Eight questions to ask when creating a style guide

Eight questions to ask when creating a style guide

Written by Josh Westerman

“How can I tell you that I love you, I love you

But I can’t think of right words to say

I long to tell you that I’m always thinking of you

I’m always thinking of you, but my words

Just blow away, just blow away”

It isn’t just Cat Stevens who can’t always find the right words to say*. Getting the vocab choices right can often be an arduous task for brands, with figures across the business all having their opinions on what should be and shouldn’t be said, and the manner in which it should be delivered.

As they say, too many cooks spoil the broth, and having a plethora of thoughts can often lead to inconsistent messaging and wording being sent out by your brand. But there are other times when you might not be able to find the words to describe what you’re wanting to describe – they just ‘blow away’ as Stevens himself says.

Inconsistencies in content can bring irregularities, and inevitably a lack of trust from your intended audience.

The easiest way to stop the internal squabbling and lost trains of thought is to create a style guide, to use as your very own go-to bible of all-things content.

(*In case it’s gone straight over your head, here’s what I’m on about)

What is a style guide, and why is it important to have one?

For any brand, having a style guide can be a valuable asset in helping manage any communications (be it via email or social media) and content (for example, blogs or thought-leadership pieces).

In short, any written word or visual content that is going out on behalf of your brand will tick all the right boxes in terms of what you’re looking to say, how you want to engage with your audience and the style in which you deliver the content. It gives everyone in your business, external agencies, partners and freelancers, and new starters guidelines on what is expected when it comes to content.

It doesn’t just make sense from a practical operations perspective too – it can give your brand a real identity, voice and appearance to your audience. Your style guide can make you more personable to consumers, as how you say things and the way you do so becomes recognisable and trustworthy.

As a brand though, you need to be true to your core principles and deviating away from this can backfire on you. Being one thing and trying to come across as something else just won’t resonate with your audience – think of it this way, could you imagine rock hero Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead singing with the falsetto-style vocals of Leo Sayer, or vice versa? It just doesn’t work. In your content you need to look, sound and act as you would when offering your services and operations, something that a style guide is integral to.

The questions to ask when creating a style guide

I’ve looked at eight questions that are worth considering when you’re creating a style guide for your brand’s content activity

1. What words do you, and don’t you, want to say?

To make sure you’re conveying the right messaging in your content, you’ve got to make some choices on words you want to use. If you’re a bank, you aren’t going to want to use words evoking thoughts of dishonesty, greed and corruption, or if you’re offering a service aimed for older citizens, using terms such as trill, dope or peng ting (so I’m told) won’t befit your brand values. Get those words jotted down in your style guide for consistency across all touchpoints

2. What is the purpose for the content?

I’ve talked previously about the different types of content your brand can create and this falls very much into the purpose category. Looking to inspire your reader? A blog makes perfect sense. Wanting to show off your expertise? Opt for a whitepaper. Once you know what you want your content to do, you can mould it in the perfect format.

3. Who’s the content aimed at?

This is all about the audience you want to not only reach with your content, but also engage with when it comes to your services and offerings. Everything from your word choice, style of content and content topics all play into this area and it’s hugely important to hit the nail on the head with it.

4. Can the content solve a problem?

Your audience will read your content to learn something new or find the solution to a problem they have – it’s that straightforward. Your style has to ensure that knowledge can be taken away from someone reading it, because if they can’t, what’s the point. It’d be like using a colander to try carry water – a pointless exercise.

5. What tone do you want to convey?

Your tone of voice is integral to any content strategy. It’s not just about the words you like and don’t like – it’s how you use those words to get your message across. Take the following phrases as an example:

  • How may I be off assistance?
  • How can I help?
  • Do you need help?
  • Need a hand?

All four of these statements imply the same thing, but the tone differs. The first is exceedingly the formal, the second and third a little more relaxed – with the difference being number two implies you can help, whereas three implies they require your help – and the fourth is much more laidback. Getting your favoured route agreed on is a must for your style guide.

6. What style of writing does your brand use?

Much like the Lemmy/Leo analogy, the style of writing and content you use has to fit your brand. A mechanical engineering firm isn’t going to be doing Buzzfeed-style listicles, and a discount supermarket wouldn’t necessarily place importance on writing a 2,000-word article on the reasons why Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi is one of Italy’s finest vineyards. Your style has to fit your audience.

7. What platforms will be used to drive traffic to this content?

For your content to be heard, it needs to be seen. Amplifying your words through social media, media relations and other forms of marketing is a must, so before you create your content think about where it’s going. LinkedIn is better suited for a thought-leadership approach to target professional influencers, whereas an inspirational article may be perfect for Facebook and Twitter. It’s best to set the score straight on what type of content will go where in your style guide.

8. What conversions do you want the content to make?

Last but not least, how do you want people to react to your content – do you want them to engage with you, as the brand, or do you want to create conversation-inducing content that’ll get your audience speaking about you? This may differ depending on your topics and the different types of content you’re creating, but getting those intended conversations down in writing is key.

Helping you get the right words

If you’re seeking expert help when it comes to creating a style guide for your brand, get in touch with us today. Our team has extensive experience in putting together tone of voice documents and crafting style guides that are the perfect fit for a brand, its services and its people.

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