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Content Style Guide

Your company has a content style guide, right?

If the answer is no(or yes), then you’ll want to keep reading.

When it comes to marketing related content, consistency is absolutely key. Content is finally becoming more widely adopted from small businesses up to large brands, and they’re creating it at an ever increasing rate. We love this recent acceptance of content as a legit marketing strategy, but with the surge in content comes a lot of inconsistencies, lack of communication and lack of direction and clarity.

Whether you have an in-house content team or you’ve hired a digital agency, guidelines have to be set for a cohesive and successful campaign. A style guide is a group of content rules that will direct your content team into creating consistent content with the same style and voice.

A good content style guide should result in:

  • A consistent tone, voice, and message
  • Content that speaks your audience’s language
  • Creating a consistent and recognized brand identity
  • More scalable and effective content
  • Speed up the QA and editing time

Unlike the handbook you wrote in your freshman English paper, you have to put real thought and effort into your style guide. At the minimum you’ll need to dig into your audience personas, voice, tone, and company values.

What Should Be In a Style Guide?

There are countless ways to create a content style guide. We like to create content style guides that include messaging do’s and don’ts, voice, tone, audience personas, and visual concepts. Since a lot of our content is visually driven, it’s important for us to include design related elements such as font lockups, colors palettes, and photo treatments.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into each section…

Content Style Elements

We’ve created a set of simple, effective, and easy to follow set of style rules that quickly help us define the basic makeup of a style guide.

Style elements can serve as a quick snapshot for anyone who will be involved in the content creation process, and it helps form the messaging guide which we’ll go over next.

Example of Content Style Elements:

Speaking Elements

First Person Plural Second Person
First Person Singular Third Person

Tone

Informal Journalistic Copywriting Formal

Voice

Authoritative Descriptive Instructional Personal Professional
Casual Informal Light Persuasive Sincere
Creative Inspirational Neutral Playful Witty

Messaging Guide

The messaging guide is almost like an extension of your company’s values. Who you are, what you stand for, and what you are against. We call these messaging do’s and messaging don’ts.

Here’s an example from a recent client in the health and fitness space:

A Lifestyle Company

This particular client’s focus is on the value of health and wellness in an individual’s life. Rather than focus on losing weight, getting fit and achieving a cultural aesthetic, they promote a lifestyle that is well-balanced and active.

[Client name] Would

[Client name] Would Not

Inspire a lifestyle of health and wellness Seek to cut corners and pursue quick fixes in health
Help individuals understand proper nutrition that is well balanced Ignore individuals’ bio-individuality and promote one form nutrition
Educate and inspire through empathy Shame and guilt to motivate
Seek to not only provide individuals with education, but also inspiration Provide individuals with confusing information that lacks context

Sample Personas

So now we have a great set of style and messaging rules we can live by. That’s all great, but it’s a potential waste if we’re targeting the wrong audience!

Including personas in your content style guide is a great way to help your writers and content team visualize who your potential audience is and create content that actually speaks to someone instead of at them. The personas should represent a generalized description of target individuals who share the same interests, goals, behavior, age range, etc.

Are you targeting multiple audiences? It’s perfectly fine to include multiple personas in your style guide, we recommend a minimum of 2-3.

Take a look at a sample persona below:

Persona Development

John

  • Gender: Male
  • Occupation: Marketer
  • Age: 25-35
  • Marital Status: Married

Description
John is a young father looking to get back into shape. Because of John’s pursuits in his career and starting a family, John’s fitness habits have lacked over the last few years. John is primarily interested in becoming a more fit individual. While John understands the importance of overall health, John is primarily interested in maintaining his youth. John has an understanding of fitness due to his participation in sports growing up, however without key instruction, John is lost in a gym environment.

Online Behavior
CNN, Hubspot, ESPN, SB Nation

Trends and Media Outlets
Amazon.com, Nordstrom, Best Buy

If you’re having trouble developing personas, buffer has a great guide to get you pointed in the right direction.

Colors & Font Treatments

In our eyes, almost everything we touch and consume online is some form of content. Blog posts, banner ads, videos, call-to-action widgets, and email campaigns,just to name a few, are all different forms of content.

Just as it’s important to have consistency in your writing, it’s equally important to have consistency in the design of your content and supporting content elements.

Colors and Font TreatmentsColor and font treatment rules we always include:

  • Primary colors
  • Secondary colors
  • H1 – H5 font, weight, style, capitalization, colors
  • Body font, weight, style, colors
  • Bulleted & un-bulleted list styles
  • Blockquote styles

Button & Call To Action(CTA) Styles

Each piece of content you’re creating should be driven by some sort of actionable goal, whether that’s signing up for a newsletter, requesting a quote, etc. You might have multiple goals you want to achieve with content marketing, but this is the place to visualize your main ones. What does your email newsletter CTA’s look like?

Make sure your CTA styles and messaging is inline with what your content is selling or offering.

Photo Treatments

Content Mood BoardRemember when we said consistency is key? That’s especially true here. Because no one has ever said “wow, that block of text looks beautiful!

If you want to step up and go beyond basic content marketing that most businesses and brands sadly seem to be doing, all of your content and assets should visually be the same. If you’re running a full funnel campaign that includes paid ads, social media posts, email blasts, etc, then it’s easy to see how important it is to have visual consistency.

By creating photo treatments in advanced, you’re not only creating a uniform brand feeling but you’re also greatly cutting down asset production time.

Now What?

Before you finish, don’t forget to add a little creativity to your style guide. Style guides can become a little dry when in plain format. We recommend having a designer create a branded style guide deck that you can easily send out. Or download our template to get started now.

After your style guide is finalized, it’s vital that you promote and enforce the guide internally as well as to any outside team members. This is a resource, and it’s only effective if your team uses it.

And finally, remember that your content style guide is a living and breathing document. An effective style guide will sometimes change over time. Be sure to add new content as needed and incorporate any feedback you get to make the guide even more effective. Your company will continue to adjust and change with growth and your style guide should always reflect that.


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