Have you ever looked at a brand online and marvelled at their words and overall style? Well, that’s all down to their content style guide.
A content style guide is an essential part of any content strategy - it's the holy grail when it comes to creating content that works and maintains consistency across all platforms so that everything a brand releases shows their own special and memorable personality.
Even if you're a new brand or a small business, this is one of the first things you should define before doing anything else.
Here are some of the questions that we hope to answer in our guide:
What is a content style guide?
What are the benefits of a content style guide?
How to create a content style guide?
What should a style guide contain?
How to reflect your brand in your content?
How to continue your brand identity and content style guide?
So, what is a content style guide?
Essentially, a content style guide is a set of guidelines that all of your communication should follow - from writing style, all the way down to punctuation and formatting. A content style guide should be referred to when writing any content across any platform - it’s one of the important components for maintaining your brand identity.
That’s why it’s really important to create a content style guide when starting your new business; it becomes the foundation of your future content and provides numerous benefits for your business down the line.
What are the benefits of having a content style guide?
It’s the bridge between you and your audience: All content is communication, so having a consistent style that speaks to your audience is going to strengthen the relationship you have with your audience, thus increasing engagement.
It’s the one thing that covers everything: From website content to email communication, your content style guide will be referenced by everyone.
It allows for brand consistency from the very beginning: The content style guide plays a huge part in your overall branding. Your audience will be able to easily identify your brand if it shows consistency from the start.
It creates better content: A content style guide will refine your writing style that makes reading it that much more enjoyable.
It helps to form a clear brand journey: Your brand, as well as your style guide, will evolve over time, if your style guide is updated, your brand journey will be seamless.
The most important but overlooked step – revisit your brand identity in full before writing your content style guide.
Before you can start your content style guide, you need to make sure you have fully revisited your initial brand identity, and make sure it is 100% aligned with your vision. This includes establishing the following:
Description of yourself as a company and what you do
Your mission, vision and values
What you offer (products/services)
Your unique value proposition
Identifying and analysing your competitors
If you haven’t established these yet, or you are struggling to define any of the above, we recommend setting up a branding workshop, which will provide you with the necessary tools and techniques to refine your brand.
It’s important to have these key aspects of your business in place, as they will provide the context for your content style guide.
The five steps to creating a content style guide for your business.
Step 1: ESTABLISH – Provide an overview of your brand.
Why should you establish your brand? By providing the foundation of your brand identity, you can directly take your editorial content style inspiration from it.
Using the bullet points above as a reference will give you an overview of what your brand is about. Really investigate what this section says and how it says it, as already this will provide you with some stylistic nuances that can help you create your unique content style. This is the context for your style guide, and so it’s important that you get this overview right.
Step 2: TARGET - Identify your audience.
Why should you target your audience? Your content style guide won’t be successful if you don't understand your users and you’re not implementing techniques to reflect what your audience is looking for.
You need to ask important questions like ‘how does my audience speak?’ ‘what do they want to see?’ ‘how do they want to feel?’ so that you can mould your content style perfectly to that. Include the following into your audience section of the content style guide to help you answer these questions:
Markets: Do you need to localise your content? What language will be the base language?
Age: How will your content writing style reflect the ages of your target audience? Will you use more traditional vocabulary, or be more informal and include trending language?
Create 3-5 personas to really understand your audience and identify their needs.
Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself ‘what is the intention of this brand based on their written content?’
Step 3: DEFINE – Define your brand
Why should you define your brand? This is where you breathe life into your brand, turning it from a concept, into something your audience can identify and interact with.
Using what you have learnt from the two steps above, you are creating the stylistic identity of your brand, which will be what makes an impression on your audience.
Tone and Voice: These are the stylistic choices you will consciously use when writing your content and communicating with your audience. This includes elements such as your formality, sentence complexity, pace and rhythm, level of information etc.
Personality: This section includes the traits that you believe to embody the brand. Are you emotional rather than practical? Are you cheeky or sincere? Are you more progressive or traditional?
Brand Messages: Although similar to brand personality, brand messages are the things you really want to get across to your audience. This may be defining exactly what, how and why you’re doing what you’re doing for them, how much you understand their needs and struggles, or the things that you pride yourselves on.
Language: This is all about the language you will use when writing content and interacting with your audience. Do you use contractions of words to be less informal? Will you use slang words? Will you use more academic language?
Step 4: SPECIFY – Identifying where you will write your content.
Why should you specify your content types? You can’t build your style guide further without knowing what content forms your business needs to use. These different channels will require some variations of content style rules.
Firstly, specify the content types that are important for your brand to use. Some elements of the content style guide will be essential depending on your industry, product/service and goals. This can include anything from a website to social media to newsletters. You can research competitors to find out what content forms they use within their business to get a better idea of where you should be releasing content.
Secondly, provide some general rules that will apply to all these channels. These should cover more specific rules than the section before, such as how to approach gender in content, the use of jargon, some language do’s and don’t’s, among others.
Finally, it’s time to focus on content style guidelines for your specific content forms. For example, under social media content rules, you may want to approach the topic of using emojis in your writing, or perhaps the etiquette for conversing with clients when it comes to email communication. Under the title of each content type, list the rules that apply to them.
Step 5: REFINE – Grammar, punctuation and formatting
Why should you include linguistic rules in your style guide? No matter what your unique brand identity is, it won’t be successful if you do not use language in the correct manner.
In most cases, grammar, punctuation and formatting are universal. We recommend directly adopting one of the various language guides available to give you an overview of various rules to follow, and then adapt aspects within these to your brand’s liking. These can range from the use of contractions in your writing to the way you capitalise titles. You can also look at other companies for some content style guide inspiration.
So, you’ve completed your content style guide… now what?
Much like your brand’s identity, the journey of the content style guide will never be over! As your brand evolves, so will your content style guide. We recommend keeping your content style guide as a digital document, making it easy to change as well as making it accessible to everyone in your team.
We also recommend keeping up to date with other brand’s style guides; here's a great example: MailChimp - they constantly add updates to their own guides based on trends, so it’s a great way to keep your brand constantly aware and updated.
Creating a content style guide from scratch can be a long process, but one that promises numerous benefits and rewards! If you are interested in getting someone else to do the entire thing for you (including the initial branding workshops), get in contact with us at firstname.lastname@example.org