Style Guide 101: How Creating a Solid Style Guide Can Highlight Your Brand

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” — Jeff Bezos

Building a successful company requires getting a number of things right. Delivering a quality product, maintaining consistent value, and providing outstanding service are pivotal in creating a great business.

However, highlighting a company’s brand can take any business to the next level singlehandedly.

The very best brands endure the test of time because they use logos, fonts, colors, and visual elements consistently. This consistency helps customers associate the brand’s value proposition with the imagery that it represents. Thus, developing language that communicates the brand’s essence and its unique value proposition is crucial in building a successful business.

The question is, how can brands develop the proper language needed to communicate with customers effectively?

Defining a Style Guide

Style guides are unique to each brand. Attempting to implement a cookie-cutter style guide is a fruitless endeavor.

After all, every brand is different and must, therefore, articulate its particular language to communicate with its unique clientele.

In this regard, a style guide is a set of rules that determine how companies and marketers present their brands.

In short, a style guide is a collection of guidelines that determines the look and spirit of a brand.

These guidelines encompass everything from linguistic to graphic elements. Thus, wording, color schemes, images, and logos must adhere to the prescribed guidelines.

It is worth noting that everything “official” from the brand must use the brand’s singular language to communicate with its customers.

Why Businesses Need a Style Guide

A style guide is a valuable document that marketers, brand managers, and business executives can use when communicating with their customers. In particular, a style guide is crucial when conducting multi-channel communication.

How so?

A style guide ensures consistency throughout a brand’s presence across print and social media, television, and radio. Additionally, a brand’s visual representation requires careful attention to detail to ensure a unique branding experience.

In short, a great band experience allows customers to “feel” a brand the same way regardless of the medium where they see it.

Overall, a brand should strive to elicit specific emotions from its customers. Therefore, maintaining consistency throughout its presentation is pivotal in ensuring customers react the same way each time they encounter the brand.

Creating a Style Guide

Crafting a style guide requires a combination of elements that accurately depict a brand’s spirit.

Moreover, a style guide should encapsulate the emotional response the brand wishes to cause in its customers.

Here is a closer look at the various elements that must comprise a style guide, regardless of a brand’s specific style or target audience.

Who creates a style guide?

Generally speaking, graphic designers, marketing experts, and copywriters create style guides.

As such, it is naïve to believe that a single person can create a comprehensive style guide.

While an individual can certainly produce a solid style guide, an in-depth style guide requires a multi-disciplinary team effort.

Specifically, style guide creators must have branding experience that enables them to capture a brand’s true essence.

What elements comprise a style guide?

A style guide can be as simple or comprehensive as needed. In general, a style guide is a living document. As a result, it evolves as the brand does. A simple style guide could be a mere checklist of the essential items to include in day-to-day communication, such as logos, fonts, and color schemes. The most comprehensive style guides may become detailed documents that include a wide array of elements such as:

  • Mission statement
  • Vision statement
  • Brand strategy description
  • Tone of voice
  • Editorial tips
  • Grammatical and linguistic guidelines
  • Logos
  • Typography
  • Image requirements
  • Color schemes
  • Signatures
  • Letterheads
  • Slogans
  • Paper sizes
  • Margins
  • Layouts
  • Illustrations
  • Icons
  • Animations
  • User interface elements
  • User experience recommendations

As you can see, the list of elements can be quite extensive. Nevertheless, styles guides can be largely simplistic. It all depends on the brand’s specific needs. A good rule of thumb is to strive for as much depth as possible.

Why?

Developing a guide as comprehensively as possible ensures that no aspects go unnoticed. This approach is highly important, especially as the brand gains a stronger foothold in its market. Lastly, it is crucial to provide clear examples throughout the style guide. In doing so, anyone referencing the style guide can get a clear picture of how they must represent the brand’s image and voice across all channels.

How to Create a Style Guide

The creative process behind a style guide largely depends on a brand’s specific identity, needs, and target audience. Nevertheless, it is a good rule of thumb to be as detailed as possible.

Producing a detailed style guide essentially means that it should be quite comprehensive. While that may represent a significant upfront endeavor, it will pay off in the long run.

How so?

Initially, producing a basic style guide will most likely mean updating and expanding it as the brand’s identity develops.

Hence, the creative process must first contemplate the brand’s mission and vision statements along with its overall brand strategy.

Having a clear picture of where the brand is going greatly facilitates developing a coherent style guide that addresses all areas.

Here are five essential steps to consider when developing a basic style guide.

1. Logo Guidelines.

All great brands have unique logos that easily connect with their customers. Thus, an effective style guide must begin by clearly defining its logo, including size, dimensions, color scheme, and graphic elements.

Producing a logo requires the services of a talented graphic designer. The graphic designer, whether in-house or outsourced, must understand the brand’s identity.

2. Color Scheme

Having a clearly defined color scheme greatly enhances the brand’s image.

There is nothing worse than having inconsistent coloring and shading across multiple channels. Therefore, standardizing the brand’s color palette is an essential element of an effective style guide.

3. Typography

Typography applies to print and online materials. This element includes fonts, size, and layout.

All official communications must follow the same standards. This approach ensures that the public quickly recognizes when a document is authentic.

4. Tone of Voice

A brand’s tone of voice includes all linguistic elements it uses to communicate with customers. For instance, the style guide must establish the degree of formality used in spoken and written communication. Also, grammatical, spelling, and punctuation conventions must receive careful consideration.

An important recommendation in this regard is a list of writing do’s and don’ts. This list should include words and expressions to avoid while highlighting ones to use. For example, the style guide may explicitly request the use of inclusive language and gender-neutral pronouns.

The style guide must describe the brand’s tone of voice to be in line with the brand’s identity. In doing so, communication can resonate with the target audience. Failing to address the right tone of voice may cause communication to fall flat with the target audience. As a result, the brand’s image will suffer.

5. Clear Examples

Every element that goes into the style guide must have examples to reference. Abstract definitions may leave room for misinterpretation. Therefore, providing clear and detailed examples provides the depth needed to accurately represent the brand’s identity. An effective style guide should also incorporate examples of things to avoid. Providing examples of things to avoid helps focus the brand’s image.

Please bear in mind that there is no pre-set size for a style guide. It can go from a few pages to hundreds. Ultimately, a style guide’s size should accurately reflect the depth needed to represent the brand’s image and identity properly.

Examples of Great Style Guides

There are brands that have gotten it right. These brands understand their identity and their value proposition. As a result, their style guides reflect this understanding. Here are five great style guides that serve as a reference point for anyone looking to build a style guide from scratch or update an existing one.

Apple

The Apple Identity Guidelines thoroughly describe what every Apple employee needs to know about representing the Apple brand. To put this concept into perspective, the document states the following:

The Apple identity is a seal of approval and a promise of excellence.

When you are authorized or certified in your business area of expertise, you also represent Apple.

By following these guidelines, you reap the benefits of the Apple identity and contribute to its strength.

Indeed, the Apple Identity Guidelines make a strong statement about how individuals represent the brand through their actions. As a result, the guidelines provide specific actions on the following:

  • Using Apple Channel Signatures
    • Signature color
    • Configuration
    • Clear space and minimum size
    • Typography
    • Signature mistakes
    • Stationery
    • Vehicles
    • Email signatures
  • How to Use Apple Assets in Branding
  • Reseller Store Identity
    • Store exterior
    • Store interior
    • Windows
  • Editorial Guidelines
    • Text
    • Product names
  • Trademarks

In total, the Apple Identity Guidelines consist of 64 pages. It is a thorough document that provides everything Apple employees need to know to represent the Apple brand accurately in daily activities.

Twitter

The Twitter Brand Guidelines are a great example of keeping a style guide short and sweet. Twitter has ensured that its brand guidelines keep branding elements concise. This approach ensures that employees have all the information they need without overloading them with information.

At 16 pages, the Twitter Brand Guidelines cover the following:

  • Use of logo
  • Spacing
  • Color
  • Social media icons
  • Use of hashtag and handle
  • Standards on the misuse of the Twitter logo
  • Treatments
  • Marks
  • Legal trademark guidelines

In particular, the Twitter Brand Guidelines offer this introduction:

We’ve created this guide to help you use some of our core brand elements – our logo, #hashtag, and the @reply, and Tweets. It shouldn’t take long to read (we kept it short). Definitely check it out before you get started.

The Twitter Brand Guidelines strive to keep things simple. Thus, it is a good example of how a comprehensive style guide can also be concise.

Dell Technologies

Dell Technologies’ Brand Identity presents its style guide uniquely. Specifically, these guidelines state: “We have a unified brand identity and language for Dell Technologies.” This document highlights an important issue: When companies have multiple business units, they must ensure that their brand identity remains consistent throughout each unit.

Dell has created a website where its brand identity guidelines are available. Here is a look at the areas these guidelines cover:

  • Logos
  • Colors
  • Typography
  • Brand FAQs
  • Third-party asset request
  • Voice
  • Lifestyle imagery
  • Journey

There are two things worth highlighting.

First, Dell’s voice aims to reflect its identity through language. The guidelines state the following: “Voice is how we say things and express our brand’s personality. It’s the style in which we connect with people – the words we choose, the rhythm, tone, and punctuation.” It is evident that Dell places a great value on the appropriate use of language to communicate with its customers.

Second, Dell’s style guide includes a brief overview of the brand’s journey.

Including this element can help users get a good sense of where the brand comes from and where it is headed. Thus, it is good to include a brief history to punctuate the elements contained within the style guide.

Yale University

Prestigious organizations such as Yale University go a long way toward cultivating a specific brand image.

Yale has created a short and precise brand guide that encapsulates its organizational brand philosophy. Its style guide begins by communicating its history, tradition, vision, and philosophy.

An interesting aspect of the Yale style guide is the recommended usage of school mottos.

When organizations have mottos, slogans, and catchphrases, they must ensure their proper use.

Therefore, including guidelines on how to use them accordingly avoids misuse or misrepresentation.

Walmart

Walmart’s Associate Brand Visual Identity is a collection of guidelines that establish how Walmart associates must communicate in accordance with Walmart’s brand identity. In particular, the style guide’s voice and tone section lead to establishing effective communication. It contains guidelines on:

  • Casing
  • Punctuation
  • Numbers
  • Dashes and hyphens
  • Media

It lists the following values to highlight its voice:

  • Human
  • Vibrant
  • Helpful
  • Inclusive

The guide also provides examples of do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t: Yowza! Keep this up, and you’ll be CEO by the time we hit Q3!
  • Do: You’re on track to meet your Q3 goal.

This example highlights how overly friendly and insincere conversation negatively impacts Walmart’s intended brand image.

By being overly friendly, the true message of encouragement gets lost.

Please note that Walmart’s style guide is comprehensive though not overly extensive.

Thus, it is possible to communicate a substantial amount of information without overloading content.

A Final Reflection

Building an effective brand depends on maintaining consistency throughout communication with customers across all channels. Brands can rely on a style guide to maintain consistency while ensuring that all stakeholders sync their communication styles.

Indeed, producing an effective style guide can impact a brand’s overall appearance significantly. Therefore, investing in a solid style guide is one of a company’s best decisions. With the guidelines presented in this article, any brand can take the first step toward building an effective style guide to suit their voice, spirit, and image.

How to Put Your Best Foot Forward with Your Style Guide

You may not think fonts, colors, and tone of voice are essential in telling your company or organization’s story, but they are. These items all reflect your brand and serve as important components to distinguish your company and establish customer loyalty.

And there’s nothing better than a style guide to help ensure consistent communications.

Style guides are a reference tool for anyone who touches communications in your organization – whether that person be a writer, social media manager, graphic designer, or frontline employee.

A style guide spells out precisely what communications coming out of your organization should read and look like, no matter how small or large your company may be.

“Style guides are especially important in organizations with multiple locations where content is created locally. As a proud badge-wearing member of the branding police, I’m optimistic that a style guide will eliminate free-form design liberties such as stretching the logo, using other colors because ‘those colors match the image on my flyer’ or fitting the logo bug into shapes like wheels on a car,” says Sally A. Jozwiak, marketing strategist and founder of Jozwiak and Partners.

“If you want standards for consistent and high-quality representation of your brand, a style guide is a must-have asset in the marketing toolkit.”

What to Include

There are several elements you should include in your organization’s style guide. Most style guides contain the following:  

Logo usage 

A style guide should provide instructions on how to use your company’s logo. It should make crystal clear how to use it and what it should look like on any communications coming out of your organization, whether on letterhead, a T-shirt, PowerPoint, or a business card.

Below is an excellent example of logo usage illustrated in the American Red Cross’ style guide.

Email standards 

Have you ever worked at an organization and seen people use inspirational quotes or other sayings in lieu of a standard email signature? Maybe you’re allowing this now and haven’t considered an email signature a vital part of your company’s brand.

Think again.

An email signature plays an essential role in your branding because it communicates a high level of professionalism and provides instant recognition for your company any time it’s used. It is a critical part of your branding and should be included in your style guide.

What should an email signature look like?

Here’s an example to follow from The Writers for Hire:

Font and font sizes

The fonts you use in written correspondence or visual communications play an important role in your organization’s personality.

Your style guide should include all brand fonts acceptable for headings, paragraphs, and their respective uses. This includes everything from PowerPoint presentations to the fonts used in email correspondence.

When you select a font for use in your company’s communications, here’s a quick checklist of things to consider: 

  • Is it unique or memorable?
  • Is it legible?
  • Does it work on every platform? (This is important to take into consideration. What looks great on stationery may not translate well to a website or mobile device.)
  • Does it accurately reflect your brand personality?

Royal Caribbean includes the following rules for typography in its style guide:

Colors

Your style guide should include your company’s colors and specific print or screen values of red, green, and blue (RGB), Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black (CMYK), or hexadecimal (HEX).

Colors should include primary, secondary, and complementing colors for your brand.

This is how Scrimshaw Coffee explains how to use color in marketing and other collateral material:

There may be some occasions where you deviate from your standard colors. For example, let’s say your organization is visibly supporting breast cancer awareness. Your logo may be adapted for a short period for sponsorships or special promotions.

However, someone within your communications department should always approve these variations and they don’t necessarily need to be included in your style guide.

Mission statement/tagline 

A style guide provides the perfect opportunity to remind employees of your mission statement and tagline. After all, every piece of communication that comes out of your organization should reinforce why you exist and what you represent. 

Editorial Guidelines 

Anyone writing on behalf of your company needs to reflect your brand, whether they’re the CEO, a social media manager, or a hired writer.

Presenting guidelines that provide specifics on tone (friendly versus authoritative) and voice (unique to your company versus commonplace in your industry) will help establish the overarching goals of your communications.

MailChimp, the popular email marketing tool, includes the following in their style guide:

Your style guide should also include rules for grammar, including punctuation, capitalization, and abbreviations. Some companies may choose to adopt a widely known style, such as Associated Press or Chicago, while others may decide to create a style specific to their organization.

“Guidelines and style guides are always helpful for writers, public relations consultants, and expert sources. When I was in the journalism program at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication decades ago, professors impressed upon all of the students how important it was to adhere to the Associated Press Stylebook,” says Laura Pennino, writer, and senior PR consultant as well as founder and CEO of Pennino and Partners.

“The AP Stylebook was first published in the 1950s and is now in its 55tth Edition. The AP Stylebook will always be my ‘go-to’ source for direction on grammar and usage. Additionally, whenever I am working with any media outlet to contribute an article or guest commentary for myself or my clients, I always check editorial guidelines for areas of focus, word count, accompanying image requirements, and submission deadlines.”

When written clearly, your style guide will help in the efficient creation of these marketing and public relations materials:

  • Blog content
  • Video scripts
  • Website copy
  • Press releases
  • Landing page copy
  • Talking points for events or media interviews
  • Sponsored content

How do you write one? 

Now that you know the pieces that should go into a style guide, how do you write one?

Sit down and evaluate all the different pieces and select relevant examples of each. While it’s good practice to show the proper way to adapt to your style, it’s also smart to have examples of how NOT to do something.

Here’s an excellent example from Kent State University:

If you are too stretched and find it challenging to find time to create this essential document, you may want to outsource the project to a professional writer.

It’s important to realize that a style guide is a living, breathing document and is one that will need to be adapted as your organization and how you communicate evolve.

Make it part of your annual task list to review your style guide and update it regularly.  

Rolling it Out

You’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into creating a beautiful style guide. Now how do you launch it effectively to ensure it’s used?

  • Ask your human resources department if you can include it with your company’s onboarding materials. This way, right from the start, employees are set straight on items such as email signatures.
  • Make sure your style guide is easily accessible. While a style guide is not a standard operating procedure, it complements your SOPs, and you might consider making it available in the same general area for quick reference.
  • Have refresher meetings on the style guide and use them as opportunities to recognize employees who have followed the recommendations. Everyone likes to be recognized, even if it’s for using a logo correctly!

“A style guide lets every employee know how they can put the company’s best foot forward when it comes to communications. It brings consistency to how your company looks to the outside world,” says Jessica Johns Pool, senior medical writer for Health Union.

“Every email, every social media post, every mailing, matters to your brand, and a style guide helps every employee create that consistency. You’ll still have to remind people regularly about what’s in the style guide and why it’s important to follow it, but it’s still the easiest way to share your company’s communications standards across departments.”

AP: Goodbye “Web site;” Hello “Website”

Good news for all word nerds: The Associated Press has finally made the switch from the old-fashioned “Web site” to the simpler, more natural-looking “website.” Yay!

To me, “Web site” has always seemed a little stuffy and English teacher-ish. Good for AP to know when it’s time to change things up. According to the AP’s Web site – er, website – the change will be included in the 2010 print edition of the style guide.

Other recent changes in AP style:

Update: When used as a verb, “carpool” is one word (it’s still two words if used as a noun, though).
Addition: The noun “e-reader” has been added – due to the recent deluge of gadgets like the Kindle and the iPad. Also acceptable: “e-book reader.”
Update: The word “mic” is now an acceptable (informal) form of “microphone.”
Addition: When talking about a certain angry hybrid of ultra-testosterone-fueled cage fighting, the correct term is “mixed martial arts” (this one surprised me; I expected a hyphen in there somewhere). No word on whether “MMA” is an acceptable substitute – but AP cautions that “Ultimate Fighting” is not to be used as a substitute (it’s actually a registered trademark).


Image via Wikipedia

So, what do you think? Are you happy to see the AP change with the times? Are there other changes you’d like to see?

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Eight Proofreading Mistakes that Count!

How’s this for a proofreading horror story: Because of a teeny little typo, people calling for a free cab service on New Year’s Eve ended up connecting with an “adult” chat line instead. Oops. That’s the kind of mistake that most likely ends in a lost client and a very, very unhappy boss.

Proofreading is about more than making sure you’ve caught spelling and punctuation errors. Before you can really sign off on a proofreading job with a clear conscience (and a happy client), make sure you’ve checked the numbers, too:

1. Triple-check all contact information. Verify addresses (including ZIP codes, suite numbers, etc.), check the phone numbers (to be absolutely sure, give ‘em a call), and visit URLs.

2. Make sure page numbers add up. Does your document jump from page 10 to page 13? Print out your document and take a look. And, while we’re on the subject of page numbers . . .

Continue reading “Eight Proofreading Mistakes that Count!”

“That” vs. “Which”

Today, one of our most grammar-savvy clients emailed us with a question.

She asked:
If a sentence says, ‘A policy (that/which) protects the merchant against penalties… ’ should you use ‘that’ or ‘which’? And why?

I wasn’t 100 percent sure I knew the right answer. I was pretty sure. Mostly sure. But not totally sure. And, truthfully, I couldn’t have explained my choice, other than one just, well… sounded better. I figured there was probably a better reason than that. And I was right.

According to the AP Stylebook (shameless plug – I love, love, love this site – it’s ideal for answering little grammar questions like this), in our client’s case, the answer is “that.”

“That” and “which” are used in essential and nonessential clauses. The one you choose depends on the type of clause.

A nonessential clause is exactly what it sounds like. It’s not essential to the sentence. A nonessential clause contains good information, and it adds detail to your writing, but you could take it out if you were, say, trying to cut your word count or get right to the point. Nonessential clauses are usually set off with commas.

When you’re dealing with a nonessential clause, use “which.”

Example:
The policy, which will be effective starting December 2nd, will protect merchants against penalties due to customer error.

You could take out the nonessential clause (everything inside the commas), and the meaning of the sentence wouldn’t change:
The policy will protect merchants against penalties due to customer error.

This sentence is about what the policy does – not when it’s effective.

If you’re working with an essential clause, use “that.”

“”

Example:
The policy that protects merchants against customer fraud helped Roy avoid penalties for accepting the stolen credit card.

In this case, we’re talking about the type of policy that helped Roy. Take the essential clause out, and the meaning of the sentence changes, too.

So, there you go.

Have any other grammar questions? We’ll be happy to answer them.