How to Create a Killer Brand Voice and Content Style Guide You'll Actually Use

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Take a moment and think about someone who writes for a living. What do they look like? What image pops into your head?

Usually, it’s someone sitting by themselves, in the corner of a coffee shop typing furiously away on their laptop. 

Like the lone writer stereotype, content teams often exist in siloes. They publish blog posts and send over copy when needed, but are sometimes excluded from the rest of the company.

A successful content marketing strategy involves the entire organization. Whether you’re the CEO writing a memo to employees, a lawyer drafting a contract or salesperson creating a new pitch deck, a great content marketing strategy sets the bar for the look, quality and feel of every piece of content produced at your organization.

Making a Case for the Brand Voice and Content Style Guide

When it comes to content marketing, the biggest misconception is that only writers need or use a content style guide.

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Every person, vendor or partner working with your company should use the brand voice and content style guide.

Every employee at an organization represents the brand in one way or another. Each piece of content from emails to social media posts, memos, announcements, product descriptions, sales presentations and ads should follow the content style guide.

The Top Reasons Why You Need a Brand Voice and Content Style Guide

Here are a few reasons why you need a content guide. 

  • It puts your customer first. A content style guide defines the audience, voice and tone of your ideal target. Taking the time to develop a content style guide ensures you always put your audience first, whether you’re a service, product or ecommerce business. 
  • Drives consistent, high-quality content. The same set of standards makes it easier to produce consistent, high-quality content and promote best practices with everything you create. 
  • Scale your content strategy. At some point, you won’t be able to train every person who walks in the door. A content style guide is a great training tool to get everyone up to speed without sacrificing quality.
 

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How to Create Your Brand Voice and Content Style Guide

First, you need to define your brand. Your brand voice has three components — voice, tone and style.

Defining Your Brand Voice and Tone

Voice

Voice is your brand’s personality. It’s how your audience would describe you.

Imagine your ideal customer. How would they describe you? Friendly and relaxed? Polished and professional? Modern or Innovative? Energetic?

Tone

Tone is what your brand sounds like.

Think of it this way: you only have one voice, but you use a different tone when you’re angry, sad or excited.

When you're defining your tone, think about your customer. What tone would they expect you to use? Are you chatty? Opinionated? Rational and decisive? Witty? Inspirational? 

Buyer Persona 

A buyer persona is a detailed description of your ideal customer. Based on market research and real customer data, well-defined personas help ensure every message (webpage, blog post, ad, social media post, etc.) speaks directly to your target audience.

Buyer personas include customer demographics, behavior patterns, pain points, motivations and goals.

Documenting Your Content Style 

After documenting your brand voice, tone and buyer personas, it’s time to move on to the meat of your content style guide.

Style is what your content looks like. It includes everything from punctuation and grammar to formatting, sentence length and images.

Beyonce style image                                                              Source

This section is about the details. Settle the debate on the Oxford comma. Decide whether you’re going to use bullets or dashes when you publish lists in a blog post.

Documenting your style is the bulk of your content style guide. It's also the section that will evolve and change the most as you grow.

Here's a step-by-step guide to creating the style section:

Step 1: Choose A Style Guide

After defining your voice and tone, you need to set some ground rules.

You’ll never be able to list every grammar rule out yourself. Professional English grammar and usage guides help create consistency and give teams a resource to reference when they have questions. 

The two most popular style guides are:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style is one of the oldest, most comprehensive guides. It’s a beast of a resource used by book authors. (You may not need that level of detail.)

Note: If you subscribe to the references, add the credentials to your style guide so everyone can access them.

Step 2: List Out Common AP Style Rules

Documenting the top AP style rules will help save time and be a quick reference guide for your team. It’s also a great way to highlight and correct common mistakes you find repeatedly.

Examples of standard AP style rules include numbers, dates, times, titles, cities & states, name references, common technical terms, acronyms and serial or Oxford commas.

Step 3: Document Exceptions

As you create content, you’ll discover exceptions, nuances and rules that don’t fit your brand. Maybe your client prefers a particular style.  Or you might choose another formatting style for SEO reasons. 

For example, the AP Style Book hyphenates “e-commerce.” In the marketing world, industry jargon has nixed the hyphen. As a marketing agency, we’ve chosen to go with the industry version, “ecommerce.”

Step 4: Document Common Internal Mistakes

Mistakes happen. Some more than others. Document team mistakes that you see happen consistently. 

Step 5: List formatting conventions

Between your writers, developers, managers and account coordinators touching the website every day, there are bound to be inconsistencies. Avoid them by documenting formatting conventions. It includes everything from the phone number you use to how your blog posts look. It’s the little details that help create consistency.

Here are some examples: 

  • Headings: What size headings on your website and blog posts? What about sub-headings? Bolded or un-bolded?
  • Lists: Do you use bullet points? Dashes?
  • Spacing: Double-space between every paragraph? What about between text and images?

These may seem inconsequential, but these details not only make your content more readable, but it also makes your website more cohesive.

Start Using It

A content style guide is useless if you don’t use it daily. Send it out to the team, review it often and remind them during meetings. If they have questions, direct them to the document first. 

Iterate It

This document isn’t precious. It doesn’t dictate your content. It's intended to be a living, breathing document that grows with your business. As questions come up, you create new marketing campaigns and continue to debate the Oxford comma, make these notes in the guide.

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Topics: content marketing | Brand Voice Guide | Topic Clusters