Style guide: why your business should have one

Style guide: why your business should have one

Anabel Herrera Published on 5/13/2022

It isn’t just popular with TV series addicts. Netflix is a brand that has acquired some of the greatest global notoriety in recent times. Many pay close attention to how it works. The success of this leading company in the distribution of audiovisual content, which currently has more than 200 million users worldwide, lies in its business model – but also, in the masterful communication of its content.

For example, Netflix makes very active use of social networks, managing to powerfully connect with users with a light-hearted tone and plenty of humour. They’re never short of gifs from their own productions that they can pull out to get a laugh.

Of course, none of this happens casually – it is part of a carefully calculated brand strategy ensuring that all messages conveyed show coherency. And this is precisely what a style guide or manual achieves.

The leap from traditional media to marketing.

The use of a style guide has a long history in traditional media. Journalists, editors and proofreaders use the document produced by their company to ensure they write within the same parameters. The American news agency Associated Press (AP), for example, is currently on the 55th edition of its print style guide, which is also available online.

Given the importance content marketing has acquired in recent years, the style manual has taken on a new meaning beyond the journalistic sphere. The guide establishes a set of writing rules and standards that ensure the audience recognises a brand in various formats across all channels, whether it is a press release, a post on Instagram, a blog entry or a video script.

Differences between a style guide and a brand manual

It is worth clarifying here that a style guide is  the same as a brand manual. A brand manual is a more expansive document that defines elements such as the visual identity – colour palette, logo, images – and brand values. Naturally these are also very common, used everywhere from entertainment companies such as Netflix to organisations such as Clark University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In the case of a style guide, it is a useful document for all those who have to write or issue messages for a brand, whether they are staff or external collaborators. Some call it a style guide in general, like Google, or a writing style guide, like Microsoft. There are also those who differentiate a marketing style guide from a communication style guide, like the University of Utah, or those who specify a document exclusively for digital content, such as the UK Government.

How to develop a style guide

Regardless of the size or purpose of your company, it is essential to create a style guide before publishing any content. How? Here’s what it should contain.

  1. Introduction

Always start with an introduction that clearly explains the purpose of the manual, accompanied by a table of contents.

  1. Brand personality

To ensure coherence across messages, it is vital that the people who are going to use the guide understand the brand’s personality, its values, and its positioning in the market.

  1. Target audience

Providing a brief description of the ‘buyer persona’ (the ideal customer archetype for the product or service) to align the style of communications with the customers’ preferences is key in marketing.

  1. Tone and style

On the basis of its personality and target audience, the brand will choose to speak in a certain way to its customers or potential customers. For example, addressing a younger audience accustomed to the language of social networks is not the same as addressing a more mature audience. Should you express yourself formally or informally? How do you address the customer? Is a sense of humour appropriate? These are just some of the questions to consider.

  1. Use of language

This section lays out the basic rules of grammar and spelling to resolve any doubts that may arise during the writing process. It should also include a list of recommended terms and words to avoid, as well as whether to use, for example, British or American English. Can the text be accompanied by gifs on social media? What hashtags can be used? The brand can specify how to adapt content for each of its channels.

  1. Formatting guidelines

The visual appearance of what we communicate is as important as the content of the message, so it is also necessary to specify aspects such as the formatting of titles and subtitles, typography, the use of upper and lower case letters, underlining and bold, etc.

  1. SEO Tips

Finally, it can be helpful to include tips about the use of keywords and tags to ensure good SEO for texts.

In short, a style guide is essential to maintaining consistency across all your content, even if they are created by different people for different channels within the same brand. Is it time to create your own?