Building a Content Strategy and Style Guide for Your Company

by Katie Joll

Have you ever had the worry that perhaps an outsourced content creator won’t “get it” when it comes to the voice and style of your business?

This is a common concern among businesses. You know you need to create quality content, but don’t have time to do so yourself. How can you ensure that an outsourced provider will do your brand justice?

Do you even have a clear picture of what that means?

Building your brand through content and attracting the right audience to your business is about knowing how to appeal to “your people,” then doing so with consistency. You need content that answers what your audience expects from you every single time, and represents your brand with authenticity.

How can this be achieved, even if you’re not creating it yourself? This is where having a style guide to serve as guidance for your content can help.

Get our simple template for a content style guide here

Why you need a content style guide

A content style guide is a document that provides a set of standards that define the branding of your company. These standards might include things like; tone, voice, imagery and word usage.

The key reason having a style guide is important is that it ensures that everyone on your team, both internally and externally, is on the same page when it comes to your content requirements. It would be a very odd look if you created content internally with an irreverent sort of tone, while your outsourced content was very formal!

A style guide allows you to make the key requirements for your content very clear, and provide a “source of truth” for everyone to work from. It’s also a very good prompt for your business; have you clearly defined what your brand stands for and who the customers are that you want to attract? This is essential to forming a cohesive strategy and “style” for your content.

What makes a content style guide effective?

A key factor in the success of a style guide is that it should be kept as a living document. Sometimes you find you need to make changes in your approach, so your style guide should be updated to reflect this. For example, many businesses began focusing on a certain customer type, then have either pivoted their service or discovered that they would be better suited to a different customer type.

With any content or marketing effort, it is important that this is clearly communicated with those responsible for writing or promoting your business. Successfully outsourcing your content means ensuring that not only have you chosen the right people to do it, but you’ve provided them with the resources they need to do a good job. Generally speaking, the more context a writer has (for example, your audience and goals for the content), the better they can craft words that really nail “your brand.”

This especially important from a branding perspective. If you don’t want to sound just like every other blog in your niche, then make sure your content creators have enough clarity around what makes your business unique. It is definitely worthwhile spending a little time on this early on, to ensure that your content begins on the right footing.

How to create a content style guide

First of all, don’t be concerned that your style guide needs to be a weighty tome – you can usually communicate what is needed within just a couple of pages. This also doesn’t have to be something you do solo – you can involve your team in putting it together if they are familiar enough with your needs.

Secondly, your style guide should always begin with your target audience in mind – how are you going to appeal to them?

There is no standard set of “rules” for what your style guide should contain – the key is to communicate your brand requirements as clearly as possible. Here are a few areas which your guide might cover:

Your audience

Make it clear who it is that you’re aiming to talk to. Include the demographics of your audience, their interests and problems, and any other information that will help the content creator to understand them well.

If you have more than one audience and have created personas for them, it’s a good idea to include those personas (or a link to them) in your style guide. This would make it easier to point the writer to a particular persona for an individual piece.

Writing style

This includes aspects such as whether you prefer APA formatting or use of the Oxford comma. You might include here whether you like to use emojis or any other non-standard kind of formatting.

You could also indicate how you prefer your content to be laid out as a whole. For example, you might have a preferred format for bullet points, or you might like quotes to be pulled into text boxes.

If you’re outsourcing your content and you’re not sure about these things, chances are that whoever you outsource to uses some kind of default formatting to create a consistent experience. Ask them what their process is – you may be happy to go along with it without adding this section to your guide.

Tone and voice

Tone and voice are crucial in every aspect of your content. They’re what help to identify your brand with an audience and set up their expectations of your company. Try to give descriptions and examples for your chosen tone and voice, possibly even including “right way” and “wrong way” examples. It always helps if you can link to an article which is written the way you’d like to have for your brand, or provide samples of your own writing.

Make it clear what sort of language you’d use, and any words you prefer to stay away from. For example, some brands have been built around irreverence and the use of cuss words, while others have a playful tone but keep the language clean.

Competitor information

It is always a good idea to communicate with your content provider about who your competitors are. Don’t assume it will be obvious to them – sometimes it really isn’t! This information should be made clear so that writers know to stay away from linking to any of their content. It’s also a good way to get them focusing on what will distinguish you from competitors.

References

The internet is great because you can find almost anything through searching, but unfortunately, there are many links that pop up which are unreliable. If having peer-reviewed research or quality references is important for your brand, then it might be a good idea to be specific about that in your style guide.

For example, perhaps there are certain sites you already know of that you never want referenced in your content. At the same time, maybe there are points of view that you disagree with and don’t want to see included. Virtually every niche will have an example of polarizing ideas, so be clear with the writer on what your stance is.

Images and visual aspects

Depending on what is included with your outsourced content, you may have a need to give instructions about imagery for your brand. This is something that is also good to have in your style guide so that your internal team is up-to-speed as well.

Here are some aspects that you might include:

  • Image style for blog posts. For example, do you use formal-looking stock images, or is imagery one way in which you convey humor? Do you like GIFs or memes?
  • Fonts for headers and paragraphs.
  • Your brand color palette.
  • Any versions of your logo that are in use and where they are to be used.

Example style guides

We have created a simple template which you can use to create your own style guide, but here are a few from brands that are available for you to browse online:

Some of these guides are very comprehensive, but you will get the idea for how to communicate the basis of your brand.

Download our simple content style guide template here

Final thoughts

It’s a big step for many business owners to entrust their content creation to another party, but you can set that relationship up for success by clearly communicating your needs and expectations from content.

A style guide can provide a single “source of truth” that unifies all of your content and other marketing efforts, and can be used by anyone who has responsibilities in those areas, both internally and externally.

Importantly, the very act of creating a style guide can be a good catalyst to get your branding tightened up. It’s a great way to avoid “me too” branding and to build a voice that stands out from the pack.