How to Develop a Brand Style Guide

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Clear, consistent communication helps build trust between brands and customers. If a brand doesn’t seriously embrace a hard-lined style guide, it can come across as sloppy or unprofessional. Get your message across by establishing a defined, concise brand style guide and disperse it throughout the company to maintain compelling copy. Teach everyone from junior marketers to senior executives to follow the same rules, and your brand’s voice will be recognizable in all company communications.

FortyFour has a standard approach for developing brand style guides. Our rules include:

Pick a base style

It’s an unnecessary headache and time-suck to create a brand style guide from scratch, so lay a foundation with a pre-existing, somewhat common style. No one style is superior to the rest, just make sure you’re consistent. If you go with Chicago Manual Style, that means serial commas are standard. If you go Associated Press Style (which is industry standard in journalism), they are not. This ensures all content under the brand umbrella, including promotional materials as well as external and internal communication, is consistent.

Make a rule about numerals

Though this is covered in the most common style guides, it’s important to double down on the concept in your brand’s specific style guide. We recommend spelling numbers under 10 and using numerical representations for anything over, unless it’s to describe a measurement or s person’s age. Your brand style guide may decide something different, which is fine. Like everything else in this manual, just make sure whatever is ruled remains consistent.

Include business-specific terminology

Ask a variety of brand employees for jargon and terms they regularly encounter. Include popular words and phrases as singular entries. For example, a life settlements firm may frequently use the phrase “viatical settlement,” that doesn’t mean everyone on staff understands its meaning in company literature and copy materials (by the way, for this client it means being diagnosed with a chronic disease and selling a your life insurance policy for an immediate lump sum that’s a fraction of its full value). Don’t assume those regularly using these words and phrases know the proper spelling or usage. Sometimes people will be expected to write outside their immediate expertise and if nothing else, it’s good to develop a Bible to encapsulate the rule.

Consider capitalization

Decide what merits a proper noun and therefore, the associated title-case capitalization. For instance, a restaurant may brand signature menu items like “Jason’s Creamy Dreamy Macaroni and Cheese” but not more generic dishes, like “side salad.” This may be done on a case-by-case basis (and if so, input into the guide as a singular entry) or by categories (ex., all department names, job titles, signature menu items, etc.).

Use font styles sparingly

Too many italics on a webpage can look like an excerpt from Fifty Shades of Grey — ironically, that name may be italicized as it’s a book title. People don’t generally like being yelled at, so fewer bold and underlined words are also preferable. Select a small number of special cases — like artistic styles or non-English words — to warrant such font styles and stick with only those instances.

Be brief

Although it’s good to be exhaustive, keep in mind style guide literature isn’t everyone’s idea of leisure reading. The tighter the specific guidelines, the more likely everyone is to read, internalize, and use them. If folks are always mixing up whether it’s “nonprofit” or “not-for-profit” that’s hyphenated, make sure to include an entry on that. If The Happiness Committee is a department, but it never comes up in written materials, excise it from the guide. That’s part of why the base style is so important. It allows your brand’s style guide to be that much more specific.

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