Does your business have a style guide? It might not be something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about if your company is young. But it won’t be long before your digital footprint grows and you find yourself juggling more social and advertising channels. When that happens, you’ll find yourself wishing for a comprehensive style guide so you know your brand puts its best — and most consistent — foot forward any time it has something to say to the world.
Let’s look at different kinds of style guides and how they can benefit your business.
What’s a Style Guide — and Why’s It Important?
At its simplest, a style guide is a set of rules which govern the way your business presents itself in public. Your company communicates with the world through any number of channels — pages on your website, listings on job boards, native and guest blog posts, social media, infographics and much more. A company’s style guide serves as a comprehensive touchstone for each of the parties responsible for dreaming up and then creating all of that written and visual content.
So why’s this important? Because companies today can bring talent in from just about anywhere, thanks to telecommuting. Brands today frequently rely on contractors to perform writing, editing, visual design, and web development duties. All of these writers, designers, account managers, and content strategists need to get on the same page — and stay there — when it comes to the company’s preferred phrasing, slogans, value statements, graphics and iconography, photography style, typeface and punctuation preferences, color choices and much more.
With all of these variables in play across departments, it’s easy to see why a style guide comes in handy. And there are other benefits of adopting style guides, too, which we’ll unpack as we go along.
There are two angles here — written content and visual content. Both are likely relevant to your business and your branding.
Writing Style Guides for Written Content
There’s a lot of talk about visual content reigning supreme on the internet. But one way or another, your company also depends on written content. You have product copy describing your products and services. Presumably, you have one or a handful of active social media accounts publishing regularly. Maybe you engage in guest blogging and you want to make sure your brand, and any links to your properties, are surrounded by high-quality content with certain stylistic hallmarks.
Companies can be as exacting or as free-wheeling as they like when it comes to style guides for writing. Here are some of the features which may play a role:
- General “school of thought” for style expectations (AP or Chicago style, etc.)
- Specific punctuation preferences
- Region-specific language or spellings
- Precise industry abbreviations and shorthand
- Grammar, capitalization and phrasing preferences (Oxford comma, etc.)
- Exclude or highlight certain words and phrases (“cheap,” “free,” etc.)
- Tone and personality, stylistic flourishes, etc.
Avoiding typos should be obvious — that’s surface-level, bare-minimum stuff when it comes to style guides. When your company puts its heads together to come up with a written-word style guide, think about the emotions and visual imagery you want your brand associated with. Put yourself in the place of your buyer personas and identify the style choices which speak to their values and what they want out of their favorite brands.
Will your customers notice whether your style guide has a moratorium on sentences ending with prepositions? Maybe not. But they’ll notice whether your company and slogan appear exactly the same every time they’re referenced. And they’ll pick up on whether the tone and personality vary wildly from one page or post to the next.
Style Guides for Visual Content
Typos are one thing when it comes to turning off potential customers. But what about your visual-heavy content? How about your approach to usability and user experience? Do you have a concise set of design principles for your brand, and if so, how do they support the customer journey? And how can they translate to other mediums? The visual appeal of your industry trade show booth is a part of this equation too, with a vast majority of marketers still ranking trade shows and other events very highly in terms of their potential to generate leads.
Unfortunately, even certain fonts are enough to turn off potential customers. Miscommunicating about design principles, or leaving things ambiguous, is the quickest way to guarantee a longer design process, rework, and lost money and productivity for all involved.
What elements go into a visual content style guide? Consider the impact of variables like:
- Providing precise color choices and pairings plus Hex Codes for all designers and all design projects
- How the company logo should appear or alter for each kind of content
- Typography (font) choice and how it conveys emotions and plays to different messaging
- Spacing, imagery and template preferences impact visual identity and how well the content “plays” with content management and publishing systems
- Button colors, sizes and placement all influence how likely visitors will interact with calls to action
- Graphic designers can source raw imagery from stock photo sites, in-house libraries and more — so be specific about where to draw from.
The mission is to create a strong and unified brand identity that translates across all of your content and channels. A strong style guide doesn’t bind a designer’s hands. If it makes their life challenging, it’s a creatively-stimulating challenge — they’re left with a playground that has clear rules, but they’re still free to experiment with theme-and-variation and have some fun while coloring within the lines of your brand’s personality.
The Advantages of Adopting a Style Guide
Hopefully, we’ve convinced you of the merits of developing a style guide. It’s something that will remain useful to multiple departments, from your freelance designers to your campaign specialists. If you do it right, your style guide will help eliminate frustrations relating to:
- Rework due to miscommunication on project specs
- Having to answer the same design questions on every project
- Teams spending more time exchanging clarifying emails than collaborating
Remember to keep your style guides accessible in your project management system so teams can reference them as often as needed. That makes it easy to add links to the relevant internal pages when you send out new project requests or briefs. It’s one more way to eliminate potential missteps with the writing or design processes. With that, we wish you luck as you roll out your own style guides.