branding practices so they can be enacted consistently across all channels. Whether a prospect is watching your Instagram story, reading a whitepaper you wrote or browsing your website, consistent branding should enable them to intuitively connect each piece of your content they engage with to your company.
Brand consistency helps your content resonate with your audience and create a cohesive experience across all platforms. Research has found brands that present themselves consistently are three to four times more likely to experience brand visibility.
It can be easy to write off minor inconsistencies that you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on yourself, but even if your audience doesn’t know what they’re picking up on, they will notice on some level that something is amiss.
A reader might overlook the fact that you used a hyphen for a numerical range in the title of a page but then used an en dash later in the body, but their brain might pick up on the inconsistency leaving them with the impression that something off about the content, even if they’re not sure what.
Most prospects might not notice that you use slate grey in your imagery on social media but cadet grey on your website, but the inconsistency might prevent them from automatically thinking of your company when they see your colors.
A lack of uniformity can lead to confusion and ultimately hurt your company’s image, whereas following a formal style guide can help your company stay top-of-mind for prospects.
One study found “the average revenue increase attributed to always presenting the brand consistently is 23 percent,” and the best way to enable content marketers to always present a brand consistently is through documenting brand guidelines and making that information easily accessible.
Adoption is Just as Important as Creation
If you don’t have any documentation on how your company should be presented, creating a style guide is a great first step. However, if that style guide isn’t actually utilized then you might as well not have one.
A study conducted on the impact of brand consistency surveyed over 230 companies, the majority of which operate in the B2B or mixed B2B/B2C space. 94% of study participants have some sort of brand guidelines, but only 25% consistently enforce them. The study also found the firms that did enforce their guidelines were more than twice as likely to see consistent brand presentation.
One of the main reasons companies weren’t consistently using their style guide was because the documentation wasn’t easy to find. So, it’s essential to make sure your finished style guide is easily accessible. You can do this by including it in a shared browser bookmarks folder, linking to it in your project management platform if it’s digital, publishing it on your website or giving everyone a physical copy to reference at their desks — just find a way to make accessing your style guide easy for anyone who needs to leverage it.
Try to instill the habit of checking content against your style guide into your company’s content creation workflow. In addition to helping enact consistent branding on a piece-by-piece basis, habitually referencing a style guide helps people learn your company’s practices — allowing them to identify and correct disparities more quickly.
Making the effort to look something up helps you retain that information. For example, I can recite New Breed’s title capitalization rules off the top of my head. Initially, I had to look them up in the style guide each time, but after checking title formatting multiple times a week, I quickly learned the rules and streamlined the process of aligning blog titles to our style guidelines.
At the very least, every piece of marketing content your company produces should be looked over by someone whose job involves enforcing a consistent style. While complying with a consistent style from the ground up is preferable, implementing a final checkpoint to ensure content aligns with your brand guidelines before being published or promoted is the bare necessity.
Presenting your company in a consistent manner across all your marketing communications is essential for maintaining the credibility of your brand. A style guide makes it easy for everyone creating content for your company to stay on the same page about how it should be presented.
When creating or distributing your style guide, keep in mind that for it to be effective, it has to actually be used. Construct it in a format that will be best for your content creators and include all the information that’s relevant for your company. There’s a baseline of topics that need to be covered in any style guide, including voice and tone, imagery and brand story. However, if your company works predominantly in a medium that isn’t sufficiently covered by those topics (like video or in-person events), you can include sections for guidelines about those channels too.
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.