5 steps to developing a content style guide for consistent brand messaging

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Public Relations

Content is king in this digital age, and brands with a solid content strategy are poised to gain a strong competitive advantage.

But, at any one time, a brand devoted to content is likely to have several different people (or even departments) working on different kinds of content. Maybe you have an SEO specialist working on blog posts, a social media marketer managing social posts, an email marketer for your newsletter, and so on. 

A large content team is a great thing to have, but not if it comes at the expense of consistency. Ideally, you want all of your content to feel like it’s coming from the same person, using a unified voice. Otherwise, it’s hard for your customers to get a hold on your brand’s identity and persona, ultimately eroding their trust in you as a company. 

So, to help with consistency and to really pin down your brand’s voice and identity, it’s a good idea to create a content style guide.

Let’s take a look at the ins and outs of content style guides.

Content style guides

A content style guide is a set of guidelines that help content writers maintain a consistent brand voice and brand persona across all branded content. Typically, a content style guide will define things like:

  • The brand’s ‘personality’ – i.e. friendly, authoritative, ethical etc.
  • The stylistic rules the brand follows 
  • Rules for visuals and graphics
  • Content do’s and don’ts
  • The brand’s writing style

These rules and guidelines should be applied by every writer and everyone who uses your brand ‘voice’, across blog posts, emails, social media posts, and any other types of content you might use.

content style guide

For instance, to start selling with emails, ensure your email content aligns with these style guidelines to maintain consistency and enhance customer engagement.

Why content style guides are important

Content style guides help to make sure that your brand never acts ‘out of character’, no matter who is behind your brand content. They help maintain a strong brand identity, which in turn is great for maintaining positive customer relationships.

From a customer’s perspective, it’s much easier to build a relationship with a brand that has a consistent voice and persona than with a brand that uses a variety of different voices and styles. Content style guidelines help to create and maintain that consistency.

Writers and other content creators love good content style guidelines because they make it quick and easy to fulfill the brand’s needs. Without content style guidelines, the content creation process is typically a lot longer and can be more frustrating, as the creator will struggle to identify the tone and style the brand is going for. 

It’s also worth noting that a good set of content guidelines gives a strong impression of professionalism. It shows that a brand cares about its image and takes its customer relationships seriously. Moreover, clear style guidelines can boost employee engagement by providing writers and content creators with a framework for their work, fostering a sense of purpose and alignment with the brand’s objectives.

How to create a good content style guide

So, we’ve established that it’s a very good idea to have a content style guide. Let’s take a look at how to create guidelines that will bring out the best in your brand.

1. Define your brand voice

You may already have developed a brand persona. At the very least, your brand is likely to adhere to a defined set of values, goals, and ideals.

The next step is to take this persona or these values and turn them into an identifiable ‘voice’.

For example, if your brand prides itself on being professional and approachable, your ‘voice’ might be authoritative yet friendly. You might use accessible language, but not shy away from complex or technical topics.

content style guide

Image created by author

If your brand has a more youthful persona, your voice might be upbeat and bubbly, with in-jokes and informal language.

Your brand voice is also likely to differ depending on whether you are B2B or B2C. B2C brands should have a voice that’s relatable and approachable for members of the general public. B2B brands will want to sound more business-like and use industry-specific language. For example, integrating business leads software into your content strategy can enhance your ability to capture and nurture leads through targeted, personalized content.

So, a B2B SEO content strategy is likely to differ a lot in tone and persona from a B2C SEO content strategy. It’s important to account for this when defining your brand voice.

2. Build TOV (tone of voice) guidelines

Now that you’ve identified your brand voice, pin it to the page with a set of TOV (Tone Of Voice) guidelines.

content style guide

When building your TOV guidelines, think about:

  • The writing conventions you use (for example, UK or American English?)
  • Your grammar rules. For example, do you put periods at the end of bulleted points? What about Oxford commas? 
  • Formatting rules. For example, how long is too long for a typical sentence? How many sentences do you prefer for a paragraph? Do you like your content broken up into bullet points and subheads? Should each subhead be in sentence case or title case?
  • AI Integration. Incorporating AI content generators can be a strategic move, especially for maintaining consistency across large volumes of content while still adhering to your brand’s tone and style guidelines.
  • Your personality. We’ve covered this a bit above, but this is the point at which you define your brand persona and how it looks in action for your content creators. Think, for example, about how formal or informal your writing should be, whether or not you use humor (and, if you do, which topics are open for jokes and which aren’t), your policy on jargon, and so on.
  • Your audience. The audience you’re targeting is likely to change slightly depending on the type of content you’re creating. For example, blog posts are likely to have a more invested readership than quick social media marketing posts. That being said, you’re likely to have a general idea of who your audience is, and it’s worth defining this in your TOV guidelines. You can always go into deeper detail about particular audiences in individual content briefs.

3. Create a content calendar

A content calendar isn’t necessarily part of your content style guide, but it is a good thing to have for your overall content strategy. A content calendar gives your content team structure and helps them to prepare for pieces of content well ahead of time. 

Content calendars are also useful for tracking and checking up on content briefs, and monitoring the performance of published content.

content style guide

Image created by author

4. Establish visual standards and rules

Content guidelines shouldn’t just apply to written content. The visuals you use are also an important part of your brand identity. The graphical elements of your branding make your brand’s content instantly identifiable, and are a key contributor to your brand’s persona.

Visual guidelines should take account of:

  • Your brand’s color palette
  • The fonts you use
  • Logos and imagery
  • Image/graphic placement in each content format

Moodboards and visual examples are very useful for this aspect of your style guide. If you have a media library, link it here too.

5. Create easy-to-follow templates

A template should bring all the elements of your style guide together in the form of an example that your content creators can refer to when designing their own pieces. Templates take a lot of the hard work out of the initial content creation stages and make sure that every writer/creator includes all the necessary elements.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re working on your SaaS content strategy. In a SaaS context, content marketing can be quite an intensive process, as you constantly have to convince customers to renew their subscriptions month on month. 

Your content creators are likely to be working very hard at key times (such as at the end of each month, or when a new upgrade drops). Having a good style template makes this hard work smoother and easier, and the output more consistent.

Create a template/example for every kind of content that you commonly use. For example, you might have a blog template, a social media post template, a landing page template, a newsletter template, and so on.

Remember, your templates should have a degree of flexibility to allow for truly creative content. Think of your templates more as examples or checklists rather than as totally rigid structures.

content style guide

Things to avoid in a content style guide

So, now you know what you should put in a content style guide. But what about what you should avoid? Keep an eye out for:

  • Vagueness. There’s a fine balance to strike in content style guides between ‘comprehensive’ and ‘inflexible’. That being said, it is important to avoid vagueness in your style guide. Firmly define your persona and the style conventions you follow. 
  • Inconsistency. The whole point of a content style guide is to make your content more consistent. So, make sure that your style guide is itself as consistent as possible.
  • Lack of flexibility. Too much rigidity in your style guide will result in stilted content that, while consistent, has little creativity and nothing to distinguish it from all the rest of your output. Your style guide should let your content creators know the persona and visual style they’re working with, but also leave them room to express their own creativity.
  • Lack of accessibility. Keep accessibility in mind when creating your style guide. For example, are the fonts and colors you’re using readable for people with visual impairments? Are you adding alt descriptions to your images?

Use content style guides to create consistent content and get closer to your customers

Content style guides help to keep your content consistent and in line with your brand’s persona. With a good content style guide, you can create the kind of content that customers can easily identify as yours—content that feels like a personal conversation between brand and customer, and helps to build that all-important brand/customer relationship.

Building a content style guide isn’t difficult to do. Use the tips we’ve shared here to create your own content style guide.

Nick Brown
Nick Brown is the founder & CEO of accelerate, a SaaS SEO agency. Nick has launched several successful online businesses, writes for Forbes, published a book, and has grown accelerate from a UK-based agency to a company that now operates across the US, APAC, and EMEA. Nick has written for other domains such as Digi International and VMblog. Here is his LinkedIn.