Does your company use style guides when starting a marketing project? If not, creating one should be a goal for the upcoming year.
Style guides are a common tool for any marketer. Small businesses and large corporations alike use them to ensure their creative elements are consistent and well-branded.
Let’s dive into the what, why, when, and how of styles guides so you can put them to work in your marketing.
What Exactly Is a Style Guide?
Simply put, a style guide is a manual or set of data that standardizes how you write and create all marketing and advertisements for your company. The purpose is to enforce a certain “style” so that communications remain clear and consistent.
Style guides contain a full spectrum of written and visual elements and serve as the guidelines for all final communications. These include, but are not limited to,
- Writing format style (AP style, inverted pyramid, etc)
- Fonts and typography
- Color (including Pantones)
- Use cases
- Slogans or taglines
- Visual layout
- Button styles
- Visual hierarchy
- Graphics and icons
- Image size requirements
- Brand voice
- Legal disclaimers, if necessary
Style guides can come in different formats. In fact, many companies have more than one style guide, depending on their various marketing vehicles. Here are a few examples:
Brand Style Guides
A brand style guide includes all brand-related elements that marketers must consider when crafting their messages. These guides contain logo requirements, taglines and slogans, word usage, and other visual elements that reflect your company’s DNA.
This is the most common form of style guides and should be a mainstay in your marketing toolkit.
Medium-Specific Style Guides
In addition, some companies that have a variety of media will have specific style guides related to each. For example, you might have a style guide that highlights how all blog posts should be branded and published, another guide just for social media, and another guide for direct mail.
Each style guide will contain all the fine details of how your message should appear on each medium. Because elements can vary between channels (e.g. image size and color for print vs digital), it’s important to be as specific as possible as these fine details may affect your campaign’s impression on its audience and its overall success.
Publication-Specific Style Guides
Similar to medium-specific style guides, some companies take it a step further by having specific styles for each publication. For example, if your company prints three annual catalogs, each catalog may have its own style guide. Or, if you regularly publish articles in five different magazines, each magazine may have its own style guide.
…a comprehensive style guide will ensure you don’t dilute your brand image and create maximum impact with all your visual assets.
Role-Specific Style Guides
Style guides can easily become giant manuals, especially if you’re including requirements for various roles. For example, your development team will need to follow certain style elements when updating content on your website, while your marketing team is more concerned with colors, logos, and word choice.
Consider separating information by role to minimize the amount of information each role is exposed to. This can make it easier for each person to focus on just the essentials.
Why Use a Style Guide?
Imagine if McDonald’s used a different font for their iconic golden M with every advertisement, or if IHOP reverted back to its long-form name for a campaign (they used to be International House of Pancakes, by the way). Would their marketing still be as effective? Would people see it as a ripoff of the real thing? Would it cause mass confusion?
Maybe. Maybe not.
The point of a style guide is to eliminate the chance for confusion, miscommunication, or lack of clarity so that all forms of messaging remain consistent and branded.
This is why so many companies use style guides to direct their efforts, especially in larger companies that have done such an excellent job of branding themselves. They didn’t achieve their branding by accident. Rather, style guides play an important part of their success because it helps them to retain their brand integrity.
In addition, style guides can be helpful if you decide to outsource certain creative tasks to third-party providers. Graphic designers, website developers, blog writers, and marketing agencies can benefit from style guides because it gives them an in-depth look into your company’s branded elements and removes much of the guesswork from the creative process.
When Should a Style Guide Be Used?
Companies that have style guides use them anytime something is going to be published under their name. Anything from email marketing to press releases to print campaigns and blog posting can benefit from a style guide leading the way.
If you’re outsourcing activities, such as printing or designing, you’ll want to provide a style guide that will help guide the process.
It’s ultimately up to companies to enforce the style guide. While creative developers will use the style guide to craft the message, editors and directors must also use the guide to ensure each message meets the style criteria before being disseminated.
How to Create Effective Style Guides
Are you ready to create your own style guides or beef up your existing ones? We’re sharing our best practices so that you get a final product that serves its purpose effectively:
Keep It Simple
Style guides can be as simple or as detailed as you like. But once you start outlining all the requirements for your creatives, a short guide can easily become a thick manual.
And, the longer it becomes, the harder it will be to use to its fullest potential.
Try to keep it as simple as possible without omitting important information. Formatting it by section can be helpful in locating certain details (e.g. images, fonts, colors, logo, etc).Your style guide should only include information that matters in keeping a consistent brand. Cut the clutter and let your style guide lead the way.Click To Tweet
Make Your Style Guides Easily Accessible
Got your guide ready? Share it with your team! Place it in a shared folder or other collaboration tools so that anyone who needs it can find it quickly.
Train Your People on How to Use Them
A style guide is only as effective as the people using it. Just because you have a guide doesn’t mean people will automatically understand it. Rather, take time to train your team on what the style guide is, why it’s important, and how they are expected to use it.
Keep Your Guides Updated
Style guides are evolving manuals and should be updated as your company changes. Anytime you upgrade your logo, change a tagline, switch your brand colors, or other major changes that affect your marketing, your guide should be updated to reflect your company’s current styles.
A Final Word
It sounds like more work than it is, but style guides are too important for companies not to have one. They’re easier to create if you do it in real time. It takes out some of the guesswork of what you need to include, plus you can add items “in the moment” that may otherwise fall through the cracks.
However, you decide to create a style guide, make sure it ensures a smooth and flawless design process. Feel free to reach out to our design team and get helpful insight into what makes a style guide successful.