Think about your favorite high-performing companies. What do you like about the experience they provide? What do they all have in common? Chances are, it’s a unique identity and the experience they create for their customers. So how does a high-performing business deliver a consistent experience through content and style? The answer lies in a style guide.
A style guide is a tool that organizes how businesses share their brand personality and identity to their audience and customers. When well-executed, a style guide acts as a compass for companies to maintain a consistent presence internally and externally. Creating a memorable company personality doesn’t happen by accident nor overnight, and it takes some planning. Not sure where to start? Here’s everything you need to know about style guides and how you can create and implement one for your company.
What is a style guide?
A style guide is a document that contains rules and guidelines for a company. This encompasses several items, including voice, tone, style, and so on. Say a member of your organization wants to create and publish content. The style guide helps them achieve a consistent brand and voice, establishing a unified presence for anyone who engages with the business.
Why do you need a style guide for your business?
Think of a style guide as the lighthouse your team can rely on to safely execute how you want your company to be perceived.
A style guide enables brand consistency for businesses, which is key for several reasons. From an external perspective, a company style guide separates you from the competition. It also lets customers familiarize themselves with your brand’s identity from a customer experience standpoint. A consistent brand identity delivers a unique customer experience that leaves your audience coming back for more.
Style guides are also useful for companies that engage with a contingent workforce. If you regularly use freelancers and contractors, the style guide helps them get acquainted with your company identity to consistently create seamless content. Even better, it’s a time saver from a content editing standpoint.
What elements does a style guide include?
Creating an effective style guide requires specific elements. Here are seven key components that every style guide needs to create a consistent experience across the company.
1 Company-wide access
A common misconception is that the style guide is for your marketing department. Not quite. A style guide should be distributed company-wide. Communication occurs within all aspects of the business, so it’s important that the whole team has access and understands the rules of the game. Spend time explaining how to use the style guide, its importance, and where your team can find the document (i.e., shared drives, Google docs, etc.). Help your company understand that a style guide is a system that gives teams the confidence in knowing how to write for their business.
2 Grammar rules
Grammar is something even the most professional writers get wrong. Use very succinct paragraphs to direct writers to grammar rules. Whether you’re using The AP Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style, include three to four pages on the basics of your chosen manual. This can include the differences between the commonly misused words affect/effect, who/whom, bad/badly, too/to, and so on.
Punctuation can be used as a matter of style. For instance, different companies may use compound words (hyphen or no hyphen) and the labeling of dates in several ways. Usage can also fluctuate internally, so a style guide is a great place to set one way to do it. Make sure the style guide explains the Oxford comma, how to use quotes, and em dash and en dash use.
4 Branding guidelines
While brand design elements are typically outlined in a separate document, it’s a good idea to have a quick rundown of your company’s guidelines within the style guide. Workplaces can be very diverse, and many of us are working digitally, so referencing branding guidelines within a traditional written style guide is incredibly helpful.
5 Voice and tone
Voice and tone are core tenets of a company’s brand, yet many organizations have a disjointed offering across their business. The voice is your company’s identity. The tone is how you express that identity. Depending on what type of content you are creating, understanding the difference will improve consistency. For example, writing a landing page and creating a blog post are two distinct forms of writing. A clearly outlined voice and tone can bridge both.
Style guides help teams by explicitly stating what is acceptable and what language to steer clear from. In your style guide, define your ideal voice and tone. Maybe you want to appear friendly yet professional, or down-to-earth and informative. Wherever your business sits on the voice and tone spectrum, make sure it’s clearly defined.
6 Channel distribution guidelines
Depending on the channel you’re writing content for, style and formatting matters, and how you personify your brand’s voice and tone varies. There are times where you can only write 280 characters, which needs to be addressed in your style guide. If you have multiple social media channels, make sure your style guide gives distinct instructions for each one. For example, your brand may allow informal language, or maybe it doesn’t. Either way, it should be stated in the style guide.
7 Customer segmentation and buyer persona
Last but certainly not least is the customer segmentation and buyer persona element. Organizations generally have customer segmentation information but lack the qualities or details to bring these personas to life. For example, personas should have names, occupations, salaries, families, vacation spots, and hobbies. Creating an actual persona instead of relaying data points on a page empowers writers and team members to understand the audience they are talking to. When teams understand their audience, they can create custom experiences designed to impress.
Grammarly’s style guide > a traditional style guide.
Most style guides sit in a document collecting dust. To keep your writing on-brand, you need a living, breathing tool that provides real-time suggestions. 🚀
— Grammarly (@Grammarly) September 15, 2020
How to create a style guide for your brand
Now that you understand the elements that go into a style guide, here’s an overview of what to include when creating a style guide for your brand.
- Mission and values: Start by clearly defining your business’s mission statement and what your values are.
- Audience: State your audience(s), who you’re looking to engage with, and why. Buyer personas and customer segmentation are key here.
- Voice: Explain your voice and identity. This helps define how you want to be perceived by your audience.
- Tone: Add how the company plans to express its identity, both internally and externally.
- Differentiators: Champion your company here. Share what makes the business unique and why you are the best at what you do.
- Competitors: This can be a quick section. It’s helpful to have a baseline understanding of your competition to help you maintain your unique value proposition.
- General copy style: Define which style manual you’d like to adhere to. Whether you’re pulling from The Chicago Manual of Style (pro-Oxford comma) or The AP Stylebook (omits Oxford comma), a style manual helps businesses navigate their word use, grammar, and punctuation.
- Guidelines for content collateral: Content varies across different departments. There are blog posts, white papers, internal memos, press releases, and so much more. Create sections that detail specific content requirements.
4 great style guide examples
When creating a style guide, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Here are four companies that execute high-quality style guides. Each company displays their unique brand personality, differentiating from their competitors while enabling a custom and familiar experience for its audience.
- Mail Chimp does a fantastic job of breaking down the main components. They include goals, types of audiences, voice and tone, copyright and trademarks, and word list. There is a bookmark for each section so that content creators can jump straight to the section they’re looking for.
- Twilio also has an excellent style guide that brings ideas to life. The style guide provides thorough guidance for their writers; they break down key terms, include a section on voice and tone, and provide guidance materials for writing for specific audiences.
- NASA takes an educational approach, beginning their style guide by identifying their use of The Chicago Manual of Style. From there, they provide an overview of their editorial style, following up with grammar, spelling, and naming. They also have a non-gender-specific section within their style guide.
- Atlassian kicks off its style guide by clearly defining their brand identity. Bold, optimistic, and practical with a wink, their audience can clearly understand their personality as defined by their consistency.
How Grammarly Business can help
By now, you know that creating a style guide from scratch is not an easy task. A custom style guide also comes with a few complications.
For starters, maintaining style guide consistency can vary between team members. Some may follow it to the letter, and others may take it as a bunch of suggestions rather than the rule of thumb. So how can companies maintain consistency to uphold their style guide? Great news! Grammarly Business can help.
Grammarly Business now has a style guide feature that users can implement company-wide. Your team can customize the contents of your style guide within the Grammarly Business platform. This happens by adding word choices, i.e., names, trademarks, grammar specifications, and more.
Once finished, it is ready for your team members with Grammarly Business accounts to use. Using the Grammarly Business style guides feature, team members will receive suggestions to use the proper rules based on your company’s style guide.
Gain compliance with your style guide across the board with Grammarly Business while saving time in the editing process. With style guides by Grammarly Business, companies can streamline their communication, displaying their brand identity at its full potential.