A style guide is a critical document outlining a set of standards, which helps ensure a cohesive brand experience across all channels in the business. It contains the essential information needed when crafting communication for your organization, including main brand components:
- Name, logo, mission, and vision
- Voice and tone
- Preferred writing style
- Punctuation, grammar, and spelling requirements
- Language guidelines
- Visual guidelines
A strong style guide puts everyone on the same page, communicating clear, consistent expectations and minimizing the need for endless revision cycles. While a style guide’s content varies from organization to organization, these essential elements should be included in every style guide to foster a unified front among all employees and ensure a strong brand presence that will excel in the marketplace.
How important is a brand style guide?
Presenting an original brand story and maintaining a consistent visual and verbal presence are crucial steps in connecting with consumers in an honest, meaningful way. For example, it takes just 50 milliseconds for a person to form an opinion about a website, which is why it’s so important to get all components right the first time—from the colors and graphics to the text and tone.
By developing a strategic style guide, businesses stand to gain more than a favorable first impression. A style guide can support long-term brand loyalty and overall sustainable profitability. Consistent brand presentation is associated with 33% greater revenue.
6 essential style guide components
A style guide is necessary for functional internal teams, whether in marketing, sales, writing, editing, or design departments. Your company’s “style” is also necessary for letting the public know what your business is all about and why they may want to choose your products or services over a competitor’s. Once your document has been created, all employees will have a clearer idea of corporate expectations, which improves job performance, accountability, and job satisfaction. A style guide won’t solve every problem, but it can save your organization significant time in training, drafting, creating, revising, and settling disagreements.
To define your brand, you’ll want to include the following style guide components:
Brand name, logo, mission, and values
Your brand’s style guide should start with the basics: your brand’s name and its logo. It should be clear to anyone who opens your document that the style guide is unique to your brand.
Then, add our brand’s mission and values. These elements define what personality, voice, and identity your organization wishes to convey to the public. It informs how the words look on marketing and sales materials, the tone and word choice, and the way employees interact with customers, clients, and each other as brand ambassadors.
Brand voice and tone
Having a distinct voice humanizes your brand. Customers want to do business with brands they relate to and connect with—brands who share their values and conduct business honestly. The tone should be recognizable across platforms, setting the mood and reassuring the reader with a hint of familiarity. A strong brand voice attracts new audiences, retains existing ones, inspires confidence, and provides a competitive edge.
Consider the following when creating your brand voice and tone:
- Understand the difference between your brand’s voice and tone. The two words are often used synonymously, but they are, in fact, very different. Voice is how you express personality. Tone may change based on context. You wouldn’t use the same tone with a concerned customer vs. a happy user on Twitter. Laying out expectations for voice goes back to your mission statement, values, and philosophy. At the same time, the tone will depend on the specific content being created or the particular campaign you’re working on.
- Think about who your target audience is and which specific buyer personas you’re trying to attract. It helps to write out these descriptions in advance, imagining different market segments you’re catering to. Rarely is there one type of customer that fits the brand’s universal messaging. Most brands have a series of campaigns geared toward specific market segments.
- Provide examples to aid style guide users. Are there particular words and phrases you feel contribute to the brand voice and tone you’re trying to convey? Likewise, are there words and phrases that you feel detract from accomplishing that? Be sure to include them all within your style guide.
Preferred writing style
When creating a style guide, it is generally best to select a preferred standard for writing and communicating, and use it as a basis for creating your company’s unique style guide. This will ensure consistency across all forms of communication within your organization. The following are highly regarded and referenced most often in the US:
All style guides are widely accepted sources for standardized punctuation; the one you should select depends on what industry your company is in and who your target audience is.
Punctuation, grammar, and spelling requirements
There are essential standard punctuation marks in American English. Proper punctuation helps readers understand the message and read with ease. These marks can be used to emphasize thoughts or encourage the reader to take pause.
On the other hand, poor grammar and spelling can be extremely distracting, tarnish your company’s reputation, and even repel visitors. In one study, the bounce rate on pages with spelling and grammatical mistakes was 85% higher than pages with minimal or no mistakes!
To minimize errors, try these tips:
- Start by consulting the experts. Your chosen style guide from the options listed above will serve as ideal references for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Your style guide might include the most salient points from your manual of choice that are likely to impact day-to-day writing.
- Pay attention to who your audience is. For example, in certain words, Canadian and British spelling often uses ou (as in “colour” or “flavour”), while Americans drop the u (“color” or “flavor”). These differences can be difficult to spot in routine spell checking, which is why it’s ideal to use a more advanced tool like Grammarly Business, which can pick up on these nuances.
- Include commonly used industry terms. You may be in an industry where you can avoid notoriously hard-to-spell words like “obstreperous,” but what if you’re in a scientific, technical, or legal field where writing terms like “interstitial cystitis” are commonplace? These industries rely on mistake-free copy to uphold their reputation. A cheat sheet can be valuable to employees who are tasked with writing copy in these types of industries.
- Choose standardized formatting for numbers, dates, and money. Depending on which style guide you choose—and your company’s own preferences—formatting will differ. For example, AP spells out whole numbers from “one” through “nine,” but switches to numerals at “10” and above. The Chicago Manual of Style, on the other hand, prefers to spell out whole numbers from “one” through “ninety-nine” and switches to numerals at “100.” Other elements to consider are dates, statistics, abbreviations, symbols, and acronyms. These sections in your style guide are less about “right vs. wrong” and more about stylistic preferences you want standardized companywide.
- Be consistent with capitalization rules. Determine your company’s preferred writing style and ensure capitalization is consistent across activities and channels. Will you use capitalization rules from the AP stylebook for emails and ads? Will you use a different style, such as Chicago, for product features and business titles? Consider the nuances of capitalization and impact, and build this into your company style guide.
Brand language guidelines
Each brand has a language of its own, and certain rules and preferences will apply to commonly cited industry jargon or company-specific terms. There is a fine line between using insider terminology to resonate with your readers and overdoing it and inadvertently talking down to people.
Consider these questions:
- What industry jargon resonates with your audience? Include preferred phrasing and branding language. Don’t forget to include examples of jargon or clichés you’d like to avoid. For example, a style guide for your customer support team at a software company could include guidance for communicating with customers about product malfunctions. It might contain words to avoid, such as “glitch” or “bug,” which can imply deeper quality issues with your product. The guide might instead offer alternatives to use in those situations, such as “the product is behaving abnormally.”
- How do you approach names and titles? For example, in a press release or blog announcing a new product, it may be a style guideline to write [first name, last name, business title] when referring to an individual within the company, and after first reference, only use the person’s last name.
- How do you want to treat commonly used abbreviations? Often, acronym and initialism use requires clarity. For instance, you may need to clarify whether you want to write CSAT for customer satisfaction, NPS for net promoter score, or COB for close of business. When it comes to knowing whether to make letters capitalized or lowercase, or when you should use periods in abbreviations, consult the style guide you’ve chosen to follow, which will outline this.
Visual branding guidelines
A company will need to decide on all visual elements that represent their brand, including logo design, color choice, typeface, images, and graphics. These stylistic preferences are often reflected across digital and print media, though they can vary slightly to fit the medium.
Consider these questions when thinking about visual branding guidelines:
- Do you want your standard font to convey a prevailing brand characteristic and tone? For the logo, for instance, do you want to use a traditional font, as TIME and Vogue do? Or do you like quirky and bold fonts, similar to what Google and Spotify use? Beyond the logo, what typeface (and weight) is preferable for titles and body text? You may not need sixty pages describing your logo as NASA does, but you should at least give a few good examples, as well as a few “logo misuse” cases to avoid.
- What are the brand’s accepted color palettes? Your brand may have several depending on the occasion or season, but consumers will expect to see some consistency across platforms and mediums. Here are some examples of brand color palettes to consider. You can also try a color palette generator to explore all possibilities.
- What imagery is allowed for branding purposes? You may love free stock vector sites or loathe them. You may prefer bold illustrations and motion graphics or human-centered photography. Decide which image characteristics best represent your company and strive for consistency, whether you source the images from a third party or take them in-house.
- Other elements to consider: If you’re blogging or creating landing page content, it helps to have set formulas applied for each type of content. Are you using sidebar boxes? Bullet lists? H1, H2, H3 headlines? How many sentences should paragraphs be? These standards will improve readability and keep visitors on the site longer.
How to create the optimal style guide
Knowing the basic style guide components can be helpful, but creating a style guide from scratch can be enormously time-consuming and tedious. Grammarly Business has a built-in style guide feature that makes creating custom corporate style guides a cinch. Far beyond the usual spell-checker, Grammarly Business goes that extra mile to edit grammar, punctuation, and even ensure consistency with style and tone—all based on your company’s unique preferences.
Grammarly Business is easy to use and integrates seamlessly with the programs you’re already using on a daily basis, providing confidence-boosting guidance whenever and wherever it’s needed. If preferred, the auto-check can be turned off and switched on during editing mode to minimize distractions and provide a crucial “second set of eyes” upon request.
You can add multiple users and different team members can be made contributors who can help create style guide rules. Multiple style guides—up to fifty—can even be created within one organization. This allows the guides to meet the unique needs of individual teams, from customer support to IT and beyond. Overall, it’s an accessible, organization-wide tool designed to improve internal communications and branding—all fully customizable to your unique set of standards.
All team members can use Grammarly Business to easily and effectively auto-check for deviance from the style guide across Microsoft Word, email, Google Docs, collaboration platforms, and more. The team receives customized recommendations for improvement and context-based suggestions from the style guide to help with compliance, save time in the editing process, and maintain confident, consistent communication organization-wide.
Style guides are an essential part of any business’ efforts to maintain consistent, high-quality content across all mediums. Having a style guide in your company’s arsenal of tools will prove to be an invaluable asset in your company’s content and communication management. And with Grammarly Business, it’s easier than ever to get started today.
Using Grammarly Business to create a custom style guide with all essential components can save you valuable time and help you seamlessly enforce your set standards company-wide. Contact us to learn more about what our digital writing assistant can do for you.