Let’s go back a few years. Remember that music video from South Korean pop star PSY? Allow me to refresh your memory:
Yes, that song will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.
Originally meant to be a parody of those who claim to be “Gangnam style” from the Seoul province, PSY’s hit song quickly made a name for itself in the history books – it is now the second-most watched video of all time on YouTube and was the first ever video to hit 1 billion views. It currently stands at 2.9 billion views (plus a few more from yours truly in the past 30 minutes).
There’s just something about this song. Besides it’s infectious beat and humorous dance moves, its popularity also comes from its style.
Sure, while having a certain style most likely won’t get your brand in front of billions of people, there are some lessons to learn from “Gangnam Style.”
It’s important that your content has its own style – that is to say that you need to create and have a style guide.
Prospects want to have an experience with your brand. With a style guide, you ensure that your entire marketing team is on the same page and your messaging is consistent so you can provide that much sought-after engaging experience with users.
If you don’t have a style guide already, what are you waiting for?
The importance of style
Before we dive into how to create a style guide, it’s vital to know first why having a style guide is crucial for brands.
A style guide is a set of guidelines and rules for your creative team on how your business should be represented in its content. Having a guide is so important for brands in today’s marketing landscape because it allows you to get every member of your team on the same page. Each person has their own writing or design style (and their exceptional and unique skills are probably why you hired them in the first place), but there needs to be a unified message from your company across all touchpoints.
“Consistency is key for brands,” said Brafton Vice President of Content Francis Ma. “Every piece of content you make needs to have the same messaging, tone and approach. This is why marketers need a style guide.”
Every piece of content you make needs to have the same messaging, tone and approach. This is why marketers need a style guide.
Design and User Experience Director Ken Boostrom agreed.
“A style guide create consistency for the business,” he said. “Considering brands are a long-term value, consistency over time pays large dividends.”
This consistency is what makes your company recognizable. As part of the experience that prospects are looking for, your brand becomes familiar – and friendly – to users. Whether through messaging, tone or design elements, you want visitors to know when they’re communicating with you on any and all channels. The set rules and guidelines you’ve established make this possible.
What kind of risks can you expect to run into without a style guide?
“If a company doesn’t have a style guide, it still has a style,” Ken said. “But that style is one of mixed communications and a lack of proper identification. This leads to a loss of revenue.”
Another issue is how people perceive your brand, and with a message and tone that is all over the place, Francis explained this perception could be a negative one.
“For example, your tone can differ from overly authoritative or overly casual,” he said. “If tones are too different, prospects will dismiss your content.”
Creating style with substance
To create a style guide, just like with many other aspects of your marketing strategy, you’ve got to start with your audience.
1. Start with your audience
Find out which voice resonates with them the most. Also think about design elements – what catches their eye? What are some past visuals you’ve used that received a lot of traction? Nailing down what your target audience prefers lays a strong foundation for a successful style guide.
The key, as Francis pointed out, is to reduce confusion.
“It can be deciding on whether to use contractions, speak directly to the reader in second person or which visual aspects to focus on, but you’ve got to maintain consistency,” he explained. “If there’s no consistency, in a weird and subtle way, it creates disconnect between you and your audience, and any kind of confusion is negative for your brand.”
2. Review existing marketing materials
Once you’ve got a clear picture of those details, Ken recommended gathering all of your existing marketing materials and reviewing them. Logos, presentations, white papers, blogs, case studies, infographics, color schemes – all these things should be looked at in order to establish a style guide.
If there’s no consistency, in a weird and subtle way, it creates disconnect between you and your audience, and any kind of confusion is negative for your brand.
3. Consider visual and editorial aspects
Next, think about what your guide should cover. On the visual side, Ken suggested including variations of your logo, primary and secondary colors, brochure and sales sheet templates, and typefaces and fonts. Create guidelines on when certain elements should be used – for example, is there a specific typography that should only be used in certain content? Then write it down and make it a style guide requirement.
For editorial, Francis said topics to avoid or focus on are ideal to include, as well as who your personas are and what they want to see. Are there any taglines or certain phrases you want to have in your content? Put it in the guide. Are you following AP or Chicago Manual style? Make it clear so that anyone you add to your marketing team knows which rules to follow for consistency.
Don’t let your guide go out of style
Once you’ve got your style guide locked down, your work isn’t done. If you want to ensure you continue to produce quality marketing content, you need to periodically review – and perhaps revise – your guide.
“Once a year is a good timeframe at the very least,” Francis said. “Once a quarter is better, but not always possible. You don’t want to completely overhaul your style guide here, but you want to look at it and make sure it still anchors your brand and resonates with your audience.”
As for design concepts, Ken recommended redesigning a logo every decade. Having the same logo for many years can make a brand looked dated and out of touch, so revisiting this crucial visual item can go a long way in connecting with prospects.
Your style says a lot about you. Make it say the most by creating a comprehensive and engaging message for your target audience.