Memorable brands have a recognizable style and “voice” across all forms of communication. Some brands communicate playfully. Others are warm and personal. Or detailed and business-like. Some are challenging, assertive, even abrasive.
This brand personality comes across clearly in everything they produce — website wording, blog posts, social media posts, product packaging, advertising. The content may be different from channel to channel, but you recognize that it sounds and looks like that brand.
Consistency is the key to establishing an instantly-recognizable brand style. It turns every point of communication into a continuing conversation with your readers/fans/clients. They pick up right where they left off the last time they heard from you.
A style guide is a simple way to define how you represent your brand. It answers questions about how and why you communicate. The jargon you use. Words or phrases you don’t use. Whether you default to sounding formal or informal. The colors that are associated with your brand. The colors that aren’t associated with your brand.
Who needs a brand style guide?
Even if you’re the only one who ever communicates about your brand, it’s beneficial to establish these types of guidelines. A brand style guide answers questions for you, saving time and brainpower. You don’t have to try to remember how you format lists or which hex color value you use for your logo. You already documented this in your style guide!
A brand style guide is especially useful as you grow your team. Whether you’re hiring someone to help answer questions and emails, respond in your social media channels, or ghost-write posts, a style guide sets clear expectations and saves you time proofing and editing! Your assistants and employees learn to talk like your brand, giving a seamless experience to anyone who interacts with your company.
What should you include in your brand style guide?
There are two main elements to a brand style guide:
- Guidelines around your brand voice and style
- Guidelines around your brand’s visual representation
Part 1: Guidelines around your brand voice and style
These guidelines answer the question, “What does my brand sound like?”
The good news is that there’s no right or wrong answer! You decide what you want your brand to be and determine what connects with your target demographic.
Start with core values to establish your voice
As you’re beginning to establish your brand voice, your core values (the underlying principles that drive your business) are a great place to start.
At AdThrive, our core values are:
- Act with integrity
- Be human
- Make it better
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
We strive to honor those principles in everything we do and make sure we’re accurately representing them in our communications. What does it mean to “be human” in our conversations and content? How do we live out “making it better”? What does it look like to “act with integrity” in the way we speak and the content we produce?
Get into voice details and examples
This step is all about application. Once you’ve identified your core values, it’s time to answer questions about how to demonstrate those values.
To create the AdThrive style guide, we dug through hundreds of examples of our communication over the years and analyzed what was successful, what wasn’t great, what could be better. And we used these observations to start pulling together helpful guidelines for incorporating our core values in everything we say.
For example, to help our team “be human” in communication, we broke out tips like, “Use informal language” and “Try reading your work out loud.” Applying this value comes down to consciously choosing words and phrases that are friendly and conversational as opposed to words that are distant and formal.
Include strong examples! Let’s say you decide that “Tell it like it is” is a cornerstone of your brand. Share examples of what that looks like, and how you might take a weak statement and make it stronger and more no-nonsense. In your style guide, answer the questions: How DON’T you want to communicate? What’s a better way?
Tackle elements of style
When you’re publishing your work online, presentation matters! Spelling, style, punctuation, and grammar all contribute to the overall perception of your brand. Readers (and search engines) place greater trust in well-edited content.
When in doubt, adopt standards from a respected style guide, like the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook. You’ll have a consistent frame of reference for any questions!
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of ideas to cover in your style guide:
- Glossary. What words (and definitions) are important to your brand?
- Words to avoid. Are there specific words your brand does NOT use?
- Dates. How do you format dates and times?
- Punctuation. What are your punctuation preferences? For example, do you use the Oxford comma?
- Abbreviations. Do you abbreviate your brand? What abbreviations are your audience familiar with and what abbreviations need to be defined?
- Capitalization rules. What words do you capitalize or not capitalize? How do you capitalize titles or headings? For example, “Title Case” where you capitalize each word. Or “Sentence Case” where you only capitalize the first word of the sentence and proper nouns.
- Formatting for lists. Do you prefer bulleted lists or numbered lists?
- Formatting for headings. When do you use an H1 or H2 or H3?
- Emojis. Do you use them or not? If so, which emojis do you most commonly use?
For example, here at AdThrive, we like the Oxford comma and prefer sentence case for our blog post titles. With clear guidelines, anyone on our quickly-growing team can create articles and resources that match our typical style and editing standards!
You may not need to cover all these different topics in your style guide. Cover the style questions that are most important in your business, making it easy for all your team members to produce perfectly on-brand content. In the end, you get to spend less time editing!
Part 2: Guidelines around your brand’s visual representation
Visual guidelines cover what your brand LOOKS like. They’re useful for recording details about your colors, logos, and everything that makes your brand visually recognizable. They can answer questions like, “Is it okay to change colors in our logo for use on a darker background?” or “Should I use Comic Sans for this Pinterest graphic?”
Here are some ideas for the Visual section of your style guide:
- Fonts. What is your main brand font? Do you have any other fonts you commonly use?
- Colors. What are your main brand colors? Document their hex value for future projects.
- Logo. Include main versions of your logo and any rules on how it should be used, along with any acceptable variations.
- Images. What types of images do you use to represent your brand? Outline photo quality and editing standards.
For example, our team knows that the hex color code for “AdThrive green” is #6BA539. This makes it easy to use the correct shade of green in any design project — whether we’re updating AdThrive.com, working on our Help Center, or creating images for our social media accounts.
We also have a few approved variations on the AdThrive logo, which comes in handy for everything from AdThrive Facebook group content to planning event swag!
Presenting your brand style guide
There are lots of options for making your brand style guide readily accessible to your team! You can make yours as fancy or as simple as you like. You can turn your brand guide into a PDF or even have it printed as a physical resource. You can even make a complete internal style guide, and an abbreviated style guide to share with partners on an as-needed basis.
Here at AdThrive, we use a Google doc with a linked table of contents. It’s easy to search and easy to update when needed, and we can link out to other resources.
What matters is that your style guide is simple to access, reference, and share with anyone who needs it!
It does take a bit of an investment of time to put together a style guide resource. But once you’ve established your first version, you have a valuable reference you can adapt and update for years to come!