How to build a strong brand voice? The style guide series (Part 2)

In our previous article, we shed some light on the importance of having a style guide. We touched upon the differences between a grammar book and a style guide. Now, let’s get down to business. Your business.

What should you include in your style guide?

Your style guide should not contain error corrections and common mistakes. Your writers have grammar books for those. It should do what the name suggests: guide your writers through the maze of choices when it comes to creating content. Here are some must-haves.

Voice and Tone

Defining your brand voice helps your writers get a sense of how official or relaxed you want to be. It defines the rules on humor and colloquialism. In short, it defines your brand’s personality

Your Voice & Tone section can be a simple bullet list. Let’s look at Mail Chimp’s example:

“Mail Chimp is:

  • Straight-faced, subtle, and a touch eccentric
  • Smart but not snobbish
  • Weird but not inappropriate

Describing your voice and tone with the “this, but not that” approach is a good idea. It will help your writers understand just how far you’re willing to push some of the traits.

Sentences, syntax, and spelling

Grammar rules are stone-strong, but that doesn’t mean they don’t allow you to express your brand image. There is plenty of room for you to define a unique voice while staying safe before the Grammar Police. For instance, you can play with:

  • Sentence length. Do you want to go for crisp? Or do you prefer longer and syntactically more intricate sentences? Sentence length dictates your pace. Shorter sentences will be brisk and feel more conversational. Longer, syntax-complex sentences will be slower and more formal.
  • Active vs Passive. Do you want the subject of the verb’s action to be clearly defined? Put a stop sign on the use of passive voice in your style guide.
  • Narrative voice. Do you address your readers directly (second person) or indirectly (third person).

To each (channel) its own

Do you manage several social media accounts, have a blog section on your website, and an emailing list? You probably want to differentiate your content and the tone a bit between your platforms.

For instance, you could define that product news goes to Facebook, while your Instagram followers get to see some behind-the-scenes, or your life at the office. You might allow a few emojis there, but not in your LinkedIn posts. Be clear about the content type and these variations in your style guide.

Examples, examples, examples

Don’t limit yourself to dos and don’ts. Examples are the best teacher.

Telling your writers they shouldn’t use long, complicated words is one thing. Showing them is another. 

For instance:

When possible, replace a longer word that stems from Latin with a shorter, Anglo-Saxon synonym.

Sounds complicated? Detangle it with an example:

Our style: We can only guess.

Not our style: We can hypothesize

Wrapping up the Style Guide Part 2

Essentially, your style guide isn’t about your company as much as it is about your audience. It allows you to define how you want to address your customers and how to make sure they have a seamless experience with your brand across all your channels and platforms.

With your audience in mind, what happens to your style guide when you have to transfer it to another market? Is it ok to just translate it? If you’re curious, come back next week, where we’ll wrap up the series by discussing what happens when you have to localize your style guide.