Our personalities are what make us likable or annoying, inspiring or dull, magnetic or off-putting. The same goes for a brand.
Earlier, we saw a few great examples of how your own Story can help build your Brand’s personality and public image.
Our Story is so important, however, that before putting pen to paper we need a strategy on how to best express it.
We don’t want to blow our shot with an ineffective presentation, but luckily we have decades of material to help us get started.
This is where a Content Style Guide can come in and save the day.
“Well then, What's a Content Style Guide?"
An appropriate question, I say.
A content style guide is a documented set of guidelines and rules that break down your brand personality, and how it is (and isn’t) expressed through your content. It should be used by anyone on your team -- or freelancers who work with you -- who will be creating content for your brand.
That sounds fairly straightforward, right? While content style guides don't seem particularly sexy or complex, it will be one of the most important documents you’ll ever create for your business.
To understand why, however, you need to learn the true purpose of a content style guide, beyond its surface-level definition.
You Can't Straight Up Tell People What to Think
Think about the last time you had to speak to a group of people you didn’t know too well. At a conference, a professional networking event, or a meeting at work.
What did you want everyone to think of you?
Perhaps you wanted your peers to think of you as smart, passionate, and knowledgeable.
Unfortunately, you can’t just go up to people and say, “Hey, I’m smart, I’m passionate, and I totally know what I’m talking about!”
(They’d probably just think you were kind of strange and very pushy.)
“Just Trust Me!” is the last thing I expect a trustworthy person to tell me.
People fundamentally do not like being told what to think about anything - especially about brands.
We went into why you want to be perceived as a thought leader in your industry in a previous thought piece, but if your audience ever believes that about you, it’ll be because you proved it to them over time, not because you told them to believe it.
You can, however, help them get there.
We have all experienced the horror stories of other brands, in full disconnect between what they want to say vs. what they’re actually communicating to their audience.
What You Want Your Brand to Say vs. What You're Really Communicating
“Dress the Part, Act the Part”
Your presentation will convey your message, and show your personality better than your words ever will.
First impressions, right? People will see you before they hear you. Your audience may choose to outright not listen to you if they don’t like the way you present yourself.
We’re not here today to talk about what your message is or to flesh out your talking points. This guide is all about how you package up those elements and deliver them so they have maximum impact with your audience.
Our goal today is to make your audience will fall in love with your brand, but that will only happen if what you want to say and what you’re communicating are aligned.
That’s what your Content Style Guide is for.
What's Included in a Content Style Guide?
Generally speaking, a good Content Style Guide will include some form of all the following elements:
- Brand personality traits. (“We’re fun and approachable!”)
- Brand-specific copy rules, suggestions, and preferences. (“Don't use big words!”)
- Basic editorial rules -- grammar, spelling, etc. (“We're an Oxford Comma family!”)
This doesn’t mean that you need all three elements, but you will need to formulate a good reason why you’d want to avoid showcasing a specific one.
The 3 Essential Parts of a Content Style Guide
Voice, tone, and style each serve a particular purpose for your brand, but they are all very much dependent on each other to create the full effect of your brand’s content style.
- Voice: These are all of the attributes of your brand’s personality; it’s what people should think about your brand as a reflex, without you having to spell it out for them.
- Tone: This is a dynamic element. It’s how you deliver on the promise of your voice. Your tone will be situational and should be adapted to accommodate different scenarios.
- Style: Finally, there’s your style. In this context, style refers to what your content looks like. Literally. So, formatting, grammar, and punctuation rules all fall under this category.
By design, your content style will prioritize what your ideal customers want -- not your team -- because it was developed for them, based on their preferences and what they need.
Internally, you’ll also be able to promote best practices with your team around how your brand should be portrayed and perceived, which means your brand presentation through content will be consistent, no matter who’s behind the controls.
Spell-Checking isn’t enough!
Have you ever noticed how in any given e-mail, or text chain you’ll immediately notice if someone spells FaceBook, or SubWay, or messes up an acronym?
The consistency in presentation of those Brands has been ingrained in our subconscious, changing the capitalization; adding or removing a hyphen in a word that’s consistently spelled in the same way will look off to us right away.
This is a shining example of how effective the Content Style of those Brands has been throughout the years in shaping their presentation.
Their names weren’t technically misspelled, but we know something’s not the way it usually is!
If you are a novice to the whole world of digital marketing this is a great place to go and learn. And if you’ve been in the digital world for some time, remember we’re living in a world of constant change. It’s up to you, as a business owner, to stay up-to-date.