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How to Create a Brand Communications Style Guide

How to Create a Brand Communications Style Guide
Leonie Seysan

Leonie Seysan

Leonie is a communications professional. After a diversionary decade working in investigations, Leonie returned to writing and in 2009, established content agency Article Writers Australia.
Leonie Seysan

It is time to create a brand communications style guide for your company? When you want to create a strong brand identity, build trust with your customers and make sure your brand is instantly recognisable, consistency is the key.

This is easy enough to achieve if you’re a one-person operation, but when you have multiple individuals or design and content agencies working on projects for your company,  a brand communications style guide can become essential. A style guide lays out a clear framework for your communications, from the layout and font to the style and tone of the language used.

A style guide can help you maintain a sense of consistency in your visual and written communications. A clear set of guidelines also makes it much easier for your writers and designers to do their job properly, resulting in better quality content, more recognisable brand values and a uniform message across different platforms.

7 things every brand communications style guide needs

The idea behind a style guide is that it is as concise as possible – the easier it is to use, the more likely your team will refer to it rather than guesstimate what to do.

While the details will vary depending on your brand, your style guide should include the following seven things as a minimum:

  1. Introduction: Always start with a clear introduction explaining the purpose of your style guide. Have headings for each section and include a contents page so people can find things quickly.
  2. Basic overview of writing guidelines: It might sound like a no-brainer but you’ll need to specify the basics like whether you’re using American or English spelling, the level of formality required and where you stand on using slang when addressing your customers. Where possible, include examples of the kind of language you want for your brand.
  3. Your brand message, values and promise: To create clear, relevant communication on behalf of your brand, your team will need to understand your brand’s values, message, point of difference and overall positioning in your market. This includes your brand promise – what you are giving your clients or customers. Your brand promise should be upheld in all areas of your communication to establish trust.
  4. Brand personality: To engage your customers your brand needs to have a personality. This doesn’t mean cracking jokes every couple of sentences – many brand personalities are serious and matter of fact. Other brands are light-hearted or irreverent. Whatever your brand personality, it needs to be consistent or you will confuse your customers and clients. Make it clear in your communications style guide, and include examples. Brand voice terms
  5. Dos and don’ts: Do you have words you just hate? Do you want to banish industry jargon from your communications? A handy list of dos and don’ts can be helpful for writers and can also help you avoid legal issues.
  6. Formatting guidelines: Consistent formatting is essential for your overall brand image so you’ll need to include some guidelines detailing your preferences for lists, quotes and bullet points. Think about capitalisations, italics and underlines – they might seem like minor details but they make a surprising difference to your overall brand image.
  7. Visual guidelinesVisual identity is just as important as the written word.  Include detailed information about how to display your communication materials, whether it’s print brochureswebsite content or social media posts. Think about your brand colours, how your logo is to be used, the fonts you use in your communications and the types of images you want your team to use when creating content.

Considerations for different business types

Different business types may have special factors to consider when creating a communications brand a style guide. Here are a few suggestions that might help you ensure you create a guide that works for your organisation.

Small business: Many small businesses focus on personal, friendly communication with customers and can often get away with less formality than bigger organisations. Consistency is important to create a strong brand identity and your style guide should focus on the tone of voice and visual presentation. Here’s an example of a small business style guide from Derivan, which has a strong focus on visual presentation.

Corporate:  Your brand is probably already well established but you’ll need to stay consistent to maintain it and ensure you stay on message. If you have a large team working on your communications, accessibility is crucial for your style guide. Check out this corporate style guide from Mailchimp for some inspiration.

Tertiary Institution: If you’re creating communications style guide for an educational institution you’ll need to ensure you’re on message when you’re communicating with different audiences. The way you approach potential students will probably be different from the style you use to communicate with other institutions. Your style guide should instructions on using the appropriate tone of voice for different situations. Here’s an example of a tertiary institution style guide from Western Sydney University.

Government: As a government organisation, you will no doubt have to abide by certain guidelines in how you communicate to ensure you’re as inclusive as possible. Your content producers will probably also have processes they need to follow, which should be made clear in the style guide. Take a look at this style guide from the UK Government to see what we mean.

Not-for-Profit: As a not-for-profit, you often have to manage communications with a number of different stakeholders. Your style guide should cover the different types of people you communicate with to ensure you’re presenting a consistent image that’s in line with your organisational priorities. Here’s an example of charity Lifeline’s style guide.

How to go about creating your brand style guide

Brand style guide bookSome organisations create a simple document and circulate it to their team, but there are alternatives that can make your brand communications style guide more accessible for everyone.

Platforms like Frontify allow you to create a fully formatted, searchable and great looking style guide quickly and easily. With an online style guide you can give anyone access to the URL, and they’ll have all the information they need at their fingertips.

The right platform for you will depend on your organisation’s size, needs and how many people are working in your team.

Whatever the size of your business, a comprehensive brand communications style guide can help your brand create a consistent image across all channels, and build a strong identity.