Content Guidelines: Why Your Brand Needs a Style Guide


Content Guidelines: Why Your Brand Needs a Style Guide

Looking to scale your content production? Then you'll need guidelines to keep your content consistently on-brand. Learn how to create a style guide here.

Why You Need a Brand Style Guide

Do you use a brand style guide for your written content? If so, good for you. If not, I hope by the time you finish watching you’re convinced to consider it.

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What’s a Brand Style Guide?
A style guide is not a list of rules; it’s more like a list of preferences of the creators of the guide. It will include suggestions for punctuation, words to use and not use, capitalization, and much more.

Its main purpose is to keep your writing consistent across all pieces of content. Your website, physical collateral such as brochures and booklets, apps, and advertising should conform to your brand style guide.

Most corporations use AP (Associated Press) style, though it was created for journalists. It’s also widely used in content for the web and marketing and communications.

Especially if you have multiple contributors for the content you produce and publish, a brand style guide can help standardize your language and guard against bias, whether intended or not.

You need a brand style guide for the same reason you need guidelines for how your visual assets are used. Here’s a section from Instagram’s extensive guide to the use of their brand assets, such as the logo and icon.
brand style guide

Their goal is a consistent appearance for their brand, no matter where it appears.

A writing style guide operates in much the same way. If you capitalize a word in one paragraph and not another, your content will be inconsistent and less than professional.

The web is a competitive place; there is always someone else waiting to take your customers and prospects if you falter. Professionally-written content gives you an advantage over your competition and helps add credibility to your articles. You won’t build thought leadership without well-written, consistently-styled content.
How Do You Use a Style Guide?
Nine Common Questions that a Style Guide Will Answer

There are many more questions, but these nine are the ones I’ve looked up most frequently and have the most questions about.

Which Style Guide to Use

There are numerous style guides for different writing purposes. The Chicago Manual of Style is used primarily in the book publishing industry. In academia, you’ll find Modern Language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association stylebooks. In the news and journalism world, the AP Stylebook (Associated Press) is most used. The AP Stylebook was originally created for newspapers, where space has traditionally been scarce, so it leans toward saving characters wherever possible.

Because it’s used by journalists, AP is the most current. It’s updated every year, so if you need guidance regarding technology or world events, it’s an excellent resource.

Although writing for the web does not necessitate space-saving measures, web copy should be brief and to the point, with short sentences and bullet lists preferred over paragraphs. For this reason, when a style guide is used, much of the web follows AP style.
Create Your Own Brand Style Guide

No matter which style guide you use, there will be areas in which you may differ with their choices.

For example, on this site, I follow AP style with a couple of exceptions. I use italics for titles of books, magazines, and works of art, whereas AP does not use italics at all.

I also firmly embrace the Oxford Comma; that is the comma after the and in a series. For example: I had bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast.

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Why You Need a Brand Style Guide – NerdBrand Podcast Ep98

Watch as we break the different parts of a typical style guide down and discuss their importance. As well as why each you should strongly consider adding and have for your brand.

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Creating A Style Guide From Scratch (Real Example)

Learn how to create a style guide to ensure consistency in how the brand looks.

Go beyond delivering just logo files—create comprehensive brand guidelines.

Creating A Style Guide in 5 Steps:
2:50 — #1 Choose Your Medium
4:01 — #2 Make An Outline
6:14 — #3 Flesh Out The Content
8:09 — #4 Include Example Applications
9:27 — #5 Provide Brand Assets

In this video, I show you how to put together your brand style guide in just 5 easy steps.

By the end of this video, you’ll get an overview of how I create style guides for my clients.

Learn more:

Also, check out my other blog posts to find more about how I work with clients.

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This one time (at band camp?), a logo I designed was butchered. But that experience led to an epiphany: I didn’t set my client up for success. I didn’t give him the information he needed to make visual decisions for his brand in the future. I just sent him the logo files in a zip folder and said, “Thanks!” And that was it.

What I learned is that whenever we hand work over to our clients, we need to give them an instruction manual. This is especially important for branding projects. But the same thing applies to anything we make for other people.

So think back onto your last projects. Did you set your clients up for success? If you work in-house, is your team all speaking the same visual language? If you own a brand, are you being clear with your vendors?

It’s something worth thinking about, especially if you’ve ever been in a situation like mine. Seeing your work out in the wild is a nightmare if the work is twisted and ruined.

Information is everywhere now, and sometimes we just need to know what to look for. There’s one thing that can solve a ton of these awkward situations… and in branding, it’s called a Style Guide. Style Guides serve as the instruction manual for the brand. It outlines the rules that designers have to follow when they’re working with the brand. And while the concept sounds restrictive, sometimes it’s nice to have clear boundaries. To have a neat sandbox to play in.

Some other terms that mean the same thing are Style Guidelines, Brand Guidelines, Brand Bible, Brand Manual, or simply Style Manual.

At a minimum, I would expect a Brand Style Guide to include:

1. An outline of all the logo and visual assets available
2. Guidance on when to use each version
3. Color and typography usage
4. Spacing and layout guidelines
5. Strong “DO NOTs” – things like squishing, stretching, and butchering the logo

This stuff feels self-explanatory… but what if your “self” wasn’t a designer? If I gave you a box of amazing ingredients like white truffles, wagyu steaks, and fresh uni… would you know what to do with them? Without a recipe, most of us would make Gordon Ramsay cry.

So set your work for success. Send off your designs with a style guide that follows that basic format. Clients will be clients, yes. Things will happen. But you’ll be able to prevent 90% of the mishaps we encounter in branding execution.

But style guides can go a lot deeper than that. For those of you who work in branding, you know this. They can be quite extensive. When I used to work with DreamWorks, we’d get style guides delivered to us in VOLUMES – literally several huge printed books for one movie.

Now, that’s probably overkill. But it’s going to benefit you and the brands that you work on in the long run to have a detailed Style Guide.

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