Content Guidelines: Why Your Brand Needs a Style Guide via @annaleacrowe

You’re ready to publish a white paper, but a debate about how to cite your sources has brought the approval process to a halt.

You spend an absurd amount of time adding Oxford commas to the drafts you get from your freelancers.

An internal subject matter expert submits a blog that’s uptight and hard to follow, nothing like the blogs that come from the marketing team.

Your intern takes “interesting” creative liberties with the infographic copy you assigned her.

Sound familiar?

They’re all symptoms of a lack of a content style guide.

Creating one is a crucial step that’s easy to overlook in the rush to get content in front of eyeballs.

But it’s totally worth your time.

Presenting your brand consistently can increase revenue by 33%.

And brand consistency isn’t just about logos and colors; it’s also about the image and character you convey in your content.

If you don’t have a style guide already, don’t beat yourself up.

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Lots of companies start producing content before setting up a guide. I’ll walk you through the steps to create one in this blog.

But first, let’s break down what a style guide is, and why you need one.

What Is a Content Style Guide & Why Is it Important?

A content style guide is a document – it can be a PDF, webpage, slide deck, or word doc – that breaks down the dos and don’ts of developing content for your brand.

Think of it like this:

Your content strategy details what types of content you’ll create, and when.

Your content style guide deals with the nuts and bolts of creating that content.

It gives your content creators specific directions on how to create on-brand content.

A style guide also sets the rules for more practical matters of writing:

  • Is it a white paper or a whitepaper?
  • Which words do you capitalize in headers?
  • Is your tone relatable and fun or authoritative and educational?
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A style guide keeps everyone on the same page.

It’s sometimes overshadowed by its flashier, sexier sibling, the visual style guide.

Some companies combine their content guide into their overall branding guide.

But others make it its own separate entity.

Depending on how involved your content guide is, you can choose what works best for you.

Why You Need a Style Guide

Everyone creates content these days: salespeople, executives, subject matter experts, etc.

You need one rulebook to keep you all marching to the beat of the same drummer.

Without a style guide, the content made by different creators is all over the place.

There’s no way to enforce the rules if they aren’t documented.

And when you start scaling your content production, things can really get out of control.

Planning, creating, and distributing content takes up a lot of time.

A style guide acts as your gutter guards by keeping your content in the right lane.

So let’s address how to create one now.

How to Write a Content Style Guide

1. Start by Swiping

There is no reason to create your style guide from scratch.

You can start with old faithful matriarchs of style, such as AP Style or The Chicago Manual of Style.

Or you can go with one of the newer guides that are available online, like Mailchimp’s or Mozilla’s.

The key to this step is the swiping. Swipe away.

2. Define Your Content Mission

Why do you create content?

Look at your goals for your content marketing program and work backward from there.

Having a documented mission keeps you honest as you develop each piece of content.

Take some time to consider the purpose of your content.

Is it to enlighten? To entertain? To explain complex issues?

Document what you want your content to do and be for your audience.

Mailchimp‘s approach is a good example to follow:

mailchimp-content-mission-example

3. Set Your Voice & Tone

This is the really stylish part of the style guide.

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This section of your guide should describe how your content comes across to your audience.

Your voice and tone should line up with your brand’s image.

The happy-go-lucky charm of Target doesn’t work for the serious, caring image of a children’s hospital.

Google’s developer style guide gives a Goldilocks-style table illustrating how to get their voice and tone juuuuust right:

Google’s developer style guide

4. Lay the Ground Rules for the Basics

Now’s your chance to put your foot down.

  • Will you use the Oxford comma?
  • When do you use numerals or write numbers out?
  • To emoji or not to emoji?
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