Whether you have style or not might be beside the point, you’re thinking. The two things your branding needs are not. These are a Style Guide and a Tone of Voice Guide.
When you think ‘branding’, I would imagine that your mind goes first to your company colours and logos, what your letterhead looks like, what your professional appearance looks like. But it’s not the whole picture. What you are thinking about is your company’s visual identity.
Sure, visual identity is important. But it’s not what creates your brand. The things that create your brand are your values and the representation of those values.
This means that there are two very important cards that you need in your deck. These are (a) Style Guides, and (b) Tone of Voice Guides. This post assumes that you already know your key topics, and you already have a notion of what you need to publish and when you intend to publish it.
Demystifying the Style Guide
I’m going to assume — for better or worse — that you’ve never worked in publishing, much less as an editor. If you have, apologies — this will be familiar territory to you.
A Style Guide is a plan that tells its user what its written words need to look like. It delineates all of the following:
- What to capitalise and when, especially when it comes to your own business, products, and brands (e.g. Brutal Pixie as a business name, the Pixie as a person, brutalpixie in social networks; and content strategy but Content Strategist)
- How to treat numbers (e.g. full words from zero to 10, and digits from 10 onwards)
- How to treat abbreviations and Latin forms (for example, e.g. and versus)
- What type of endings you specify (-ise or -ize)
- Which dictionary you follow (e.g. Collins English or Macquarie Australian)
- Punctuation guides, especially with regard to headings and lists
- Words that are problematic (for example, if you’re in wellness and you write ‘avocado’ a lot, but know some of your team struggle with the spelling, put it in the list)
- Words and terms that are specific to your industry or business, such as abbreviations, what they mean, and how they must appear (e.g. EC (Editorial Calendar) on first use)
This creates a consistent visual appearance in the writing that you produce, from screen to print. Style Guides are beneficial for all businesses. If you have a receptionist who replies to emails, make sure she has a copy of — and complies with — the company style guide.
Maintaining a professional appearance is more than just looking nice; getting your own forms of written communication right on every level is important, too.
All of this brings me to…
… the Tone of Voice Guide
Just like your style guide, which governs the form of words that you use, the Tone of Voice Guide also governs your writing. Instead of the form, however, it governs the how.
Your Tone of Voice Guide needs to express both the personality of your business, and be a good fit for your audience profile. It must also give your content producers some concrete examples, rather than directionless fluff.
Your Tone of Voice Guide should:
- Start by unearthing the personality of your business.
Brutal Pixie is forthright, fun, direct, casual, and vital — much like its Founder! It’s often the case that a business’s personality reflects its highest manager, or its founder. Virgin is a perfect example of this.
- Demonstrate that the voice of the business reflects its personality, by being listed as a personality trait.
I often get comments that the writing on this blog, for example, is direct, professional, and casual; or that information is presented clearly but in a vital (i.e. not-bland or dead) way. Your business’s ‘voice’ must be framed as a personality trait, one that reflects your business’s personality.
- Define what the the tone of voice is not, and give an example.
Here’s an example: Good examples are devoid of personality. The writer must tend to topics as though he were an automaton. He must not put any personality into his job, and must always consider that writing in a professional capacity is boring, flat, and uninviting. There should never be any imaginary punctation, or much variation as to tone, and should always put its audience to sleep.……zzzzzzzz
- Give you a rationale as to why. If you don’t do this, then your team won’t understand why the tone of voice guide is important.
Brutal Pixie is a vibrant business, and helps to put life back into businesses’ communications. We have to demonstrate that we ourselves are vital, and can communicate effectively, casually, and invitingly.
- Give you a specific voice for each type of channel or type of publishing.
This is really important when you have, for example, a social networking team — or a team looking after forums. You want the tone to be the same across as many people as you have working for you. Therefore, your guide needs to have defined tones for each area of your business; these might include Customer Service; Social Networks, Comments and Forums; Advertising; Research Writing; and so on.
Creating consistency helps you to create a brand with a tone that matches its messages. It also creates a memorable brand, and gets you out of the corporate muck of bland, impersonal, same-as-everybody-else communication. Your business is unique, so make sure you don’t follow the herd and turn into another automaton like everybody else.