Are you creating content for your brand? You are? That’s dope! But make sure you’re keeping a few things in mind:
Is your content “on brand?” Does it maintain a consistent voice? Are you writing for your primary audience? Do you have any idea what these questions mean?
If the answer to any of those questions (especially the last one) was no, that’s ok. That just means you’re in need of a Content Style Guide to lay out the guidelines for writing for your brand. Nearly every brand needs a basic style guide and there’s no better time than now to create one for your business.
Why is a Content Style Guide Important?
So why would you take the time to write out something you may already know? Well, here’s a few good reasons:
- It establishes your identity in writing. If you’ve been pumping out content for years, you probably think you know your identity like the back of your hand. But just like muscle memory can cause a golf swing to slowly pick up bad habits, so too can writing the same way for a long period of time deteriorate your message. Having a content style guide will give you a standard to which all your future content can adhere to.
- It creates consistency in your messaging. A clear, consistent voice in your branding across all your media is going to resonate more with your audience. This is even more important if there’s more than one person producing content for your brand.
- It improves search performance. With consistent messaging will come consistency in keywords, phrases and other factors that will improve your search visibility.
How to create a Style Guide
The basic style guide has five distinct parts: Identity, Audience, Messaging, Language/Tone and Content.
Let’s look at each part in detail, with examples of what a simple content style guide might be for a small business.
This is who you are, the business or entity that the style guide is for. This should be the type of basic information that a freelance writer who’s never heard of you would be able to read to get a basic grasp of what your business is and does. Start with your main product category, the geographic area you serve and any specific delineating aspects of your business (Are you family-owned? Are you a non-profit? Do you offer a product unlike anything else?).
Example: Rutherford Remodeling was founded in 1999 by brothers Earl and Regis Rutherford. It continues to be a family-owned business, employing 20 full-time remodelers. Rutherford Remodeling specializes in interior home remodeling, focusing specifically on green and energy-efficient home remodeling. Rutherford Remodeling has received several awards for their excellent customer service, innovative designs and dedication to environmentally-friendly options. Their service area is the greater Cincinnati metro area, including Hamilton, Middleton and Mason, Ohio as well as Newport, Kentucky.
Possibly the most important part of your style guide is describing the audience you are writing for. Of course, you probably want everyone in the world to buy your products, but that’s unfortunately not going to happen unless you can patent oxygen. For the purposes of your style guide, remember the 80-20 rule. That is, remember that 80% of your business is going to be driven by 20% of your customers. That 20% group of your customers is going to have a few things in common. Think about what those things are and combine them into one person. Describe this person in your style guide.
How old are they? Are they male or female? What kind of living situation are they in? Do they have family? What are their interests or values?
That person is your primary audience. Understand that your messaging should be directly addressing that person, and the questions, concerns and ideas they may have.
Example: The primary audience for Rutherford Remodeling’s marketing is environmentally-conscious homeowners. They are typically 30-65, of higher income and fashionable. Marital status/family situation and gender tend to vary.
If you’ve been writing various content for your business, this section is probably something you’re familiar with. The messaging section is a succinct summary of the basic message which is the root of all your communication. Think of it as your unique immediate value, meaning that what you want at the forefront of all your messaging is the thing that sets you apart from your competition. Take a few moments to describe your company using small, one or two word descriptors, then create a basic message that all your content should speak to.
Example: Rutherford’s unique advantage is fashion-minded remodeling that creates environmentally-friendly homes. Offering the latest in fashion-forward design, coupled with “green” techniques and use of energy-efficient appliances, Rutherford is the Cincinnati-area’s foremost remodeling company creating the home of tomorrow. Our unique service model and expert remodelers make for the most satisfactory customer experience possible. The majority of our writing should reflect this.
Language & Tone
Your messaging is what you want to say to your audience, so language & tone will be how you say it. Your language and tone will be highly dependent on both your own identity as a business and who your primary audience is. When deciding on your language and tone, think about the language and tone that your audience would use and be most receptive to.
Would they understand your industry jargon? How casual are they in their speech? Are they technologically savvy? Should you be straightforward and simple, funny and irreverent, or some other emotion that will better impact your audience?
Also important in this section is how any writer should address their audience. Some brands will always address the audience as “you,” while others won’t. Most messaging will be most effective in a direct voice, as opposed to a passive voice. These are all decisions which should be included in your style guide.
Example: Almost all Rutherford Remodeling’s content should be written in a professional conversational tone, as if writing from the perspective of a Rutherford representative walking a customer through their home remodeling options. Avoid any possible industry jargon unless absolutely necessary, and in those cases explain terms in a simple and helpful way. Use of direct voice should be maintained, as well as frequent acknowledgement of the reader and their specific needs.
The content section of your style guide is the most likely to change over time, especially as you refine your marketing plan. Here you’ll outline specific plans for what type of content will convey your message. Will you use informative blog posts, Q&A’s with your staff or other experts, testimonials from previous clients, videos or other multimedia?
It’s also in the content section of your style guide that you’ll make specific notes for writing content for your brand. These specific notes will be used to avoid any common mistakes, errors or points in your copy.
Example: Rutherford Remodeling’s primary content is its Green Remodeling Blog, highlighting the latest technologies, appliances and designs that spark interest of homeowners. Our remodeling team will consistently take before-and-after photos of projects to promote in blogs and on our social media. We are authorized to use photos of appliances of the following manufacturers with attribution: Bryant, GE, Whirlpool.
- The word “Realtor” should always be capitalized, as it is a proper name. The word “realty” is not.
- Do not use “artificial” or “real” when referring to wood. Use the terms “engineered” or “solid.”
- The term “waterproof” is a legal distinction. Only use if the manufacturer of the product has marketed it as waterproof.
Still with me? If so, congratulations – you just finished a basic content style guide for your brand! Pat yourself on the back, you deserve it. With this, you’ve taken the first step in creating consistent, effective content that will resonate with your audience. The next step is putting that knowledge into action. Start with our free worksheet on creating your content calendar and plan the next few months worth of content with the kind of work that will drive conversions within your audience.
Roundpeg is an Indianapolis content marketing firm.