How to Make a Style Guide in 13 Simple Steps

how to make a style guide

If you make a style guide, then you can build a consistent brand image that earns you trust from your target audience. A good style guide will guide all the departments at your brand as well as any contractors through what kind of content to produce and how to produce it.

consistent brand image

Ultimately, with a style guide, you can build a cohesive and recognizable brand. This helps keep you top of mind among your consumers. If you’re a freelance content creator, you can also help your clients develop style guides that help them stand out.

What is a style guide?

A style guide is a set of rules and guidelines for the visual presentation of your brand identity. A good style guide contains the following standards:

  • Editorial standards
  • Formatting standards
  • Design standards

Why do you need a style guide?

A style guide organizes the way your content presents your brand. It is designed to help you generate one unique but cohesive brand image. Developing a style guide is good news for your brand, because:

  • Different content creators can develop their content in a clear and cohesive way that accurately represents your brand personality.
  • A consistent brand image helps you stand out from the competition with your own unique identity.
  • A consistent identity also creates a unique and positive customer experience. For this reason, you will have more repeat customers than you would otherwise.
  • A cohesive presentation of your brand also helps you shape your key messaging in a way that encourages trust and loyalty from your target audience.
  • A style guide makes your brand easily recognizable. This can generate more sales because we tend to buy more from brands we know.
  • Creating a style guide is also useful when freelancers and contractors are developing content for your brand. If you already have a style guide, then these people will know what you expect from them. This reduces the amount of editing you need to do at the end.

What information do you need to make a good style guide?

In order to make a style guide that works you need three crucial ingredients.

i) A cross-disciplinary team:

Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of assuming they only need to involve the marketing department in developing their style guide. In reality, by building a team that includes representatives from each department, you can get a variety of perspectives. In addition, you can address concerns from each department and build a style guide that works for everyone.

ii) An understanding of your brand:

In order to develop a style guide, you need to have an in-depth understanding of your brand. This includes your mission, vision, history and values. Furthermore, you need to identify what tone and voice you want your brand to have. In order to identify your tone and voice, you need to create a brand personality which you’re comfortable with.

iii) An understanding of your audience

Ultimately, your style guide is designed to help you communicate better with your audience. By communicating effectively with these people, the hope is that you will connect with them and build a sense of brand loyalty in them. With this in mind, it’s important to understand your target audience before you start working on the style guide. Study these people and develop a buyer persona that highlights their pain points. This way, you can build a brand that addresses their needs.

How to make a style guide in 13 steps

Once you’ve developed a brand personality that you’re proud of, developing the style guide itself is simple. Let’s talk about 13 things you need to think through in order to make a style guide that works. We’ve broken these into 4 different categories:

Company background section

1) About Us

The “about us” section briefly introduces your company and helps you think through the brand image you want to present to the public. In this section, you need to highlight your mission, vision and values. It’s also important to highlight your company history here, and explain what inspired you to turn the brand into what it is today.

It’s also important to identify what makes you stand out from your competition, in addition to defining your target audience.

Writing

The way you write about your brand might not seem like a big deal. In reality, though, it shapes your brand image. In order to make a style guide that works, here’s what you need to worry about when it comes to writing.

2) Editorial standards

Writing style

You need to settle on a specific writing style, as well as examples of how to use it. Does your brand use APA or MLA style? Do you use a different writing style altogether?

Grammar rules & misused words

You also need to develop grammar rules for your brand, while highlighting common grammatical mistakes. It’s also important to focus on commonly misused words, such as insure/ensure, affect/effect, practice/practise, complement/compliment, etc.

Active vs. passive voice & first person vs. third person

While addressing editorial standards, it’s also important to take a stance on the use of active and passive voice. The voice that’s more effective for your brand will depend on your goals. If you care about being persuasive, then you should use an active voice. Likewise, if you want to connect with your audience better, then you should use the first person instead of the third person.

Regional dialects, abbreviations & word choice

It’s also important to address regional dialects and abbreviations. Finally, if there are words that you’d rather not use, make a list of these words to avoid. Similarly, if there are words that you think play a big role in shaping your brand identity, make a list of these. This way, people will remember to use these words often.

Exceptions from industry language

You’ll no doubt notice that your industry uses a specific type of jargon to communicate. This industry language gives you credibility as a thought leader. It’s important to identify which aspects of this industry language you will adopt, and which ones you’d rather not use.

3) Punctuation and symbols

In order to communicate in a consistent way, it’s important to create standards for your brand-wide use of punctuation and symbols. For example, do you use digits instead of spelling the numbers out in words? Do you use the Oxford comma? Is the use of emojis acceptable in official brand material?

Does your brand use compound words? Do you have strict guidelines on your use of the en dash and the em dash, or does it not matter?

4) Voice, tone, and messaging

Many people assume that voice and tone are interchangeable. In reality, the voice of your brand determines the tone you will use as well as your key messages.

Voice

Your voice is your brand identity. In order to develop a brand voice, you need to choose 3 words to express the personality of your brand.

brand personality spectrum

Tone

Your tone is how you express your brand identity. For example, do you have favourite words which you use? Are there specific words that people need to steer clear of?

If you want to come across as persuasive, then you need lots of short sentences.

If you want to create a sense of excitement, then you need many exclamation marks.

Finally, if you want to be known as a friendly and conversational brand, then you might want to ask lots of questions.

Messaging

It’s important to decide what your key messages are as a brand are beforehand. Identifying and defining these key messages will help people remember the messages they always need to be aiming to communicate. In order to generate key messages, you need to think of the 3 most important things you want your target audience to remember about your brand.

Formatting

When it comes to formatting your branded content, you need to answer a few questions.

5) How do you format content which you’ve sourced externally?

This will often depend on the writing style you’ve settled on. For example, if you’ve decided on MLA as a writing style, then it only makes sense to use MLA referencing.

6) How do you format numbered and bulleted lists?

Do you use a specific number format (for example, i, ii, iii as opposed to 1,2,3)? Is there a specific bullet type you’d prefer to use as a brand?

7) How do you format quotes? 

Would you prefer your quotes to stand out or to blend in with the rest of your content? Do you set your quotes apart in a block of text? Do you set them in italics or bold font?

8) How do you format your paragraphs and headings?

Do you indent the first line of each paragraph or not? Do you increase the size of the first letter of the first line?

Do your headings and subheadings need to be a specific size? Do they need to be bold, italicized or both?

Design

Use of different logos

Beyond highlighting your official logo, it’s also important to develop regulations for how it’s supposed to be used. For example, do you have different logos for different use cases (such as different platforms and audiences)?

Old logos

Likewise, are there old logos that you no longer use? If so, you should use them as examples of what not to do.

It’s also important to define rules for the formatting of your logo. For example, is it supposed to be in a specific size or orientation? Does the logo need a specified amount of spacing around it?

Are people allowed to tweak your logo or is this a no-no? If you allow people to manipulate the logo, it’s important to state exactly what can and cannot be manipulated. Examples of what people might want to change are the colour, the size or shape of the letters, the spacing between the letters, and the orientation of your logo.

10) Colour palette

In order to choose your brand colours, you need to refer to the brand personality you defined in #3. After all, different colours convey different meanings. When you decide on your brand colours, it’s important to state the hex, CMYK and RGB codes as well as the Pantone number of each colour you choose.

Which colours do you use across different platforms? Moreover, are there specific colours that are reserved for specific elements of content (for example, do your headings and subheadings need to be a specific colour)?

11) Typography

Choosing standard typefaces for your branded content will help solidify your brand personality. Which typefaces do you use and what do you use them for? Do your headings and subheadings need to be in a specific typeface?

What do you need to set in a bold or italicized font? For starters, if you want something to stand out, it’s always a good idea to make it bold or italicized.

12) Use of visuals

How do you use visuals in a way that allows you to stay on-brand with the formatting of your other content? Do you prefer to use images that contain your brand colours or can content creators use images of any colour? Do your images need to be aligned with your text or not?

How do you format your infographics, videos, and photos?

13) Presentation format

If you want all your presentations to follow the same format, then you should create a company slideshow template and link to this in your style guide.

How to make a style guide: best practices

Now that you know how to make a style guide, it’s important to understand how to use it for maximum impact.

1) Include examples of what not to do

While creating your style guide, it’s important to include illustrations that define how content creators should create content that aligns with each of the standards you’ve set out. Additionally, you should also include examples of what not to do so that people understand what kind of content goes against your standards.

2) Include guidelines for different platforms

Just as it’s important to include examples of both acceptable and unacceptable content, you should also ensure you develop guidelines for content across different platforms. While your content should be as cohesive as possible, it’s also important to define how this content should look on your social media channels as opposed to your blog, for example. When you’re thinking about your social media channels, it’s also important to create different guidelines for different channels.

3) Ensure company-wide access

Many people make the mistake of assuming that the marketing department alone should be involved in not only creating but also using the style guide. On the contrary, once you’ve developed a style guide, it’s important to distribute it widely within your company.

A style guide can come in handy in any department that contains content creators. Beyond that, it can be useful to anyone working within your brand. For this reason, you should not restrict the use of your style guide to specific people. In fact, everyone in your organization should have access to this guide and be encouraged to refer to it often.

Let’s assume, for example, you are hosting an event and you send one of your employees to pick out decorations for the event. If this employee didn’t know your brand colours, they would most likely pick random colours which don’t align with your brand at all. However, with a style guide, this process would go a lot more smoothly and you would get the kind of decor you want on the first try.

Examples of style guides

What better way is there to learn to make a style guide than to look at brands that have good style guides? We’ve chosen these brands because not only have they developed great style guides, but they also have perfect illustrations of the principles we’ve highlighted above.

a) Netflix

The style guide Netflix has developed concentrates primarily on its logo. In this style guide, you can see acceptable uses of the logo as well as unacceptable uses of the logo.

Netflix style guide what to avoid

Have a look at the full style guide.

b) Firefox

The style guide Firefox has created stood out to us because the visual representation of the brand is a perfect expression of the brand personality they’ve chosen: opinionated, open, radical, and kind. You can see these characteristics translated in every aspect that their style guide addresses.

Firefox style guide

Have a look at the full style guide.

c) Instagram

Instagram’s style guide was memorable because they explain – in excruciating detail – how content creators should go about representing the brand visually. They even go through the process you need to go through if you want to show Instagram on TV and Film.

Instagram style guide

Have a look at the full style guide.

Over to you:

Now that you know how to make a style guide, you have everything you need to create a truly memorable brand image that can win hearts. As you’ve seen, it’s an intuitive process that you can work through easily. All you need is creativity and dedication.

Do you need a place where all your content teams can work together? With Contio, your writer, editor, designer and marketer can work together in a powerful content editor to collaborate on content production. This saves endless hours spent between emails, word processors, and project management tools.

Additionally, Contio gives you one place where you can confirm that everyone in each department is meeting the standards set out in your style guide.

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