content marketing style guideYou know the content your company produces is essential to solidifying your brand. You want your brand to be identifiable to customers, but consistency can be a challenge if you employ multiple writers and content creators. To solve this problem, you might want to consider creating a style guide.

So…what is a Style Guide?

A style guide can mean different things for different companies. At the most basic level, a style guide compiles various standards and practices your company adheres to in the production of content. Think of it as a reference manual your content creators can—well—reference easily and accessibly. Though what goes into it can be entirely customizable to your company’s needs, you want the information to serve the purpose of getting all your writers and content on the same metaphorical “page.”

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make when creating your style guide is choosing the best medium for your company. This is another aspect of a style guide that is completely customizable to your needs. Some examples you might consider:

  • The Oldie-But-Goodie: If yours is a company that values tried-and-true tradition, you might consider crafting your style guide as a standard ink and paper document. Cover page, table of contents, section headings—the whole nine yards.
    • Pro: You can print copies of your style guide to give to employees, allowing them to easily access information on the fly.
    • Con: Ideally, you want your style guide to be a living, breathing document that can grow and change with your company, so you might not want to re-print every time significant changes are made.
  • The Simple-But-Effective: If you don’t think your company needs a full-fledged categorized guide, you might consider just making a list of the basic standards your writers should adhere to. Take a look at this list example from UNC.
    • Pro: The more quick-to-the-point your style guide can be, the better chance you have of your employees reading it in full.
    • Con: Shorter and simpler means less comprehensive, so you’ll need to consider how to handle situations your style guide might not cover.
  • The-Creative-But-Informative: If you’re looking for a style guide with a little more pizzazz to catch your content writers’ attention, you might consider going with an electronic presentation. We love this example from MailChimp.
    • Pro: The creative possibilities are endless: interactive aspects, links to examples, video, music, etc. You can also easily put your electronic style guide on your company’s website to illustrate your voice to potential clients or new employees.
    • Con: Depending on how the presentation is structured and shared, it might make quick references less accessible. You also want to make sure you aren’t emphasizing creativity over the quality of the information.

Why does my company need a style guide anyway?

We’re glad you asked. Creating a style guide might seem like unnecessary work, but if done well, it could actually end up saving you time. To help make our case, we’ve come up with three reasons why you need one:

  • Having a style guide helps give your content voice consistency. Think of it this way: the content you produce is your means of communicating with your customers. You want what is being said and, more importantly, how it is being said to be recognizable. Content gives your company a voice, and when several different people contribute to that voice, identifying the characteristics and qualities that define it becomes more important than ever. It’s about establishing what your readers already know, and what they want to know. It’s about defining how your readers want to be talked to, and how you can achieve that.
  • Having a style guide helps with growing pains. Your company is a growing entity and—chances are—it’s going to change over time. There will likely be employee turnover, product evolvement or any number of other exciting challenges in your future. By having a written standard for how content is created, you can help ease those transitions.
  • Having a style guide helps settle editorial conflicts. No matter how great your writers are, you might find yourself facing an editorial squabble over some aspect of the created content. In these cases, your style guide can act as a rulebook of sorts. Rather than trying to explain to your employee why it is you do things a certain way, you’ll have a tangible set of standards to point to.

We’ll be bringing you more tips on style guides in future posts, but feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below. Do you have a style guide? If so, tell us about it. If not, tell us why. And if the reason is simply that you haven’t gotten around to it yet—well, stick around. We’re here to help.

photo credit: Bert Kaufmann