Creating a style guide for your brand is essential to ensuring a smooth, deliberate, clear, and intentional message in your marketing and brand representation. Knowing how to create a style guide for your brand is a valuable skill—one you can use as an entrepreneur or in service of a corporation of any size. A successful style guide tells internal employees how to create messaging reflective of your brand and takes into account the recipient of those messages.
What Is a Style Guide?
A style guide is a central document that defines, exemplifies, and executes a brand’s voice. Style guides define language preferences and tones as well as direct an organization’s representatives to use the brand’s style in specific ways, for specific outlets. The style guide may include details about:
- Which major styles to use (AP Style, Chicago, MLA)
- Oxford comma usage
- Tone or formality of language
- Fonts, typography, and colors associated with the brand
- Information about the audience your brand reaches.
It may also include assets such as your logo in a number of formats and a black and white version.
How to Create a Style Guide for Your Brand
When it comes to understanding how to create a style guide for your brand, it’s best to break up a potentially large project into pieces. Divide, delegate, conquer, and publicize (internally) with these steps and stages.
Understand Your Buyer Persona
As your brand, who are you trying to reach? You should consider choosing the language and other stylistic elements partially based upon your prospective and current customers. Your buyer persona can help you understand what type of language you should use to reach your ideal audience.
A buyer persona is basically a profile of your ideal customer, and it’s an essential component of understanding your brand. Here’s an example of a buyer persona for a company that produces high-end coffee machines.
Name: Kathy Sample
Profession: C-suite executive
Marital Status: Domestic partnership, no children
Education: Masters degree, Business (MBA)
Affinities and biographical information: Kathy is a busy working professional living in an urban environment, likely a loft apartment or condominium, with her partner. She doesn’t own a car, but rents one for long trips. When it comes to brewing coffee, she prefers speed, convenience, and quality, while the cost is not a large concern for her. Kathy enjoys coffee in the morning at home when she wakes up and mid-day at the office. She drinks top-shelf liquor and dines out in the evenings on the weekend. She usually brings pre-planned meals to work or dines out with coworkers at lunch. While Kathy experiences generational tension with her parents, she finds that they can often discuss life over a cup of coffee, and considers it a central bonding experience when spending time with her loved ones.
From this information, we can extrapolate that Kathy might best receive advertising messages during her workday, perhaps when she’s craving a cup of coffee. If she’s thinking about her family, she might want a warmer message, possibly a seasonal one during Christmas.
Adhere to Document Creation Processes
Does your organization already have structures in place for creating documentation? Many businesses adhere to an Agile model, which means you’ll need to plan and allocate time and resources in a structured fashion. This means choosing a deadline, delegating relevant pieces of the style guide creation, ensuring in-house distribution, and in many cases, proving ROI (return on investment) for this piece of content.
If there are already document creation procedures, find out what they are and plan your process.
When it comes to defining your brand, the first step involves evaluating and defining the voice of your brand. To accomplish this, you’ll need measured input from your team. Identify key stakeholders and ensure they contribute to this definition. You can do this through:
- A series of meetings
- An electronic survey
- Compilation of existing documents
In a large organization, consider asking department heads to brainstorm with their individual groups and provide one sheet of feedback per department. Make sure to always provide a deadline.
Once you’ve collected input, identify any trends and consider whether they reflect your brand.
Design Your Brand’s Style Guide
Your brand’s style guide is primarily a document of text defining the limits and expressions of your brand. Naturally, you’ll want to layout your document in an exemplary fashion: your document should exemplify any rules you have for your brand’s style.
You may wish to seek help with the layout of this document, depending on its size, or you may wish to collaborate with a designer to create a complete brand book. Brand books include heavy visual elements and guidelines for using visual imagery along with your brand’s style guide.
You can also use tools such as Frontify or Canva to design it and make it easier to update over time.
Your style guide is only as good as its ability for others to use it. Once your style guide is complete and published, you’ll need to determine:
- How you will distribute the style guide
- Where you will house it (shared internal location is the best bet)
- How and when you will remind people to use it
- Remain a point of contact for employees who have questions about using the style guide
Update Existing Materials
Your website, printed marketing collateral, and other messaging may need updates to comply with the style guide. Create a defined schedule for reviewing and updating your marketing materials to ensure they comply with your new style guide.
Update Your Style Guide
Culture changes, both generally and within your organization. Organizations rebrand, relaunch, and go in new directions to survive. As that happens, you’ll need a plan to update your style guide to suit. This means providing a schedule for review (I suggest a quarterly review) as well as a means for others to provide feedback and updates.
Ultimately, knowing how to create a style guide for your brand is all about expressing your brand clearly and encouraging the desired response from your ideal customer or business partner. The presence of a style guide can also create clear direction within your organization and provide a means for you to have agency and advocacy within your brand.