A content style guide is one of the most critical pieces of brand documentation you’ll ever create. It’s a set of guidelines and rules that break down your brand personality, and how it is and isn’t expressed through your content. It should be used by anyone who will be creating content for your brand.
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, sometimes it’s not always clear what that “documented set of guidelines” should include.
What should be in a content style guide?
Generally speaking, a content style guide should include some form of all the following elements:
- Brand personality traits. (“We’re fun and approachable!”)
- Brand-specific copy rules, suggestions, and preferences. (“Don’t use big words!”)
- Basic editorial rules — grammar, spelling, etc. (“We’re an Oxford Comma family!”)
The essential parts
Voice, tone, and style each serve a particular purpose for your brand, but they are all very much dependent on each other to create the full effect of your brand’s content style.
- Voice: These are all of the attributes of your brand’s personality; it’s what people should think about your brand as a reflex, without you having to spell it out for them.
- Tone: This is a dynamic element. It’s how you deliver on the promise of your voice. Your tone will be situational and should be adapted to accommodate different scenarios.
- Style: Finally, there’s your style. In this context, style refers to what your content looks like. So, formatting, grammar, and punctuation rules all fall under this category.
By design, your content style will prioritize what your ideal customers want, because it was developed for them, based on their preferences and what they need.
Internally, you’ll also be able to promote best practices with your team around how your brand should be portrayed and perceived, which means your brand presentation through content will be consistent, no matter who’s doing the typing.
Your content will be better across the board and more effective at attracting the right people. That’s what it’s all about, right?
What doesn’t go into a content style guide
Given that a content style guide is essentially a tactical, instructive manual of how to write like a particular brand, it can be tempting to put everything in there. But you shouldn’t do that.
It’s very important to remember one thing: Your brand’s messaging strategy and your brand’s content style are not the same thing.
That said, you really can’t have one without the other. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” your messaging strategy is the WHAT and your content style is the HOW.
Having style is essential to executing an effective blogging strategy, guaranteeing your messaging is packaged for maximum impact, thus empowering you to win the internet.
What else shouldn’t go in your style guide? There are three other areas you may feel tempted to address in a style guide, but you shouldn’t:
- Visual notes: Notes about visual preferences (like photography with bright colors or no text on featured images for blogs) should live in a visual style guide.
- Branding guidelines: Fonts, colors, and branding rules are, again, visual, so they should have their own home.
- Content layout best practices: Don’t make your content look like a massive word wall; break up your text with headings, lists, etc. don’t really belong in a style guide.
What’s the right style for you?
Ultimately, what should be included in your own content style guide will depend on the needs of your organization. However, don’t give in to the urge to create something overly complex for the sake of it.
Instead, you need to be clear, concise, and direct in your content style definition and direction. Your content style guide should be as long as it needs to be, no more, no less.