It’s not uncommon for a business to realize there’s a big difference between what they intend to say about their brand and what they actually communicate. Or for them to notice that the marketing department’s collateral sounds vastly different than that of the sales department. Unfortunately, these disparities — especially if they’re viewed as inauthentic or misleading — can be significant enough to lose visitors and customers.
So, if there’s a chance a reader will make a judgment about your business based on a single piece of content (and let’s be honest, who among us hasn’t done just that?), then you need to make each word count. That means doing more than simply using stylish fonts and eye-catching graphics. It means delivering consistent content that aligns with your brand, regardless of the department producing the collateral or the channel in which it’s published.
For many businesses, this consistency sounds like a near-impossible task. But that’s where a content style guide can save the day.
A style guide does far more than spell out your organization’s punctuation and capitalization rules. It ensures every piece of content you produce — from blog posts to infographics to videos — sounds like it’s coming from the same person. This consistent content across channels allows you to attract and engage with customers and prospects while building loyalty and trust. What’s not to like?
If you think you don’t have the time and the resources to build out an extensive content style guide, you’ll be pleased to know that a style guide doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. And these helpful tips simplify the process even further, meaning you’ll be producing winning content in no time at all.
No style guide is complete without covering these three topics
Because your style guide will be your entire company’s roadmap to effective communication, you must thoroughly explain and document your voice, tone and style. While the three may sound similar, they’re actually very different.
When you talk about “voice,” you’re talking about your brand personality — the characteristics that come to mind when a customer is asked to describe you. You want to establish what your voice is (e.g., expert, casual) and what it isn’t (condescending, sloppy). Once you know your voice, you can then develop the rhythm, pace and word choice of your content. Your voice should never change, regardless of the type of content you’re publishing.
Why It Matters. When you know your voice, you understand who you are and how you can best position yourself to your prospects and clients. That results in content that resonates with your audience.
Related Content: How to Align Your Team Around a Consistent Brand Voice
Your tone is how you want to sound and how you’ll deliver on the promise of your voice. So, if your voice is humorous, your tone might be sarcastic or playful. Unlike your voice, your company’s tone can change depending on the type of content you’re delivering (think an informational blog versus a results-oriented case study) and to whom you’re directing it.
Why It Matters. Your tone helps make your brand recognizable. It conveys your authority to your customer and sets you apart from the competition. MailChimp’s style guide is an excellent example of aligning voice and tone. (Even better, MailChimp encourages other organizations to use and adapt the style guide, so there’s no need to start entirely from scratch!)
Style is what your finished content looks like. It’s the polish on your message and includes things like formatting, punctuation, grammar and capitalization. It sounds simple, but don’t underestimate its importance. If you’ve ever read a blog and noticed Some titles are capitalized like this while Others Are Capitalized Like This, you may have questioned their professionalism and wondered if the inconsistency in copy also meant an inconsistency in the products or services they provide.
Style rules to cover in your content style guide include:
- What external style guide you follow (like the AP Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style)
- Exceptions to the style guide
- Formatting conventions
- Capitalization guidelines
- Industry-specific guidelines, including jargon and acronyms
- Preferred use of first or third person
Why It Matters. An established style fosters consistency and conveys professionalism. Typos and inconsistencies serve only to distract and dissuade readers.
Tips for creating a content style guide
Whether you’re a new company or an established business, it’s never too late to develop a content style guide. The hardest part is getting started, but we’ve made even that part easier with these jump-start tips.
1. Clarify your brand
What do you want your readers to believe about your brand, based on your content, without having to explicitly tell them? Ensure you’re positioning yourself the way you want by asking — and answering — questions like:
- Why do we do what we do?
- How do we excel at what we do?
- What value do we provide our clients?
- What differentiates us from our competitors?
Disney is a great example of a company that has done this very well. Look at their theme parks: From the moment you enter the gates until the time you leave, every aspect of your experience is carefully designed to ensure the park remains known as “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
2. Understand your audience
If you don’t know who your potential customers are (and what their goals are), how can you communicate your solutions and convert them from browsers to buyers? You can tailor your content to your readers only when you understand who they are.
Enter the buyer persona, which you can develop by asking yourself questions like:
- What values are important to our customers?
- Who do they trust?
- What goals are they trying to achieve?
- What pain points are they trying to solve?
- From where do they get their information?
3. Establish your tone, voice and style
We covered these topics in greater detail in the previous section; as you develop your guide, remember that:
- Your voice is consistent across all collateral and includes your brand’s personality.
- Your tone is message-specific and can (and should) change.
- Your style covers things company-specific issues and deviations from the external style guide you follow.
4. Keep it easily accessible
Because this will be a living, breathing document, keep your content style guide in a format that makes it easy to update and disseminate, like in a Google doc.
Compelling content isn’t about just the words you choose — it’s also about the way you put them together, design them and apply the final touches. And no matter who is writing for your business and for what channel, you need your content to sound similar in voice, style and tone. If it does, your content will strengthen your brand messaging and demonstrate to visitors how you can fill their needs.
And that journey from browser to buyer all starts with a content style guide.
Once you’ve developed your new style guide, use that to flesh out your full content marketing strategy. If you need help with this, don't worry ... our Complete B2B Content Strategy Guide can help! We offer guidance and lots of helpful tools to get you started.