Every company is in the business of communication, and now that our society is well into the digital age, and businesses deliver their messages across multiple forms of media, it behooves them to do so with high professional standards. Two significant factors are brand identity and content quality, which are discussed in this post.
The importance of brand identity is nothing new. Companies that market products have long been aware that having a consistent presentation strengthens consumer association with those products. Just as a company’s line of tangible products, whether automobile or cleaning products, is consistent in terms of specifications such as appearance and labeling, so, too, should the presentation of various forms of media from a business be. Websites, YouTube channels, online and real-world slide shows, and all other forms of familiarizing current and prospective customers and clients with products and services, should present a consistent look in terms of logos, typefaces, color schemes, and so on.
Many businesses, especially large, complex corporations, employ a style guide as a resource that enables employees to produce marketing materials and other information that supports brand identity. This guide is similar to (and generally incorporates) the traditional editorial style guide, which will be described below, but it includes more than that.
An effective style guide includes a brand-identity section. Here, employees (and contractors who provide support services such as graphic design and copywriting) will find practical and technical information about logos and trademarks, fonts and other design specifications, and brand and product names. This resource includes everything from the appropriate size for logos (whether in English or metric units or in pixels) to the exact wording of names of products and services.
This information detail specifications about various types of content: the company website, internal and external blogs, videos and slide shows, commercials (television, radio, and online), print advertising (not just in publications, but also on billboards and at mass-transit facilities and stops and on mass-transit vehicles), and so on. Also included should be specifications about conference and convention materials, including the look and feel of booths and their components (banners, panels, tabletop or countertop marketing collateral, and so on), and any other forms of presentation
The level of detail should extend to how one invites recipients of an email message to reply. Sample guide text might read, “Always include the following text in an email message: ‘For more information, contact John Smith at [email protected], or call him at 123.456.7890.’ Always include one’s name as well as one’s email address in the sentence, write the email address in all lowercase letters, and set the parts of the phone number off with periods, not parentheses and hyphens.”
The style guide will also include a discussion of voice and tone. Here, the company dictates how employees should express themselves—what degree of formality or informality is appropriate when communicating in any media. Does the company wish to convey a traditional gravitas, or a hip, conversational sensibility? Should written (or spoken) advertising content be straightforward, or is a lighter approach, perhaps one that allows for sarcasm or self-deprecation, appropriate? The style guide should make it clear how employees should communicate to customers or clients.
Terminology is also an important part of the company’s style guide. Besides trademarks, brand names, and taglines, what is the vocabulary of the business? What is the jargon? Words and phrases (and acronyms and initialisms) likely to be employed in marketing efforts should be listed and defined. Those in the company who offer or exchange information, whether on the phone or in email messages, or whether in print advertising or on the home page of the company’s website, should know how they are expected to do so to most effectively reach their audience.
Finally, the section should contain an editorial style guide that provides guidance on grammar, usage, and style. The branding and terminology sections will inform employees and contractors about capitalization of branding terms and industry-specific vocabulary, but the style guide will serve to remind people about whether text should include serial commas, inform them of the few exceptions when prefixes are hyphenated, admonish them to avoid scare quotes and clichés, and so on.
In addition, the style guide should emphasize the importance of meticulous attention to quality of content. In my experience, websites and other media produced by large corporations often are often superior in this respect to books and journalistic content in general, which is as it should be: In commerce, as in publishing, high content standards are integral in maintaining an authoritative reputation.
You don’t have to be a corporate marketing director or communications manager to appreciate the importance of compiling and employing a style guide that details brand identity and champions content quality. People who operate a home business, and even bloggers and vloggers (video bloggers) can at a scaled-down level benefit from having such a resource at hand to encourage them to maintain consistency in the presentation of materials they offer to consumers and followers.