If you’re serious about developing and maintaining your business’s brand, you need a marketing style guide.
A style guide is a document that outlines rules, restrictions and instructions for how an organization will communicate. This document is designed to be referenced when creating any communication piece; including both external marketing and internal communications, web and print designs, and written and visual materials. It can be a simple, one-page Word document or a hefty, slickly-designed 50-page PDF. What matters most is that it contains useful, relevant information that will help you maintain a consistent brand identity.
I know creating a style guide can seem intimidating — that’s a big reason why not having one is a mistake small business owners often make. To help you get started building this document for your brand, I’m sharing our own small business style guide worksheet. This worksheet is meant to serve as a starting point for organizations who have never created a marketing style guide before, but who want to have a living document they can reference to ensure their communication pieces always fit their brand.
Learn more about how to complete each section of the worksheet below.
1. Who is your target audience?
Having a clear understanding of who your target audience is may be the most important part of your style guide. In order to communicate your brand’s message effectively, you need to tailor your language to best speak to your ideal buyer.
Your target audience is defined by two distinct data sets: demographics (age, gender and income) and psychographics (attitudes, motivation and stressors).
For example, perhaps an executive coaching company markets to small business CEOs in Chicago who know they need help taking their business to the next level but don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of or tap for advice. This company’s clients are most often men between 45-60 years old who live in the Chicagoland area earning $120,000. They’re stressed out because they feel the truth that it’s “lonely at the top,” but are excited by the prospect of finding a venue to help them become better leaders.
Having this background information makes answering the question, “Will our marketing resonate with our audience?” easier to answer. It also provides a starting point for further research about your audience, like learning what websites this type of person visits, what media they engage with most and what types of messaging most appeals to them.
2. What is your brand’s personality?
If your brand were a person, how would you describe its personality? Is it personable and helpful, yet experienced and technical? Serious and cutting edge, but still accessible.
Your brand’s personality will influence the tone and voice of your marketing. Be sure to use a voice that matches your organization’s actual culture and personality to avoid setting incorrect expectations or falling flat when interacting with leads. If your organization’s culture is straight-laced, serious and professional — but your marketing has a friendly, humorous voice — then your leads will be scratching their heads when they end up interacting with a member of the team.
Being confident in your organization’s personality and really owning it will be easier, smoother and more authentic than trying to become something it’s not (hey, that sounds like some good personal advice, too!).
3. Brand personality spectrum
If you’re struggling to determine your brand’s personality, use the personality spectrum chart (originally from the Content Marketing Institute) in the worksheet to help you begin thinking about what personality traits your brand has. For each of the six categories — tone, technical, energy, established, accessibility and serious — consider which personality option better describes your brand.
The point of this exercise is to get you to start thinking about your brand’s traits in terms of common brand personality attributes — not to box you into one of two extremes. It’s okay if you don’t feel like either option in each category perfectly describes your organization; in that scenario, determine which side of the spectrum you lean toward more, and check the box in the appropriate spot.
4. Language to incorporate
What words or phrases do you want to frequently incorporate into your marketing?
Consider how you and your team talk about your brand and your product — what language do you use? Also consider the language clients and leads use during conversation with you, in discussion on the web and with search engines.
In addition to using terminology that mirrors real conversations about your product, service or industry, consider what ideas you want to perpetuate. For example, you may decide you want to focus on discussing the benefits of your product rather than the tools used to achieve them. Instead of marketing the technical details of your product, a “marketing automation tool,” you might instead describe how you can help clients “have better conversations with leads.”
5. Language to avoid
On the flip side of documenting the words or phrases you want to incorporate, you need to also consider the language you want to steer clear of.
Words or phrases that clash with your brand’s personality, industry jargon and clichéd or outdated terminology are a few common examples of types of language you’ll want to consider avoiding.
At Simple Machines, we prefer to avoid vague, overly whimsical or “business” speak, like “deep dive,” “inbound movement,” or “marketing and sales synergy.” We find these phrases to be overused and mostly meaningless, and using them would clash with our brand and core values.
Once you’ve completed the worksheet, be sure to share it with anyone who will be responsible for developing marketing communication. Remember to double check that all materials being produced by your company comply with the standards in the document before being published.
Don’t forget that this is a living document: as your brand develops, you may need to make updates to the guide to ensure you’re consistently on-brand in your communication. It may help to schedule an annual review of the guide to make sure everything is still accurate and representative of your brand.