How To Create a Brand Style Guide
Ask any blogger, social media manager or content marketer what matters most in their editorial strategy, and you'll likely hear, "Consistent and valuable content!"
Forget frequency for a minute. When it comes to content, consistency is key.
So, um, how do I know I'm am creating consistent content?
Well, a good place to start is developing a brand style guide.
As content development earns its stripes in all types of businesses, you need a set of guidelines to make sure that your content is consistent, relevant and incredibly valuable. This supports your overall branding and messaging. AND, if your content is created by multiple people and teams across this organization, having these guidelines is an invaluable tool.
In this post, I am going to show you how to create a brand style guide. I will be talking about:
- why you need a brand style guide
- starting with the basics
- setting rules for the visual brand
- defining your target audience
- establishing rules for content creation
- setting up an approval process
Why you need a brand style guide
Want great content? You need some rules!
Think about your audience's experience. One day, they come to your site and had a great experience with your high-quality content. The next day, they experience lower quality content. What does that say about you?
So, why do you need a style guide? Here are four quick and dirty reasons:
- It always puts your audience (and their experience with your content) first.
- It establishes a clear set of rules for grammar, spelling, formatting, tone and language.
- It supports the overall brand experience. By using a consistent tone and language, your audience gets the same experience from landing pages to videos to terms and conditions.
- It helps you create AMAZING and effective content even faster.
Setting the basics
Let's start with the basic stuff: your mission, vision and values.
Your mission is what your company or your blog is all about. It's why you exist. It's the essence of your story. Your vision is where you want your company to go. Your values are the guiding principles by which you make your company decisions. Make sure these are listed on the very first page on your brand guide. And, you don't have these yet, spend some time establishing these statements and write them down.
Establishing the visual components
Having all of these elements laid out prevents any major issues when producing content and serves as a helpful guide to resolving issues if they do arise.
COLORS AND FONTS
Fonts and colors are important elements of your visual brand as they comprise a large portion of your content. Think of any printed or digital content such as eBooks, white papers, or even brochures. Every piece is created with the right colors and fonts, so it's easily identifiable and serves the larger brand story.
Whether you are a start-up company or a new blogger or you have been established for a while, you likely already have your brand colors and fonts. Include the variations of each in your style guide. For example, if you use Canva to design simple images for your social media channels, you want to know the HEX version of each color. As well, there are differences in color between online and print content can vary quite a bit, so you want to know which color variation will suit the content best.
You will also want to be consistent with fonts. You might have a few different fonts that serve different purposes. Your style guide allows you to establish which fonts are used where. You can also indicate the leading (space between the lines) and kerning (space between letters).
Here's the simple, abridged version of Bourbon & Honey's brand style guide.
ICONOGRAPHY & IMAGERY
When designing visual pieces of content, it is important to have a set of rules so all the pieces look similar. For instance, include how visuals should appear within text copy. Should they be right-justified, center or left-justified? Does every photo or visual piece have a caption? How will the visuals be credited?
You can include details regarding photography. How will images be edited? What is the mood of your photos? Will they be fun, quirky and energetic or simple and professional? Include sample photos for reference.
Defining the target audience
It doesn't matter whether you are a content creator or a salesperson, you need to know who your audience is. Who are you trying to reach? Who do you want to engage?
In this section of your brand style guide, you will provide a clear description of who your customers are. You can also include your buyer personas here. This helps your writers, social media managers, content managers and even your sales team understand your customer, their demographics, interests, challenges and needs and create effective content.
Here's a sample buyer persona that a marketing company might create.
Remember that your audience is evolving and complex, so make sure this section is up-to-date.
Creating consistent content
VOICE AND TONE
When I meet with new and potential clients, the one question I ask is "What three words define your business?" These words represent the essence of the brand. They define how you speak and show your "why" and "how" of your business.
When creating your style guide, include these three words and their descriptions. I cover this in a bit more detail in this blog post on finding your brand voice.
Now, if you're not sure what this could look like, here's something that might work for you. When I created my brand voice, I had to ask myself what simple and beautiful meant to me and what that looks like in my content. These description and definitions are a part of my
Now you want to create your preferred messaging. For instance, if you are a non-profit working with vulnerable populations, you might want to list your key messages in this section. These serve as a guideline for your content. For every blog post, brochure or piece of web copy you create, you can refer to these messages to ensure the content is aligned with your organization's goals AND meets the branding guidelines.
As a social media marketer, I would be remiss if I didn't include a section on social media. To me, social media serves two main purposes:
- Introduce your company to your audience.
- Support and guide customers through their buyer's journey.
What do I mean?
When a person is searching for something to solve a problem they've identified, they will likely stumble upon social media sites. This is your chance to introduce yourself and how you can help solve their problem. So your voice must be solid. Because this is your first impression and you don't want to mess it up. You also want to ensure you are using consistent tone, voice, messaging, and language as you support the customer through their journey.
Now, this can be a separate guide entirely and you can simply reference it in your brand style guide. However, you should include at least these points:
- Where to source content. Do you have a library of images? Do you have a stock photo account? Do you have a blog from which you can pull content?
- What types of content are acceptable. Examples include company blog posts, announcements, images, quotes, videos, curated articles.
- What types of content are NOT acceptable. Unsolicited or unfounded topics and opinions, unreliable research.
- Hashtags. Which hashtags are relevant? Which ones are not acceptable? Do you have a branded hashtag?
Defining an approval process
The last thing you should include in your style guide is an approval process. Decide who makes the final decisions on outgoing content and include a simple flow chart to illustrate the process. Keep it simple.
Now, if you've made it this far, congratulations! You have created your very own style guide. It's important to keep this baby updated, so set aside some time every year, 6 months or quarter to review your guidelines and update as needed.