“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” − George Bernard Shaw
How often do you actually refer to the notes you take during a meeting? Honestly, I can hardly understand mine most of the time. You can’t leave your communications and branding training up to a few notes on lined paper. If you don’t have a communications style guide for your business, it’s like giving someone a manual transmission vehicle to drive for the first time. They kind of get how to do it, but when it actually comes time to move forward they stall.
A communications style guide doesn’t have to big this big giant document with beautiful graphics and a ton of white space. It just has to exist, and be organized and coherent. It will help you A TON when you’re working with contractors and new employees.
A communications style guide concisely lays out what expectations are for your brand, including how to spell your business name, how and where to use the logo, what kind of language is appropriate, and what your brand’s “voice” sounds like. The last thing you want is a business with multiple personalities. Confuse much?
Many people put developing a style guide off because they can be overwhelmingly giant…like book size. That’s not needed. You can give your contractors and new employees the essence without delivering the entire operating manual and that will be enough to get the started.
So, let’s get started shall we?
Communications Style Guide Essentials
Your communications style guide needs several things so that anyone working with you clearly understands how they should communicate your brand. Keep each section simple and concise so everyone actually reads it.
Start a new document in Google Docs or Microsoft Word (or Powerpoint/Keynote if you really want to) and create the following sections:
Business name with a clear description of how the name is to be used. For example, is it Be Rad Media, BeRadMedia, or Be Rad Media, Inc.? Include examples of what not to do to make this even clearer.
Business tagline with clear description of how and when it’s to be used. Same as above. If words are meant to be italicized, capitalized, etc., that needs to be described here.
Logo with all usable variations. Include colour, black and white, and any other variations of your logo. Specify how much white space should be around the logo and any rules, such as not placing the logo on top of a colour photo (so you can see it).
Brand colours. Use Pantone, CMYK, RGB, and Hex codes if you have them all, to help designers and other formatters keep all of your colours consistent.
Brand vision. This helps get contractors and new employees understand where you want to go with your business, at a very high level. This will help to inform strategic planning.
Audience. Who is your audience and how do you help them? Demographics are important. Give as much detail as you can, as this will help writers speak to your audience on the same level.
Key messages. These are the repeatable messages that will be sprinkled throughout everything you do. They help position your brand, explain your unique selling proposition (USP), and tell the world how you make a difference. Writers will refer to these to ensure that any positioning statements are consistent.
Brand voice. If your business was a person, what would they look, sound, and act like? Like your audience description, this helps others understand how they should convey your brand and its personality. For example, is it like a helpful elementary school teacher, or like a zenned-out rock star?
Use of language. Be really clear here about what kind of language is acceptable. Can writers and other content creators use swear words or slang? If you want everything to be very formal or for a specific academic crowd, your writers and content creators will need to know this so they can research important terms and phrases. If you were the most organized person ever, you’d have all that in here for them.
Alternative style guides. This is important if you follow something like Chicago Style, especially if you work with contractors from all over the world. You want spelling and grammar to be consistent across all media.
This is the absolute bare bones that you need for a communications style guide. You can add other sections pertaining to product descriptions, sub-brands, and so on. Start with this and build.
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