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April 25, 2022 Content Chat Recap: How To Create A Brand Style Guide For Content Marketing

May 2, 2022

Brand style guides can fast-track your content marketing and empower any content creator to create on-brand content. However, many teams create style guides that address only niche needs, or they fail to document their style altogether.

In this #ContentChat recap, Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman), founder and SEO content strategist at The Blogsmith, joins the community to discuss what a brand content style guide should include. Read through the below recap to get our free brand style guide templates and learn:

  • How long a style guide should be
  • What to include in your brand style guide
  • How to get started with defining your brand style

If you’d like to learn more from Maddy, order your copy of her book Writing for Humans and Robots: The new Rules of Content Style (available July 18, 2022).

A brand style guide explains how your brand communicates with its community, and why.

1b) A brand style guide is a reference your writers and editors (and clients) can use to understand how and why to do things a certain way on behalf of the brand. The style guide can also capture brand values like inclusivity. #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/2qGfEMSRTv

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

A1. A brand style guide is an internal document that defines how your brand presents itself to the world. It guides internal and external creators so that content is on brand and consistent across all communication platforms. #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) April 25, 2022

A1: A #styleguide explains how your company speaks with and presents itself to your community. Style guides help your #contentmarketing team stay consistent and efficient, no matter what they’re creating or how familiar they are with your brand. #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) April 25, 2022

Effective brand style guides create consistency in your content.

A1: It stops your content from looking like a ransom note. #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/WZHLhgTMvd

— Melissa Chiou (@melissaC_says) April 25, 2022

1a) A brand style guide creates consistency which leads to higher quality. It helps everyone on the team get on the same page. Most impactfully, it reduces time wasted on edits. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

A1 A brand’s style guide is the blueprint for how the brand is portrayed – visual, audio, tonal, etc Having one of these ensures that all content created for the brand is consistent no matter who on the team creates it -Alyx#ContentChat https://t.co/44vNWgoj6D

— Charlie Alyx – Charlie Appel Agency (@ColfaxInsurance) April 25, 2022

Consistency is so important. Many style guides start from a similar place (like AP Style) but should be customized for the individual brand’s needs! #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

A1. OMG this is so so important for everyone to be able to create content consistently and uniformly #ContentChat

— Shruti Deshpande (@shruti12d) April 25, 2022

Some brand style guides cover just visual considerations, however, we recommend you create a more holistic guide (more on that below).

A1: Brand style guide covers the logo, brand colors, fonts used, and what kind of imagery/graphics are used. Humans are very visual typically so it’s important to develop a coherent brand visual ~Julie #ContentChat

— Nimble (@Nimble) April 25, 2022

A1: A brand style guide covers the Logo, Brand Colors, Fonts, and use cases for the brand’s creatives #Contentchat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) April 25, 2022

Visual styles are so important. Some brands stop at writing guidelines but that’s a mistake! #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

… while other brands stop at the logo. ☹️ #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) April 25, 2022

A brand style guide is a living document. When you first create one, do not start with the goal of creating a final, all-encompassing document. Start where you can and refine the guide over time.

2a) A brand style guide should include voice/tone guidelines, formatting guidelines, and any other specifics the brand has strong opinions about.

There’s no need to start with the goal of creating a final document — you should plan to develop it over time. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

Yes! I love that you said you don’t need to create a final document from the start. The style guide will grow and adapt and take new forms the more your team uses it. #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) April 25, 2022

It’s so much easier to just start if you’re not worried about the final draft! #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

The style guide length is less important than its usability with your team. Create multiple guide versions to address specific needs and skill levels.

2b) Regarding ideal style guide length: Aim to have a short, quick-reference version and a longer, more comprehensive guide with further context and examples. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

A2 How long it should be – as long as it needs to be? What is should include – visual design (font, size, color palette, spacing, templates, etc) There’s so much that can go into a style guide -Alyx#ContentChat https://t.co/AZL9T07rK7

— Charlie Alyx – Charlie Appel Agency (@ColfaxInsurance) April 25, 2022

“As long as it needs to be” – exactly! Hard to give an exact length when every brand is different. 🙂 #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

A2: Ideally I think it should be 1-2 pages max. Just show one example of using the brand in each scenario

I think visually it should be clean uncluttered.#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) April 25, 2022

The shorter, the better for quick reference. At @blgsmth, we also take this a step further to create “quick tips” reference guides for each client’s preferred styles. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

The community shares the main elements to include in a brand style guide below:

A2: A brand style guide should explain these areas (ideally with examples): – Audience or key personas – Brand colors/color palette – Company background – Font and typography – Image, photography, and logo use – Naming + taglines – Voice and tone – FAQs#ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) April 25, 2022

A2. A brand style guide needs to include:

Visual Identity: ➡️ Logo treatment ➡️ Colors ➡️ Fonts

Brand Personality: ➡️ Emotions you want to instill ➡️ Words to use not use ➡️ Grammar style guide #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) April 25, 2022

“Brand personality” is a great summary for voice/tone. A brand’s content should be distinctive! #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

A2: I don’t know about document size but I do believe the guide should include colors, fonts, brand voice/tone, key graphics/images to use, logo, and who the audience is ~Julie #ContentChat

— Nimble (@Nimble) April 25, 2022

2c) Here are some select details from The Blogsmith Style Guide (our short-form version and long-form version/book, Writing for Humans and Robots: https://t.co/HWM3XIBXsT) #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/WSPY8IHwRE

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

When documenting your brand’s visual identity, include color codes that work for print and online needs. Tod recommends you select Pantone colors for brand colors and use a HEX equivalent for digital.

Part of ours attached… RT @nimble: @ErikaHeald A2: I don’t know about document size but I do believe the guide should include colors, fonts, brand voice/tone, key graphics/images to use, logo, and who the audience is ~Julie #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/AvKBgor2pF

— 🍀🌲🍀 Lisa Chau 🍀🌲🍀 (@lisaownet) April 25, 2022

It’s great that you include a few color code options that will work for print and screen. #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) April 25, 2022

Yes love this! Also don’t forget about Nightlight and Dark Mode options #ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) April 25, 2022

I normally try to select @pantone colors for brand colors, and then find hex equivalents for digital.

Unless computer monitors and phone screens are calibrated (they rarely are), your online brand colors won’t be consistent for different people viewing them. #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) April 25, 2022

If are using a tool that you love to organize your brand visual assets, let us know!

On a related note, is there a place where you store brand visual assets/misc. details? I like https://t.co/sy9i7CZ05i #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

That’s a great question! I’ll check out Brandox. I’ve primarily used Google Drive or Box, although they’re not really optimized for this specific need…

Is anyone in the community using a tool they love for storing and accessing brand assets? #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) April 25, 2022

Tone and voice are core elements of any brand style guide. See below for resources from Maddy, Tod, and our consultancy to start defining your tone and voice.

3a) Start by defining voice and tone. @NNgroup defines tone across 4 dimensions: 1. Funny vs. serious 2. Formal vs. casual 3. Respectful vs. irreverent 4. Enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact

More on this: https://t.co/5AVPQklcPM #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

A3: @SFerika just updated her five-step process to find your brand voice in her @CMIContent article: https://t.co/3NEI6nxncr #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) April 25, 2022

I created a very simple “brand voice scale” that I go over with a new client when they don’t have a style guide. (Most of my new clients don’t). #ContentChat https://t.co/CJXSi8BGTB

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) April 25, 2022

Look at example style guides to see how other brands approach their style (but don’t copy their identity).

3b) It helps to create a style guide by starting with a template or example from another brand (I’ll share some examples a few questions from now!). This standard will help you understand what you’re working towards. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

Collect past brand content that exemplifies your ideal style. Use this content to begin writing your style guide.

3c) When first documenting style, look through past content to find patterns when it comes to headings, formatting, word choice, and so on. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

Meet with cross-department team members to discuss the brand’s key audiences and their priority topics.

A3: ✔️ Determine who the audience is ✔️ Decide what mood you want to portray ✔️ What the core colors are ~Julie #ContentChat

— Nimble (@Nimble) April 25, 2022

Brainstorming sessions about key words. RT @erikaheald: Q3: How can a brand get started with defining its style from a content marketing perspective? #ContentChat

— 🍀🌲🍀 Lisa Chau 🍀🌲🍀 (@lisaownet) April 25, 2022

A3: Look at their target audience and the publications that they follow. This can help in an established industry

But for a new product or service, best to look at analytics and test#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) April 25, 2022

Develop a messaging framework to communicate your brand’s unique selling proposition. Tod shares a video from our friend Pam Didner to explain more.

A3. Steps to create a brand style guide, define your:

1. Audience 2. Overall voice personality that fits the audience an who you are 3. Messaging framework 4. Visual identity (colors, logos, fonts) 5. Details like grammar style, words to use/not use, etc. #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) April 25, 2022

Tell me more about the messaging framework component… #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/PT6uIjRz3Q

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

A messaging framework is a structured way to communicate a brand’s unique selling proposition – how the brand talks about it’s products/services.

PR agencies often have a propietary framework. Here’s a good explanation from @PamDidner: https://t.co/Y2YcMo98ri #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) April 25, 2022

When defining your brand style, it may help to start with a simple “do use” and “do not use” list. List out ideal words and phrases, as well as words or phrases to avoid (with an alternate).

A simple “do not use” list is so effective, especially if you explain why a word or phrase conflicts with the brand identity. #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) April 25, 2022

Or is problematic legally. (I used to work in healthcare.) RT @alekirvin: @todcordill A simple “do not use” list is so effective, especially if you explain why a word or phrase conflicts with the brand identity. #ContentChat

— 🍀🌲🍀 Lisa Chau 🍀🌲🍀 (@lisaownet) April 25, 2022

I agree. I find the “do not use” list keeps me out of trouble and makes for less editing and faster approval. It is at least as helpful as a “words to use” list. #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) April 25, 2022

And a list of competitors to avoid linking to! #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

This is a good one. Definitely make a list of sources that don’t publish opinionated or poor quality or news/stats#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) April 25, 2022

Maddy’s team has a database of trusted sources to help writers complete research faster and easier identify approved sources.

We have a “Database of Trusted Sources” that helps @blgsmth complete research faster and also helps define who we do and don’t want to link to. For example, we avoid linking to content syndication sites because they’re not the original source. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

It contains all sorts of useful things: studies we reference often, people in our network to interview, facts that come up often, and so on. 🙂 #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

Defining rules and examples with your brand style can be challenging. As you edit content, grab examples and share a solution to give context to your rule.

4a) A challenge in defining brand style is coming up with tangible rules and examples. When you see them in the content you edit, grab the issue and share your solution to give context to the rule.

Here’s an example of a rule from The Blogsmith Style Guide. #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/YA9SI7asLo

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

A4Q: Thanks for sharing this. How do you make sure such recommendations are based on data? Not just the designer’s opinion.

I see this could be an issue with having to test wording of CTAs#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) April 25, 2022

Some of our style guide additions are based on client editor feedback (usually hearing things from multiple editors about the same issue). Some of it is common sense. But on @blgsmth‘s team, the opinions originate with writers/editors, not designers. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

A brand style guide can be as long as you need. But if it is too long or complicated for your team to use, it is not effective. Be conscious of where you go broad and where you are specific. Ask your team for feedback on areas you should expand or trim down.

4b) Another challenge in defining brand style is determining where to go broad and where to get specific. It becomes a long, unusable document if you don’t use some discretion. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

Internal stakeholders and leaders will often disagree about a brand’s ideal style. Use hard data to explain why your brand should position itself a certain way.

A4: Usually disagreement among leadership. #ContentChat

— Melissa Chiou (@melissaC_says) April 25, 2022

Any tips for working through? I like to remind stakeholders that it’s not about them — it’s about their audience (buyers) #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

Usually hard data – clients tend to understand numbers and charts surrounding market trends and competitor analysis. Look at your competitor and what they’re doing! That will light a 🔥 under them for sure.

— Melissa Chiou (@melissaC_says) April 25, 2022

A4: Have to bring it back to the company goal or mission to get over disagreements. #ContentChat

— Melissa Chiou (@melissaC_says) April 25, 2022

Relying on internal (or our own) opinions can be so detrimental. #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) April 25, 2022

Focus groups can also validate your strategy.

A4: I think the main issue would be conflicting ideas on how the brand style should be portrayed and making sure the audience views the brand the way it was intended. I think focus groups would be the best way to remedy both issues ~Julie #ContentChat

— Nimble (@Nimble) April 25, 2022

Julie, focus groups are a great idea.

Anybody running focus groups on Zoom?

While you’ll lose nuances, it seems like focus group meetings on Zoom could make them efficient, lower cost, and include people it wouldn’t otherwise be practical to reach. #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) April 25, 2022

Ensure everyone has a clear understanding of how they can support the process. Designate one “lead” who will get final approval on the style guide.

A4: Creating your brand style guide should be a collaborative process, but be careful of involving too many people at every stage. Clearly assign roles so everyone knows how they can help in the process. #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) April 25, 2022

Many freelance writers I know insist on having 1, maaaaybe 2 people involved in edits from the client-side. Any more will certainly be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

Shruti recaps a few other brand style guide hurdles:

A4. Hurdles when defining brand styles are; 👉Defining the ideal customer 👉Designing across platforms 👉Meeting client expectations 👉Ensuring the brand is relevant across TA 👉Consistency across colors, fonts, visuals etc.#ContentChat

— Shruti Deshpande (@shruti12d) April 25, 2022

Definitely important to consider the platform/medium. We have separate style guidelines for social media vs creating blogs, for example. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

Refine your style guide as you edit content. If you come across a style issue often, document it and turn it into a rule.

5a) If you find yourself consistently coming across an issue of style, document it to turn it into a rule. Learn from the editing process each time you do it so that it can be quicker, more efficient, and beneficial for everyone. #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/mcxN1DLrQX

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

Grammarly has a style guide feature that notifies your team of guide updates. Or, you can use Google Docs so your team is notified if you comment on new changes. Regardless of how you manage your guide, regularly discuss updates in your team communication channels.

5b) Use Grammarly’s style guide feature to share style guide updates with your team. Another option: store your style guide in Google Docs and share it with everyone on the team, so they get updates when you comment on new changes. #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/0Lw6O1Q0Gn

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

Mention style guide changes in your regular team meetings or communications, too. Discuss updates in your internal marketing email, on your Slack channels, during team all-hands meetings… #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) April 25, 2022

When editing content, call out style guide elements to reinforce why you are making an edit.

5c) If someone breaks a rule, mention which one — continually. In the editing process, anything that you change or stands out might need to be documented for the future. For example, proper punctuation (pm vs p.m.) or any client branding or tone finessing. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

Ensure everyone understands the importance of a consistent brand style.

A5: Make sure everybody is on the same page as far as the visuals and how rigid/consistent the style is supposed to be ~Julie #ContentChat

— Nimble (@Nimble) April 25, 2022

Check out these great style guide examples and resources:

6a) Besides The Blogsmith Style Guide, I have a few examples. Mailchimp’s is an ideal, well-rounded brand style guide, focusing on much more than content. It’s an incredible asset a brand can share with a vendor to get them up to speed. https://t.co/M9cEEF2qA7 #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/HyBP1c5vF2

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

6b) Atlassian’s style guide notably includes guidelines for inclusive language, making its recommendations useful across the various global enterprise teams that depend on the brand’s popular apps to do business. https://t.co/Ni3lbkmJbH #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/xqzD0aHB0x

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

6c) Google’s Developer Documentation Style Guide provides useful guidance for technical writing, answering topic-specific qs like this example. SaaS other companies using content to explain complex ideas can use it as a foundation. https://t.co/IV4vfQe3FC #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/PFpfXucHb1

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

A6: Here’s a good one from @HubSpot https://t.co/jYqP5jOsyR #ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) April 25, 2022

A6: I love how @Skyscanner explains its style on this page. It doesn’t include all the details you’d want as a content creator, but it does show how to convey certain details very well. https://t.co/CPLJ5NSlKD #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) April 25, 2022

@Mailchimp has a great brand #styleguide. I appreciate its TL;DR sections, and the navigation on the left makes it incredibly simple to find what you need. https://t.co/4NNgHeEz8Q #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) April 25, 2022

A6: Follow @CMIContent recommendations! They exist for a reason 🙂#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) April 25, 2022

And download our free brand content style guide template here:

A6b: Our team @ErikaHeald created this brand content #styleguide template for anyone to use. Just make a copy of the Google Doc: https://t.co/OJzTw17ZY1 #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) April 25, 2022

These are some common style issues:

7c) Guidelines we give new writers to avoid excessive edits: ✅ Assume your audience is a novice. Err on the side of over-explaining. ✅ Concise clear is better than fancy language. ✅ Break up long sentences limit paragraphs to 3 sentences. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

Passive voice when writing short form content

Waste of words, but waste of characters too#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) April 25, 2022

Active voice for the win! We have some examples in our style guide to help make it easier to find and erradicate passive voice. #ContentChat

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

If you’d like to learn more from Maddy, grab your copy of her book below!

7b) If you liked the topic of today’s #ContentChat, pre-order my book, “Writing for Humans and Robots: The New Rules of Content Style” available July 18, 2022: https://t.co/HWM3XIBXsT pic.twitter.com/EX2g3im739

— Maddy Osman (@MaddyOsman) April 25, 2022

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